Items made of unfinished, unlacquered wood, such as many bowls, spoons, cutting boards and knife handles, require only minimal care in order to retain their unmatched beauty, longevity, and practicality.
How to Care for Unfinished Wood Utensils
Oil natural wood utensils on a regular basis. We recommend it monthly or even more frequently.
We recommend mineral oil.
• Food grade mineral oil is tasteless and odorless.
• It does not get sticky and does not become rancid with time.
• It does not stain wood.
• It does not harden and keeps the wood pliable enough and clean enough for use in all kinds of food preparation.
Rub oil on the wood with a cloth or paper towel in generous amounts, until it no longer absorbs.
• The wood and the oil should be at room temperature before starting.
• For very dry utensils, you should repeat the process after 6-8 hours, and again if necessary, until the oil is no longer being absorbed after that time.
• Then use a cloth or paper towel to wipe off any excess oil that remains on the surface.
Treat edge grain with generous amounts of mineral oil to prevent absorption, and rub with beeswax for extra protection.
Pastry boards, brotform baskets, and other utensils that are used with dry ingredients shouldn’t usually be oiled, nor washed. Flour them well during use, and brushed off when done. On boards, sticking dough should be removed with a nylon or metal scraper.
You can wash your properly oiled wooden utensils with care, though most utensils can simply be wiped clean with a cloth or paper towel.
• Keep food from drying hard, by cleaning utensils right away.
• Do not let wood utensils soak, and do not clean in a dishwasher.
• Do use soap and hot water for spoons, spatulas, and other utensils that come in contact with raw foods, like meat and egg products.
Cutting boards should be cleaned thoroughly after use.
• The USDA recommends that you wash wooden cutting boards and utensils used with uncooked meat products (including fish and poultry) with hot, soapy water, then rinse and dry. Keep a separate board for this type of use.
Towel dry wood utensils thoroughly after washing.
• A thorough drying right after washing keeps water from soaking into and damaging the board, especially if it’s in need of a good coating of oil.
If you used soap, you might need to re-oil after drying.
Rub a wedge of lemon on the wood to help keep it free from bacteria and other germs. Makes it smell good, too.
Salad bowls can just be wiped clean and dry with a cloth or paper towel.
• Avoid build-up of vegetable oil and intense flavors by keeping bowls clean and coated with mineral oil.
• If build-up does occur, scrub with lemon juice.
• If lemon juice doesn’t remove build-up of sticky oils, scour with medium- to fine-grit sandpaper, then re-season the bowl with mineral oil.
To smooth edges, you can rub them with fine grain sandpaper (220 grit), then rub with oil.
Store your cutting boards on their edge if possible. If you store them flat, turn them over every week or so to keep them well aired and prevent warping.
Store in a dry location, at room temperature, away from hot, cold and humid areas.
• Excessive heat dries the surface oil, and causes warping, splitting, and cracking.
• Moisture that stays on wood causes it to split from expansion.
• Extreme cold temperatures are very dry, draw the moisture from the wood, and cause warping, splitting, and cracking.
• Never subject wooden utensils to temperature extremes. Like us, wood needs a bit of time to warm up when coming in from the cold, and it doesn’t like touching very hot pots, either.
Warranties on wood products cover their materials, workmanship, and merchantability.
• Warranties do not cover cracking or splitting that occurs when wood has been soaked, when it has dried from not being oiled regularly, and when it has been subjected to intense changes in temperature and humidity.
• If a wood board or bowl is well maintained (washed with no soaking nor dishwasher after use and dried immediately, kept oiled, not subjected to unusual temperatures), it is simply not likely to warp or crack. If a well maintained board cracks, it will “most likely” be due to a manufacturing defect, and it would more than likely be a split along a glue line.
• A dry wooden board or bowl that has NOT been maintained will eventually crack along the grain of the wood. If subjected to the dishwasher and other temperature extremes, it might also crack at the glue joints by weakened glue bonds.
• The glue joints are supposed to create a stronger bond than the wood fibers. Manufacturer defects are often caused by things like too little glue, too tight clamping, unclamping too soon, the improper mating of joints, and even the wood’s moisture content as it was being glued.
Reminder… When you notice the wood becoming dry (it will lighten in color), it’s already past time to re-oil. Make it a point to quickly re-oil on a regular basis. That old wood spoon from grandma will then last you just about forever, or until it wears out, whichever comes first.
What if you want a hard finish on your wooden counter or butcher block?
• A hard finish of a food-safe lacquer or varnish means no more oiling.
• But you can’t use it as a cutting surface, as sharp objects will scar the finish.
• And always shield it from hot and very cold dishes or pans with a trivet.
The best food-safe lacquer is shellac. In flake form, it is free of water, wax and preservatives, and can easily be mixed as needed. It is easy to apply, protects well against moisture, and makes a wonderful shiny surface. Small blemishes can be easily repaired, however heat spots and alcohol spills are damaging and require work to fix.
The best food-safe varnish is natural tung oil. It is easy to apply, protects well against moisture, blemishes can be easily repaired, and lasts much longer than shellac. It takes more coats than shellac, and more work to get a shiny surface, a longer drying time, and is more expensive.
Other food-safe lacquers and varnishes are available commercially, and should be matched to the type of food and degree of food preparation to be done on the surface area.
Always read the labels and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for best results.
All about cutting boards, including care:
How to oil your cutting board:
How to store your cutting board: