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How to Refinish a Wooden Cutting Board

December  9, 2015

I’m pretty good about taking care of my knives: I regularly take them to get sharpened, ​and I dry them immediately after washing (okay, most of the time). And I’m good about taking care of my wooden utensils: I oil them and never let them go for a trip in the dishwasher. But my cutting board? It’s neglected. It has loads of visible knife marks and mild discoloration that the lemon juice and salt trick just can’t fix.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

My wooden cutting board lives on top of my extra-wide vintage stove in a burner-less spot that was seemingly designed for it. Since it’s out all of the time, it gets used all of the time, not just for cutting, but as a make-shift appetizer tray, coffee bar, resting place for groceries, and more.

It’s been my kitchen-workhouse for over ten years now—you’d think I’d take better care of it. In the beginning, I did. It was made by a local artisan and any time knife marks started to appear I’d just take it to their stand at the farmers market, give it back to them for refinishing, and pick it up again at the next market, newly oiled and smooth. Unfortunately, that artisan stopped making cutting boards, ​and I’ve been staring at my knife mark-riddled board for longer than I care to admit.

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It was time to take matters into my own hands. If your cutting board could use a little TLC too, here’s how to refinish it:

Photo by Bobbi Lin

Pick up some sandpaper. This isn’t rocket science—there’s no specific grit number that you need, you just need to start with rougher sandpaper and move to finer sandpaper. Whether you choose to use two or three (or four) different grit levels depends on how bad of shape your board is in and how much you enjoy creating extra work for yourself (or how many real chores you’re trying to avoid doing)​.

Sand your board first with the roughest sandpaper, staying with the grain. I started with the 50-grit, which is considered coarse, if your knife marks aren't quite as bad, consider starting with a medium grade, like 80-grit. Once you’ve successfully removed all the stains and all (or most) of the knife marks, move to the finer sandpaper (try 100- or 120-grit) and sand with the grain again until the board feels smooth. At this point you can move on to the next step, or go for extra credit and sand again with a still finer sandpaper (like 220-grit or higher).

Photo by Bobbi Lin

Once your board is sanded to your liking, wipe it off well with a damp cloth and oil your board with a food grade oil like mineral oil or beeswax. Let it sit for a few hours, wipe off any excess oil, and promise yourself you’ll repeat the process again when needed—it likely won’t need to be sanded​ again for a year or two, although you can oil it more frequently as desired.

What are you tricks for keeping your cutting boards in great shape? Tell us in the comments!

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I like esoteric facts about vegetables and think ambling through a farmers market is a great way to start the day. My first cookbook, available now, is called Cooking with Scraps.

3 Comments

Shawnee A. November 11, 2019
I kinda do a cheat like once a month I soak mine down with extra virgin olive oil real thick and cover it real good with Saran Wrap. If you make all the ends on the bottom or on one side put it back where you have it and use with the Saran Wrap till it starts to come apart. You can keep it wiped off like normal the oil soaks in real deep. I’ve had mine for 30 years and I have only refinished it once and it now needs it again after one of my kids left fruit on when it was kinda dry
 
Uncle J. December 9, 2015
I don't disagree with anything in the article, but would like to add a couple of things. One would do this only for aesthetic reasons - the wood doesn't need it, nor will it be more sanitary. The oils mentioned in the article are fine, but many "finishing oils" or other wood finishes can be toxic, especially if they are not yet fully cured (takes a couple of weeks). The reason behind the sandpaper grits is that the coarse grits can remove deep cuts quickly, but will leave tiny cuts. Using a few grits will speed up your work. Brush off the board before you start the next grit. If you know someone with an electric sander, that will speed up things even more. Many chefs do this by wetting the board and scraping it with a non-cutting edge of a large knife, for instance, the end of a chinese cleaver does a great job.
 
Penelope P. January 26, 2016
Thanks for the extra info. bothe the articel and this info I found helpful.