Food Safe Finishes for Wood

Happy New Year everyone! 2020 is so far looking to be a wonderful year. I recently started working out what the best food-safe finishes would be for my wooden utensils. I want to get them not only to feel good, but to look as good as they feel, and to hold that finish while in use. It seems that most of the food safe finishes for wood don’t hold up quite as well as I might like. I have done some research on using walnut oil, linseed oil, mineral oil and wax. I have always used walnut oil and it has been fine, but it just takes a long time to dry. It is one of those finishes that I can go back to anytime and know that it still works. I also had some folks with allergies to walnuts ask about treating the wood with something else.

Here are some spoons we made in the shop here. Walnut on the left, mesquite, walnut and black cherry on the right.

Hand-carved Spoons

On using mineral oil as a finish, it is considered to be food-safe. (It is commonly used as a laxative, and I can get it at a local drugstore.) The downside in regards to using it for wood finishing is that it’s a petroleum-based product that never dries or hardens. Mineral oil will soak in and it will protect the wood to a level, and it certainly is a fine option if you are able to maintain the finish frequently. It may be a good option also if you are allergic to walnuts.

On walnut oil, I have used it for years and really have been happy with it overall. I simply want to upgrade my finishing and that’s why I am looking at other options. My wife’s spoons are all done with walnut oil and I re-coat them a couple of times a year. I have not found anything conclusive on the allergy issue and have never known anyone to have had a reaction to it. I have heard that the walnut oil is pressed and cooked and once it hardens in the wood it is unlikely that there would be enough residue to cause a reaction. I would be careful though in finishing things for folks with known allergies and use something with less possible risk. I recently found a new food-safe oil finish that I am planning to try out soon.  🙂 I will be posting more info on it once it gets here and I have been able to try it out.

Walnut Oil

Beeswax is often added to various oil finishes and while it adds a bit of shine, I have not been impressed with how well it holds up, especially after being washed. It can be re-polished and is quick and food safe.

Another good food-safe option is wood butter. I have a local source for some that has done pretty well. I think it has some coconut oil and beeswax. It makes a beautiful finish that’s close to walnut oil in durability. It also needs to be re-coated occasionally.

In” finishing” up,  🙂 I will say that proper preparation of your wood prior to any finishing is the real key to the finish looking its best. I have worked out a sanding and polishing method over the last 15 years that has been well accepted by cooks and my customers. I will be explaining that process in detail in my hands-on spoon carving class. My next class is coming up on January 22nd. If you would like to sign up please visit:

https://www.sustainlife.org/shop/hand-carved-wooden-spoons/

This is a single day class and we will do several different utensils. Again from all of us at the school, Happy New Year and keep your tools sharp!

 

Mark Borman

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