Choose a Wooden Countertop Sealer : Finish vs Treatment
Let's get to the point: I love using Osmo's finishes for our countertops; both the Clear Matte and the TopOil. Relatively easy to apply, dries quickly, and it looks beautiful.
And let's address one more point: The following post is affiliate marketing, but I love the product and don't mind spreading the word. But before we talk more about Osmo, let's talk about....
Treatment vs Finish
We should go over these two terms in the context of woodworking. Technically speaking, our cutting boards are NOT "finished" but they are "treated." When we say that the cutting boards are treated, we mean that whatever material we covered them in (in this case, mineral oil and our beeswax mixture) will need to be reapplied in the near future--maybe a couple weeks or a couple months. Our countertops are different in this regard as we are usually "finishing" them. When we say "finish," we mean that the material we covered them in (usually Osmo or a Polyurethane of some sort) are made to endure a longer period of time, such as a year or likely more. Neither is truly forever though--"finishes" are sometimes erroneously labeled as being "forever" and it is important to take note of this... I mean, seriously, the heat-death of the universe is inevitable guys. Sorry, but your countertops aren't going to make it. Now that we got that worked out, let's talk about...
Osmo: My favorite Finish
Osmo is actually the brand and they make an array of finishes & treatments, but I primarily use the two below.
Osmo Polyx-Oil: 3031 Clear Matte is one of my favorites but for ~$54 at ~25 ounces (aka 0.75 Liters) it may seem pricey. You can get a smaller size for ~$25 BUT the bang per buck doesn't make any sense. Per ounce, the larger one is WAY better priced. $2.16 per ounce vs $5.92 per ounce
My other Osmo pick is their Food Grade version called Osmo TopOil: 3045 Clear Satin and can also be found here from other sellers. If I really need to have a countertop food safe for indirect food contact, this is what I'll use.
I recommend applying Osmo with a finer scotch pad. Cut it up into smaller pieces so you can really get your money's worth out of the pads and the Osmo. As soon as you have applied it, remove it, let it dry and reapply. I do this three times, letting each application dry for 24 hours. You can find directions online and on the back of the Osmo, but over time, I have found this works best for me. Here's a fun fact: Osmo is used in some airport floors in Europe--a great testament to its durability. Just remember though, if you're expecting something that is invincible, well, it won't be--try epoxy with another finish instead.
*If you're applying Osmo onto End Grain, you're going to be adding many more coats because it is so porous. You may want to consider clogging the end grain. But really, my primary solution here... is to use mineral oil for end grain and accept the material for what it is: a formerly living, highly variable material that has a lot of risks*
My Back-Up to Osmo
If I'm in a pinch, or I want to provide an easy option for a customer, I reach for Minwax's Wipe-On Polyurethane. It's so easy, I don't think it even really needs directions, but you wipe it on, let it dry for a bit, then wipe it off. Repeat once (or more if you like). I am not partial to the water-based version, so be careful to avoid that if you're searching around on Amazon. My favorite way to apply is to use these paper towels that operate as well as cloth.
But why are the cutting boards treated and not FINISHED like some countertops?
Great question! There are a few arguments to be had here, but I think the most convincing one is: the list of FDA approved products that are safe for indirect food contact is a short one. And to get added to that list is expensive because you'll need to pay for testing. Want to take a guess as to whether or not it's worth paying for this expensive testing in order to sell a general wood finish/treatment on the market? Spoiler alert, it isn't. Most companies just choose to forgo the FDA approval and simply sell their product as something that isn't suited for indirect food contact even if it would pass the test with flying colors. From a business's perspective, one must ask, "Why pay for something that won't help your sales?"
So you might be intrigued by this, and want to ask, "Well, okay Nils, so which treatments and finishes are legitimately food safe for indirect food contact?" And I'd tell you that it would be very stupid for a business owner in the industry going around giving such recommendations when you consider the potential legal risks. And on that note, we use food grade mineral oil and beeswax.