A woodworker and hunter has built a large maple cutting table for butchering venison and other game. What finish should he use on it?
Michael Dresdner: The classic finish for a chopping block (which is made of blocks glued so that the cutting surface is all end grain) is paraffin. You can buy paraffin wax in blocks at the grocery store in the canning section. Melt it over a double boiler. Some folks prefer to do this on their outdoor BBQ grill, since hot paraffin can easily flash into a fire if spilled onto the burners. The double boiler will get the paraffin melted but won’t take it above 212 degrees. While it is still hot liquid, brush it liberally onto the wood and allow it to soak in. It helps if the wood is fairly warm as well. Letting the wood sit in an 80 degree atmosphere before putting on the wax will let the wax soak in better than if it came in contact with wood that just emerged from a 45 degree garage. In the summer, do this operation in warm sunlight.
Let the paraffin soak in and cool; then scrape off any excess paraffin. What has been impregnated into the wood will act as the finish, but won’t ever chip off or be harmed by the knives. You will have to resurface the block now and again, and when you do, redo the paraffin operation too.
Ian Kirby: The serious butchers that I’ve seen wash with scalding water and a wire brush at the end of the day. There is no doubting this is a butcher’s work station, but the natural surface of the maple should work well for that purpose.