Food Safe Wood Finish For The Perfect Wooden Utensils

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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All wood projects that will be in contact with food are usually given food-safe wood finishes. We all want to eat safe food without toxic ingredients making their way into our food. However, Most wood finishes used on cutting boards, a salad bowl, and plates are safe wood finishes. Any wooden kitchen appliance always has a food-safe wood finish.

What Is A Food Safe Wood Finish?

Wood finishing is the final step in the production process of furniture. A food-safe wood finish is often used to protect the wood from tough kitchen conditions, such as washing, scraping, and eating in. A food-safe finish does not have any toxic ingredients and is approved by the FDA. In addition, keeping the pores on a wooden surface sealed is important to prevent moisture, promoting rotting and bacteria.

Ultimately, a food-grade wood finish only has one goal, your health. The beauty and shiny finish of your wooden kitchen cutting board are also a priority. Food safe wood finishes are formulated with edible oils such as linseed oil, Tung oil, walnut oil, and other waxes, which are safe for human consumption.

Now that we have an idea of what a food-safe wood finish is let us dive right in and learn more about different types of wood finishes.

Food Safe Wood Finishes

1) Pure Tung Oil

Also known as China wood oil, Tung oil has been used for ages to protect wooden instruments, including boats. However, it is not only limited to wood. Tung oil has also been used on metal, concrete, and brick to create a perfect finish. So, if you are wondering if it's the right finish for your small DIY project, then it probably is.

Apart from being usable in all instances, the Tung oil wood finish is environmentally friendly and durable. It provides a clear and matte waterproof coating that does not darken, go rancid or catch mold. In addition, it is easy to apply from start to finish. It dries faster than any other oil finish and cures to a beautiful honey color.

When it comes to wood grain, Tung oil brings out furniture wood grain clearly. Generally, oil finishes are water-resistant and give furniture surfaces an antique finish. While there have been concerns for allergies, pure Tung oil poses no threat to anyone with a peanut allergy. In addition, this oil-based finish does not create a glossy or shiny appearance.

2) Raw Linseed Oil

Linseed oil is made from flax seeds. At first, linseed oil was used for nutrition. Later on, other uses were discovered. It has several uses, including the protection of interior and exterior wood. Because it is widely available, linseed oil is also popular as an oil-based finishing oil. It is also environmentally friendly and non-toxic.

From a gorgeous bowl finish to cutting boards and kitchen countertops, linseed gives off a golden hue that darkens to brown over time. This quality is what makes it sought after. Not only does it color wood, but it also deeply nourishes wooden furniture. In addition, it is appreciated for having water resistance and UV block.

It is also food safe and will not cause allergies or poisoning if it were to come into contact with your food. This is why it is suitable for kitchen appliances, including butcher blocks. However, all-natural linseed oils are non-drying; they take a long time to dry off completely. It also has a satin finish and is completely safe for food contact surfaces.

3) Mineral Oil Food Grade Wood Finish

Mineral oil as a wood finish is best used over a water-based stain. Of course, mineral oil is non-toxic and has been in use for ages. Mineral oil as a wood finish should be applied until the wood can take no more. After that, you can use a sealer to ensure it offers better waterproofing. Because mineral oil is natural, you will need to layer an adequate amount until a satin finish is achieved.

It is clear, hypoallergenic, and has no odor. These qualities make it perfect for coating baby toys as it will not harm your child. However, wooden surfaces need to be refreshed from time to time to keep the satin finish intact. Ideally, you should re-apply mineral oil food safe finishes every three months. Mineral oil finishes are food safe and give wood its natural color.

Mineral oil finish is popular; if you do not have a problem with the upkeep of your furniture, then this is the best food-safe wood finish you can ever use. It offers protection on your wooden surface. You can apply varnish over your oil finish for a more durable coat without upkeep.

4) Olive Oil Wood Finishes

Olive oil food-grade finish is easy to get ahold of. It does not require any special equipment to apply. This oil will feed and nourish your furniture and bring out the natural characteristics of your wood. You also do not need so much olive finish to get the job done. You only need a small amount, preferably a small bottle.

You can use olive treatment on any surface, including bookcases, chairs, tables, cabinets, wooden spoons, and cutting boards. If you want, you can add an essential oil of your choice to add a sweet scent to your furniture. However, it is recommended that you don't add any essential oil to your olive finish on cooking surfaces.

Using a cloth, you should gently rub the oil into all the crevices until all the oil is absorbed into the wood. For a cutting board or a bowl finish, it is perfectly safe even for consumption. After applying the oil, buffing it out with a clean cloth will give you a cleaner and better finish.

5) Walnut Oil

For many years now, walnut oil has been a favorite wood finish. Most walnut oils are infused with linolenic acid, which speeds up the drying process. In addition, it will leave a finish that will not evaporate and will last for a long time. This is a durable, nice-looking, and food-safe finish for your projects.

You can add additional coats until you get the perfect finish on your salad bowl. A properly cured bowl will have a beautiful finish. Reapplication is required to keep your wooden appliances from drying out. There is no special maintenance required once you layer this perfect wood finish. Before application, walnut oil is treated with heat.

Heat breaks down the proteins, which cause allergic reactions, therefore making it safe when it comes into contact with food. The heat also causes the walnut oil to polymerize over time, therefore hardening and forming a film-like coat. In addition, the oil finish does not darken or change color when applied and re-applied.

6) Carnauba Wax

Also known as Brazil wax or palm wax, Carnauba wax produces a glossy finish. It is used on automobiles, speedboat hulls, and instruments, among others. It is used on speedboat hulls because of its resistance to saltwater environments. It is also used in the cosmetic industry to thicken lipstick, foundation, and deodorant, among other things.

It offers longevity and endurance to wooden materials and is one of the few waxes that creates a hydrophobic layer to repel water. As a result, it helps to protect the grain underneath and keep the shine. Apart from that, it also prevents the rotting of the wood underneath while keeping the wood nourished and not dried out.

Unlike water-based and other natural woodworking finishes, carnauba wax sprays can be applied very quickly hence offer convenience. Because of that, it is a clear wax and hence does not alter the color of your furniture. As previously mentioned, it is also used to polish and shine automobiles.

7) Beeswax

Long gone are the days where we use toxic chemicals to keep our furniture shiny. Not only is beeswax non-toxic, but it also enables you to have the best and most natural-looking wood in your home. As a result, you can have your furniture looking amazing and gorgeous. Not to mention, beeswax is sustainable and contains no harsh chemicals.

Beeswax offers protection from water and other elements like heat. When your chopping boards are properly coated in a sealer, it forms a film that protects the wood from drying out or rotting and growing mold. Apart from cleaning and polishing your wood, beeswax is safe to ingest and meets strict standards set by the FDA.

This wax is suitable for your wooden spoons, bowls, cutting boards, and other wooden items. Unlike water-based varnish on wood, wax blocks open pores and grain and create a protection film. It penetrates wood deeply. For example, if you leave a piece of furniture with beeswax overnight, it will penetrate about 1/4 way into the wood.

8) Vegetable Oil

Some vegetable oils have been often used to treat and varnish pine wood. However, there are downsides to using vegetable oils for a food-safe wood finish. When applied, these oils get absorbed very quickly and permanently. After a while, the greasiness wears off, and you are left with a beautiful satin finish.

As the years go by, vegetable oil wood finishes leave wood with a sophisticated and well-aged look. The wood darkens with time and changes color. Depending on the number of layers you apply, your wood will be protected from UV damage. Two to eight layers will suffice for outdoor furniture, while three layers will be adequate for indoor furniture.

Even if a topcoat has never protected your furniture, a vegetable oil coat will do it justice by leaving the desired effect. After application, wiping off the excess oil from the wood is important to prevent it from being sticky.

9) Shellac

Shellac is quick-drying and easy to use. Apart from having the same characteristics as most oils, it accentuates the natural beauty of the wood grain. It has been used for years and comes in many colors and stains. In addition, it is not toxic and pure, hence also used as a sealer. The lac bug tree secretes shellac.

Shellac is food safe and hence environmentally friendly. It does not form a hard or plastic coat, but it forms a natural finish that does not darken or turn yellow with age. Most of the time, shellac can be used under most topcoats like varnish or polyurethane. After sealing the wood with the first layer, you can apply multiple layers to achieve your desired finish.

On the downside, however, shellac is not heat resistant and is not waterproof. If it comes into contact with water, it gets white stains which will ruin the wood. Therefore, shellac is suitable in places where there is no water or heat. In addition, it is non-toxic and hence safe if consumed by humans, and it does not produce a strong odor when used.

How To Apply A Food Safe Finish

There are a few tips when you are using a food-safe finish on your furniture. We have outlined them below:

  • Work on a well buffed and sanded surface.
  • Always wear hand protection like gloves.
  • Know how much product to use.
  • Apply the recommended amount with a brush or rag.
  • Let the finish dry and be absorbed into the wood
  • Wipe off the excess oil finish
  • You can add excess layers.
  • Sand until you are satisfied with the hue

What We Think

Any wood finish needs at least thirty days to be fully cured. So before you purchase a food finish, ensure the curing duration is also mentioned after ensuring it's food-safe. The more you keep your woodworking safe, the more you keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

Hopefully, we have answered some of your questions regarding what wood finish to use on your small DIY project with the family. If the product you buy is listed as food safe, ensure you follow it up to be sure.

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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