I am about to re-sand my oak kitchen counters. There is quite a lot of it, including the upstand and splash back. Looks like the previous owners have used various oils over the past, including one had a tint in it. Personally, I love the look of just sanded Oak - the light, natural, matte look.

I don't want it "lightened" and i don't want it "darkened" - I want it the colour of freshly sanded Oak. Has to be food safe. Any ideas?

  • This is pretty close to being off-topic, actually. Kitchen cabinetry finish is sort of woodworking, and it is sort of Home Improvement. You might even find your answer over on DIY.SE. I'll defer to whatever the community decides.
    – jdv
    May 7 '20 at 21:51
  • "Has to be food safe." the food-safe thing is a red herring, do a search here and you'll see why. As to your Q, there is almost never a best anything and that tends to be true in finishing quite often, so it's a bad way to phrase the query. Offhand I can think of about four ways you could go here, but only one of them is really feasible for you in terms of what you want and can reasonably do. Two of the other three require spray equipment, and additionally use products that argue against you selecting them (too expensive or hard for a non-pro to get). [contd]
    – Graphus
    May 8 '20 at 6:28
  • So this leaves what is virtually the standard in this situation, seen in a few previous Q&As asking about finishing wood to make it look unfinished, and that's waterbased poly. BUT, even selecting a good one (not an easy task as the market it full of less-than-stellar examples) you are very unlikely to be happy with its performance long term in this situation. Optionally I often suggest leaving the wood bare, since wood can perform admirably over a very long period getting wet and drying, even with food contact — chopping boards —except that this is oak, which is very prone to iron staining.
    – Graphus
    May 8 '20 at 6:34
  • Good point about leaving working kitchen wood surfaces bare of finish. If it is good enough for industrial kitchens, it's good enough for us.
    – jdv
    May 8 '20 at 14:03

As usual, this is a matter of trade-offs. What sort of maintenance is best for you? Do you mind if stains and blemishes are harder to repair?

If you want closest to "natural" wood, then a poly finish won't darken the wood as much as any oil finish. This is just the nature of oil finishes.

But poly creates an actual finish; a protective covering over the surface. This has a downside in that you probably won't be able to match repairs. Generally, is is suggested to remove all the poly and reapply if you want a nice even look.

With oil finishes you not only can reapply to freshen up blemishes, you have to reapply as part of regular maintenance. Oil will almost always feather nicely into existing oil. This is just not the case with poly.

I suppose you could take a hybrid approach, and use poly on the less wearing surfaces that you want a good water seal on (like backsplashes) and oil on the hard-working surfaces that you expect to stain and scuff over time. They will look different, however.

Finally, as pointed out in the comments you have another less-obvious path you can take: just remove the existing finish you don't like, sand/scrape bare and then just leave it alone. It'll age beautifully, and give you the aesthetic you want of looking 100% "natural" and will obviously be "food-safe". As it wears and stains you scrape it flat to get a new surface. This is how industrial kitchens treat their wood surfaces.

Most any interior finish is "food safe" once cured. Just read the label -- it'll tell you if it isn't. There is discussion of finishes suitable for use around food in previous Q&A. I encourage you to search some of those for further detail.

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