Winter can be hard on our wooden counters. Constant dry heated air flow will occasionally cause fine cracks, often referred to as checks, in wood tops as well as furniture. If you have a piano, you know that a degree of humidity is required to keep the sounding board in good condition. Museums are extremely careful to maintain the correct level of moisture in the air to preserve the wood in displays. Wooden countertops aren’t that fragile but they can develop cracks at the ends and in the top during the winter months.

Check in a wooden counter made from walnut.

Typical check in a distressed walnut countertop. Note that it isn’t in the glue joint but the board itself.

The good news is that this is normal and to be expected. Wood is an organic material unlike tile, stone or engineered surfaces. The change of humidity initiates the natural shrinkage and creates these checks. They aren’t flaws in the construction and will actually “heal” themselves when the moisture in the air is restored. Around 50 to 55% relative humidity is recommended.

Check in a wooden counter made from wenge.

Another checking example in a wenge top.

If the cracking is enough to bother you visually there are a couple of ways to “fix” the issue. Again, bringing the moisture level in the air back up to around 50% relative humidity will allow the wood to self correct in most cases. If that doesn’t work the easiest approach to take is filling the check with a wax furniture crayon. It’s easy to do and you will need only a credit card or other non metal scraper, a lighter and a soft cloth.  You’ll find instructions on the package, but basically you’ll be warming the wax with a lighter and filling in the crack with a hard wax. Then, using the credit card, you’ll scrape back the excess and polish it with the cloth. Just match the crayon color up as closely as you can with the top and you’ll have no problem.

It won’t be long until time for open windows and spring sunshine. Like icy sidewalks and frosty windshields, this too shall pass.