We installed a fine Brazilian cherry countertop on the kitchen island as part of a major kitchen remodelling in 2005. When properly maintained, the cherrywood has beautiful, deep warm glow to it; but over time this glow had faded a bit. The countertop is supposed to be cleaned and recoated monthly with a quality tung oil finish, but the vicissitudes of a hectic life with two kids have pushed this off for over six months.
Usually I just clean the counter with hot soapy water, dry it well, then rag on the a Waterlox sealer. But I thought it needed a fine-grit sanding to remove all the (admittedly minor) scratches and restore the like-new glow. I was definitely worried about putting sandpaper to this fine surface, so I Googled the web for things like sealer countertop oil sand grit fine waterlox.
After putting the kids to bed, I took the plunge.
Update 12/09/2008 (four days later): after three coats of finish, the cherry wood now has a beautiful shimmery depth, almost like a semi-liquid pool. (It actually looked pretty fantastic after the second coat.) The wood is positively glowing -- I will post pics when I can -- see album links below.
Details: After all my research on grit, technique, etc., I started by thoroughly cleaning the countertop with warm soapy water and a sponge, using a mild abrasive pad as necessary to remove anything that wasn't coming off easily. I dried the wood, then sanded it carefully with a rubber block and 240-grit paper, making sure to keep downpressure light and even, and stopping frequently to knock clumped-up dust off the sandpaper surface. While I light-sanded the entire surface, I tried to identify visible scratches and evenly take the countertop surface down enough to sand them out. When I was done, I used a tack cloth to remove most of the dust, then executed final cleanup & surface prep with odorless mineral spirits.
I then put on three coats of Waterlox Original Sealer/Finish, letting each dry overnight (the can said 6 hours). I ran the kitchen island fan on low to vent the minor fumes. I made sure to put each coat of Waterlox on a little heavy -- a little more than just coating the surface. I put enough on to ensure coverage without pooling. I used a single sheet of Bounty paper towel, folded a couple times, as the applicator: a rag soaks up too much of the sealer.
Between each coat, I used a fine steel wool (#00 or #000) to lightly sand down the entire surface, removing slight imperfections (swirls, bubbles, or hair!), resulting in a glassy smoothness. Even strange little discolorations in one area I sanded all but disappeared with the application of the sealer.
Conclusion: I was cautious about putting sandpaper to a cherry countertop that cost almost as much as my wife's car, but the results looked stunning. Total time invested over three days: about 5-6 hours.
See the counter I'm talking about in my Picasa album: http://picasaweb.google.com/KeithBluestone/CountertopRefinishing
More links from my searches here: http://delicious.com/KeithBluestone/waterlox
We chose Craft-Art (in Atlanta) to supply the countertop (link). For the Waterlox, rather than try to run around & find it in a store, I actually just clicked it up from Amazon:
This was one of the more helpful articles, from the Environmental Home Store who appear to be fine hardwood installers (http://www.environmentalhomestore.com/pdfs/totally_bamboo%20installation.pdf):
[After surface prep] you are now ready to apply your choice of sealer. Select any of the great finishes currently available... We do not recommend any water based finishes, as they tend dilute the natural colors and appearance of depth; nor do we recommend plain mineral oil or chopping block oil as they tend to dissipate quickly and require weekly re-oiling. We highly recommend Waterlox (www.waterlox.com) a tung oil/resin finish. This is very easy to apply with a brush or rag. It is best to apply two or three coats of the sealer and two or three coats of the topcoat. The top coat is available in gloss or matte finish. One of the best features of this finish is the easy upkeep, simply recoat every three years, or as needed. Follow the instructions on the can for best results.