Kitchen Progress and Our Bleached Oak Island Benchtop

It’s been a little while since I’ve checked in with you all, so I wanted to share some kitchen progress, particularly the process of bleaching and staining our red oak island benchtop as I’ve had lots ask about it on Instagram. 

Unfortunately the kitchen was installed right as family and friends were arriving from Australia for the winter, so it’s been slow progress since, especially hand painting the kitchen myself. The wait for the kitchen was the longest I’ve ever had for any joinery – 8 months. Now that it’s in however, I can say without hesitation it was worth waiting for, and I’m grateful to my amazing joiner for executing my vision so meticulously.

This old meat safe belonged to hubby’s great grandmother and we brought it back to life as it was rather worse-for-wear when we got it. One side needs the beading put back on as it came off on it’s way over from Oz. The meat safe is now one of the most treasured pieces we own. No matter where we live we always find the perfect place for it. Comes in very handy when we need a little extra storage!

We still need the backsplash and custom range hood in, dishwasher panel on, kitchen lighting, window blinds, and a few little details. Over the last several months a few things have happened but by far the most important element was our kitchen being installed, along with our oak island benchtop.

The process of bleaching and staining our red oak benchtop was a rather arduous one actually! But now that it’s finished and looks exactly as I had hoped, I can say it was all worth it!

Our Bleached Oak Island Benchtop - Cottonwood and Co

Originally I wanted a white oak island top, as I knew it would work best with our golden honey-toned oak floors but supply chain issues meant white oak wasn’t available for the foreseeable future. Our next best option was of course red oak, but that meant the wood was naturally going to have more red/pink tones. 

I did a bit of research into making red oak look like white oak using lye crystals and hydrogen peroxide, and it seemed a very do-able & easy process. Little did I know how hard it would be to get lye and peroxide locally! After trying two generic supermarket bleach products (neither of which worked all that well) I was starting to feel a little hopeless and frustrated.

More research eventually led me to a product called Rustins Wood Bleach. I ordered it and got to work using their 2-step process (Solution A and Solution B). It was actually much easier and quicker than I expected although I wasn’t 100% confident if it was going to reduce the pink enough for my liking.

Our Bleached Red Oak Island Benchtop - Cottonwood and Co

I applied Solution A of Rustins Wood Bleach (above) to the raw red oak. I let that dry, added Solution B, and then waited the required hours before rinsing the wood and letting it dry fully. 

Below is how the benchtop looked that evening after applying the solutions of wood bleach. Definitely a lot less pink! 

Our Bleached Oak Island Benchtop - Cottonwood and Co

I then added two coats of Rustin’s worktop oil and left it to dry. We put the benchtop on that night, but the next morning I realised it was too light and not quite golden enough to work in with our floors. See below. Also, the worktop oil just didn’t provide enough protection for spills etc, so I knew I needed something more durable and less penetrable.

Going back to the drawing board, I pondered applying a stain over the top to deepen the colour, so headed to our local Mitre 10. Standing frustrated in the wood stain aisle looking at all the available options (there’s a LOT, let me just say that!), I found a stain and sealer called PolyShades in ‘Honey Pine’. It did look very yellow but I had enough colour theory knowledge to hope that the very yellow stain would darken the top and take the pink tones into more orange territory (one reason why understanding colour theory is so useful!).

I got home and by this point was so sick of thinking about it, I didn’t even do a test patch. I just whacked it on with a natural bristle brush (following the instructions of course). You can already see the difference it made.

Our Bleached Red Oak Island Benchtop - Cottonwood and Co

Our Bleached Oak Island Benchtop - Cottonwood and Co

To my surprise (because at this point I expected it to fail!), I saw it was not only deepening the colour, but also adding that perfect golden honey hue I was after. Miniwax PolyShades absolutely did the trick! 

Our Bleached Oak Island Benchtop - Cottonwood and Co

The product is sticky and tacky for a good 6-8 hours but the added bonus was that the stain has a polyurethane coating in it, meaning the wood now has a waterproof coating with a beautiful matte/satin finish (not glossy thank goodness!). Exactly what I wanted. Honestly, it really has turned out as I imagined, so we are thrilled! 

Our Bleached Oak Island Benchtop - Cottonwood and Co

From the very beginning of this renovation, I was adamant I wanted a kitchen island that felt more like a piece of furniture than just a typical kitchen island. As much as I prefer kitchen tables instead of islands, we badly needed more storage so a table just wasn’t an option. But I really wanted the island to have a very homely, cooks-inspired feel to it. My most used cookbooks close at hand, and a place for some of my copper ware and the pots I use everyday.

Kitchen Update and our Bleached Oak Island Benchtop - Cottonwood and Co

The perimeter tops are black honed granite which is wonderfully hard wearing and low maintenance – brilliant for everyday use and with kids. The island, in contrast, is much more cottage-like and charming, plus I knew it would’ve been too heavy having all black granite countertops. 

A Renovation Update and our Bleached Oak Island Bench - Cottonwood & Co
A Renovation Update and our Bleached Oak Island Bench - Cottonwood & Co

I had planned to re-cover our vintage cane kitchen stools (which I bought years ago at auction) in this lovely yellow Sandberg stripe (pictured above) that I’ve had since 2014. But actually the stools are covered in an interesting blue and grey type of vinyl, which is extremely child friendly, so I may just do slipcovers to go over the seats instead. 

Blue Kitchen and our Lacanche Cluny - Cottonwood and Co

Will share another general renovation update next so you can see snippets from other parts of the house including our veggie garden and my studio cabin, which is coming along (albeit slowly!). 

Any questions about the benchtop bleaching and staining, feel free to fire off questions below!

Nicki xo

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  1. It looks so beautiful! Did you use timber joinery for hand painting or did you use melamine board (as most joiners use in Oz/NZ)? It looks so good in that amazing colour!

  2. Good to hear from you, Nicki. I always look to your posts for inspiration re: setting the table! Your home is beautiful and welcoming and I wish you and your family the very best! Enjoy!

    1. Thank you so much, Mary. That’s rest kind. Been so busy this year I haven’t posted enough but trying to get better at that! 😉

  3. Your island benchtop turned out so lovely! I admire your patience and tenacity. I would have given up after the first arduous attempt didn’t give the desired result. You’ve inspired me to not settle when executing a vision!

    1. Ha. Thanks Melanie! Honestly I wanted to give up as I initially thought it would be an easy process. But actually I’m really glad I didn’t because I’m so happy with it now. But that stain was definitely the last straw 😆

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