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I am considering building a table for a meat grinder out of wood and then covering it in something to make it last longer. The basic idea is that the grinder would sit on a higher section and then there would be a lower section where I could set a lug for the meat to fall into. The problem is I want to make sure that it is easy to clean such that blood and water don't ruin the wood. I was thinking about getting sheet metal and screwing it to the faces, but was curious if there was a better way to protect the table. This will only be used a few months out of the year, but needs to hold up. I have also thought of putting several coats of outdoor polyurethane, but I am not sure how that would hold up to being hosed off over time.

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    Take a look at wood used in the food service and production world. Finishes are almost never used. The idea is you use the wood hard, cleaning it regularly and letting it dry out. When it gets too chopped up and ragged, just sand it down to a new surface and start again. Any finish you use with any regularity will be picked up by your activities, and the constant wet and washing you absolutely must be doing between sessions will just ruin any finish you apply. – jdv Dec 5 '19 at 14:54
  • @jdv All the food service places I have been to use stainless for everything, which is more than I am able to spend on this project, but I do like the idea of leaving it raw and just sanding it smooth. Thank you. – dmoore1181 Dec 5 '19 at 14:56
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    It depends, but smaller places (think farmer's markets and local butchers that cater to specific cultural markets) have for centuries used raw wood for cutting boards and blocks. And they are, AFAIK, never finished. The large industrial places might use stainless, but stainless installations are eye-wateringly expensive. Medium volume places use wood a lot. – jdv Dec 5 '19 at 18:42
  • Just to confirm what @jdv is saying, bare wood is definitely a viable option here. I came into this specifically to suggest you consider it — think cutting board. Boards were for most of history & until very recently always bare wood, as was also most common for kitchen tables & counters. Yes once sheet metal became an option it was used, but not exclusively. Anyway if you do want to use a finish you have the right idea, a good coating of polyurethane or exterior varnish would be most appropriate, food safe, and would hold up. But it will at some point need refreshing, as all varnish does. – Graphus Dec 5 '19 at 19:37
  • For sanitary reasons, I would forego wood an suggest using plastic laminate countertop such as are used in kitchens and baths. You can pick up sections in any big box lumberyard such as Lowes or Home Depot. The finish is impervious to water, will not harbor food residue, and is easy to clean. If you want the look of wood use a wood grain pattern ; p – Ashlar Dec 6 '19 at 1:59
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There is "Butcher Block" type of finish (a kind of food safe mineral oil I think). It is used for cutting boards and the like. I also use it to coat wooden utensils, they hold up well in dishwasher too.

It should be reapplied occasionally.

I don't know if it is rated for outdoor applications though.

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  • The implication is that under heavy use (chopping, lots of wet material, scraping) this finish will not last long, and will migrate to the food. Such finishes are best for salad bowls and so on, but they last about 5 minutes under heavy use. – jdv Dec 5 '19 at 21:20
  • It is food safe supposedly, so that shouldn't be worse than sawdust itself. They sell the same stuff as laxative, so your burgers will make your more regular I suppose? :) Mechanically it is not doing much, but it will hold up better than raw wood in wet conditions. – Eugene Dec 5 '19 at 21:38
  • I think when it comes to raw meat (for example) most butchers preferred plain wood for this reason. There is a story about steel cans and beer where they had to tweak the recipe when they moved to aluminum cans because people were used to taste of varnish, which was how steel cans were coated. Probably not the sort of thing that would obviously happen with meat. But, anyway, I'm not sure I've ever seen a meat-oriented wood board or block that had any finish on it at all. The question is, what would such a finish even offer? – jdv Dec 5 '19 at 22:27
  • "Mechanically it is not doing much, but it will hold up better than raw wood in wet conditions." You might be surprised how little difference it can make. Long-grain wood surfaces just aren't that absorbent (we just need to look at how shallow stain penetration is) so there's minimal oil actually left behind anyway, and it can be removed with astonishing rapidity by use and washing. Separate issue, as I've covered under numerous previous Questions here, as counter-intuitive as it seems studies have shown that bare wood is actually more hygienic. It's actually safer than plastic. – Graphus Dec 6 '19 at 8:13
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    The question of hardwoods versus something like pine is a thorny issue. Almost all boards sold are made from hardwoods, but that's not because hardwood is necessarily better. I have argued in favour of softwood boards many times over the years here and elsewhere. There's no real difference in terms of food safety from what I can tell (I don't have a lab so I can't check) however there's quite a difference in terms of blunting effect on cutting edges. This can be of some significance for users who don't routinely hone their knives.... i.e. the majority of users LOL – Graphus Dec 7 '19 at 8:56

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