In my last post, I outlined the best methods, tried and proven, for destroying your investment in quality woodenware. Now I know that many “craftspeople” use absolute trash wood for their woodenware – stuff I’d be ashamed to put into my woodstove. But most of us create good quality ware and hope you can use it carefree for a long time.
Most woodenware is sold to you with a traditional food-safe finish of mineral oil. Mineral oil is available in your local pharmacy, is listed as USP, and is generally accepted as safe. However, most carvers use some variation of the oil finish. For example, some prefer almond oil ( also food-safe), and some use walnut oil ( I avoid walnut oil because some people have walnut allergies).
I, and others, sometimes add a tiny amount of beeswax ( food-safe) to the base oil.
It is not invasive for you to ask a carver or crafter what finishing materials they used. This spoon, spatula, bowl, or cutting board will contact the food you eat. I would avoid anything finished with an oil that might go rancid, including olive oil. Highly refined vegetable oil should be OK.
Once you own a traditionally finished piece of woodenware, you will need to know how to take care of it. You can wash it with a gentle scrubber in hot water and soap. You should carefully dry it off and not leave it immersed.
Periodically you will need to recoat it with oil. I’d use a bit of mineral oil from the pharmacy. But you can find all sorts of spoon and bowl dressing oils in shops or on the internet. Mostly they are just mineral oil with some additives. I do not advise using anything with a scent. No matter how pleasing, the odor or smell can transfer to the food you are preparing. Be careful with tung oil unless you are confident it is food-safe. Labelings are inaccurate on some products. I have obtained food-grade tung oil from Lee Valley, but I am sure it’s available elsewhere. Just be cautious.
There are some non-traditional methods of coating woodenware that are beginning to appear. I have started to use a food-safe varnish from General Finishes. We’ve used it on woodenware in our kitchen with great success. I have begun to use it on the carved wooden bowls I make. I appreciate how durable the finish is and its appearance. But most spoons, spatulas, and cutting boards are still traditionally finished.
Now a word on woods that get used. Cherry, apple, maple, and ash are the primary woods that I use. Once in a while, I’ve also used lilac and redbud. In addition, you might find olive wood used, which is also food-safe, just not available to me on a routine basis.
I avoid tropical woods and woods where I cannot be sure of their food safety. This isn’t to say that they are not food-safe, just that If I do not know for sure, I’ll avoid using them. Besides, regionally available woods in my area are sustainably harvested and readily available through local sawyers.
Methods of work vary widely among carvers. Some use knives, gouges, and scrapers exclusively. Others use power tools.
I am in the middle. I shape the wooden blank on the bandsaw and rough out the spoon’s bowl with gouges.
I might refine the shape with knives or power tools depending on the grain. Sanding and burnishing are a mix of power and hand methods.
Most carvers like me make pretty individualistic products. We avoid making two of anything precisely alike. Nevertheless, there may be a sort of “family resemblance” – how the handle sweeps or the edging of the bowl is created.
Mass-produced woodenware sometimes strives to appear handmade, but unlike the resemblances in my work, the mass-produced items seem more like peas from the pod- produced by machines carving out duplicates. Don’t get me wrong; these may be perfectly adequate as woodenware. They are not handmade. If I was required to produce hundreds of pieces a day, I might be forced to do what the makers of mass-produced woodenware do. I am fortunate that my production is small.
I hope that this post has been useful and informative. Enjoy your woodenware!