Which Is The Best Food Safe Wood Finish?

Food Safe Wood FinishWoodworkers are always looking for food safe wood finish for the items they make in this category. They are worried that the food bowls and crockery they create aren’t food safe and that they need some reliable finish that would protect the wood and not be toxic to the user. Most finishes are considered toxic and unsafe for our consumption when in the liquid state due to the presence of certain solvents that take the finish either on the surface of the wood or penetrates it.

However, it is generally believed that once the finish has matured and reached its final state, it is food safe, so direct contact with food is absolutely safe. To accept this position, it is necessary to determine which finish we are talking about. Are we considering a finish that forms a film on the wood surface? Or, one that penetrates the wood?

Food safe wood finishes: You can safely use wood finishes such as polyurethane, shellac, lacquer or varnish on wood food utensils that won’t be subject to damage. For cutting boards or salad bowls where using a film finish might damage these crockery pieces, it’s best to go with a penetrating oil finish.

Your food bowls can be considered safe once the carrier solvents on them completely leaves the finish and the surface is totally dry. In the case of polyurethane, for example, a woodworker should ensure that this finish should completely bond together and lose their content of carrier solvents. By this means, polyurethane should allow soluble finishes like lacquer and shellac to completely evaporate their solvents.

Types of food safe finishes:

  • Walnut Oil Wood Finish: This is the ideal food safe wood finish because it is an entirely natural oil and a drying oil too. This means that once you apply it, it will dry, unlike other oils which could turn rancid.

When you use this oil on wood, it gets absorbed by the wood and does not make the wood sticky. Also, it has no smell of its own, but it enriches the wood with every coat. You can use it on wooden utensils like spoons, bowls, servers, salad hands, etc. Its finish is non-toxic, and water- and alcohol-resistant. Its aroma is also very pleasing and it does not give any aftertaste to the food.

  • Mineral Oil Wood Finish: This oil is derived from petroleum, yet it is odorless, tasteless and colorless, apart from completely inert. Like walnut oil, mineral oil too is a good option for food utensils because here too, the oil has no smell of its own and dries up after applying it. It is very easy to apply, has a low resistance to water and demands several applications on wooden utensils.

When compared with walnut oil, it is relatively inexpensive and is completely food safe. It can be added to cutting boards and a range of wooden utensils often so that they always look great. You can find it in drug stores where it is sold as a laxative and in kitchen supply stores where it is sold as a wood finish.

  • Coconut Oil Wood Finish: Yet another good option for wood utensil finish is coconut oil. But take care that you don’t use it in rancid state, particularly if you live in a hot environment. However, it is preferable to olive oil which can turn rancid, like any other vegetable oil. To use coconut oil on your wooden utensils, warm it in hot water and soften it before use.
  • Beeswax Wood Finish: Beeswax has an extremely soft and smooth texture when applied on wood. When combined either with mineral or walnut oil, beeswax oil gives a tougher finish than any other ordinary oil. Beeswax oil makes wooden utensils water-resistant. It also comes with a sweet and pleasing scent. To use this oil, cut off a piece of a beeswax candle or buy its pellets and warm it in a cup in a pot of water. When melted, apply it to your wooden bowls and other utensils such as chopping boards and non-meat blocks while it’s still warm.
  • Pure Tung Oil Wood Finish: An extract from the nut of the China wood tree, pure tung oil is used as a base in several blended finishes. It is difficult to apply and often requires several coats. It is also water-resistant. A 100% natural oil, it is easily available with woodworking retailers and on online sites. However, make sure that you use the genuine stuff as some brands of tung oil often have drying agents that are toxic.

Using tung oil gives a natural finish to wood that makes it stand out. It enters deep into the heart of the wood and protects it from moisture. After you apply several coats of this oil, you can actually feel the wood grain. Not only does it produce a subtle amber colour but it also darkens the wood significantly. To use this oil on food bowls and other food utensils, wet a cotton rag in this oil and apply a thin coat on the chosen utensils. Wait for a few hours before you apply the next coat. Wait and see results before you apply another coat.

  • Linseed Oil Wood Finish: This is a drying oil and has more fluid than tung oil. In its purest form, it takes about seven days to dry, so it is sold with salt driers extracted from manganese, cobalt and zirconium. Its orange colour turns a yellow tint when applied on wood, giving it an antique look. Overall, linseed oil offers protection to wood utensils, though not as much as tung oil. It has a long curing time, looks good and has a low resistance to water, though it needs frequent coats.
  • Shellac Wax Oil Wood Finish: An extract from the lac bug, it creates a film finish and an amber tint. It gives a glossy appearance if you apply several coats.
  • Polyurethane: Polyurethane is really the best food safe wood finish as it gives superlative results. In fact, food safe polyurethane offers two kinds of finishes that can be applied to countertops of butcher blocks. You can use the mineral oil finish for cutting surfaces because it doesn’t turn dry, crack or warp. Each time you wash the countertop, you will willy-nilly remove some oil, so you need to reapply this non-toxic substance every six weeks.


Now that you know the importance of using food safe utensils and how to make your wooden utensils food safe, go ahead and make yourself safe from toxins.

Author: John Clax

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