Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Food Safe Finish for Cutting Boards, Wooden Spoons, and more

     After putting in the time and effort to make a cutting board, wooden spoon, or other kitchen-related item, you need to tackle the question of finishing.  In other words, what’s the best finish to both protect your hard work and bring out its natural beauty?  In an ideal world, the finish would last forever and never require re-coating, so it might be tempting to reach for the polyurethane or lacquer. But, while this approach offers the siren song of easy (or no) maintenance, it comes with a price- these finishes are bound to be pretty toxic when ingested. Inevitably they'd end up flaking off over time and ending up in your food.  Not good.  If you're item will only used for display, this is a fine choice, but not if someone will end up using it.

     So this leads us to the best option for this context: an non-toxic oil or wax/oil blend that will need to be reapplied now and then.  When wooden items are washed off, the water tends to raise the grain and produce that rough feel that we're probably all familiar with.  If necessary, you can quickly sand the item down with medium or fine-grit sandpaper and recoat it.

     The advantage to wax/oil blends, in my experience, is that they feel smoother to the touch and tend to hold up a bit better than oil alone. You can buy wax/oil blends at most hardware stores or big box home stores (they'll be sold as butcher block conditioners, or something like that), but it's also fun and easy to mix up your own.  Here's how I do it:

You can use a double boiler to melt the beeswax, although I just use a saucepan filled about
 halfway with water and a stainless steel bowl on top of it.  The burner is set to medium-high heat.
  As soon as you put in the beeswax, you’ll want to add the mineral oil.  I used 22 ounces of oil and half a pound (8 oz) of wax.  As the beeswax melts, it peels off in small chunks and dissolve.

   Within five or ten minutes, the beeswax will have melted and mixed in evenly with the oil- there’s no need to stir.

 The hot wax/oil solution can then be poured into jars.

As the blend cools, it turns white.

Within 30 minutes or so. the whole jar will have likely reached an even temperature and consistency.

   Applying the finish couldn’t be easier- just rub it on liberally, and let it soak in for about ten minutes.  Buff it with a dry paper towel or rag to remove the excess, and you’re done.  You can recoat anytime the item looks a bit dry.  And don't forget the most important rule of thumb: keep wooden kitchen items out of the dishwasher!

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