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Salad Bowl Finish, Protect and Care for your Wood Bowl!

Updated: Mar 28

Please read if you intend to buy one of my bowls. If you are not a Customer of mine and looking for Salad Bowl Care advice you may find this post to be useful too or you may find it enlightening, please keep reading.

My bowl turning process has changed so much in the last 5 or 6 years that I now feel I have to explain my current method to customers and tell you why I stopped using my initial methods. In this post I will go back to my early finishing methods. Liquid Paraffin and Danish Oil.

Salad Bowl Finish - which one is best?

There is no such thing as a perfect salad bowl finish in my view. What is important is what works for your particular bowl and for whichever use you use it for and it is entirely up to you really. Often used and washed, use Liquid Paraffin on its own or a mixture of Liquid Paraffin with Beeswax or you can use Danish Oil for a bit more longevity. You will have to recoat after a bit of use though.

If your Bowl is never used for food, use Danish Oil, Hard Wax Oil or any other finish that gives you a more permanent shine. Most finishes are considered food safe once fully cured but to be sure you should use a product tested and certified as Food-Safe. What follows is some of the products I use or have used in my business and some tips about their use.

Liquid Paraffin

My first bowls were finished with liquid Paraffin (Mineral Oil to US readers) on it's own and the finished bowls would be extremely smooth, free from scratches and rubbing marks and these worked well for a while. The problem was that the Bowls needed the finish to be reapplied several times during the year to keep that look even if the bowl is never washed. When these Bowls were sold in shops this became a big issue. The Bowls would end up looking lifeless after a while and this would be the same if stored in a house.

I countered this problem with a heat blended mix of Liquid Paraffin and Beeswax which gave a better and slightly longer lasting finish. There is nothing wrong with these finishes and many Woodturners recommend them due to their ease of application and quick improvement of the look of the wood surface. As a side note, I used to find it very therapeutic to re-apply coats even if it is a bit of a messy process.

The Shop Issue

My problem with these non permanent finishes was when the Bowl was displayed in a shop setting; the lustre would die fairly quickly due to the amount of people walking around the shop constantly moving air and evaporating the finish. Constant touching would also greatly increase the loss of the Liquid Paraffin finish and also add greasy fingerprints. Eventually the Bowls would look dull & lifeless. Customers would not be so keen to buy the Bowls in that condition so I would end up with unsold Bowls at the end of the season. In a home environment, this would not be too big of a deal at all but in shops your Bowl must look like the Bowl was turned yesterday!

Gorgeous Tralee Ash Salad Bowl
Tralee Olive Ash Salad Bowl

Danish Oil

I went to one of the shops I supply a few years back to check remaining bowl stock and to drop off a few more new pieces. What greeted me was four dull looking bowls with paw marks and rain water droplet marks all over. I was more than a little upset to see that my carefully created pieces ended up looking like this. No wonder they hadn't sold, I probably would not have bought them myself in that condition.

I immediately set about experimenting with more permanent solutions. In comes Rustins Danish Oil which provided a great finish but unfortunately 24 hours between coats. Next I tried Hampshire Sheen Food Safe Danish oil and I ended up going with this due to its easy application and only 20 minute between coat intervals. The Danish Oil needed 3 coats with the final coat rubbed with 2,000 grit while wet with the freshly coated oil and the excess gently wiped away after a few minutes. The Danish Oil made sure that bowls kept their shine even after shop handling although it should be noted that fingerprints are still an issue. No matter what finish you choose, fingerprints are going to be an issue because grease and other substances are always present on human skin.

Danish Oil protects the wood because it soaks into the fibers and provides a moisture resistant finish. I need to highlight resistant, not waterproof. More explanation in the Water and Wood section below.

Care needs to be used in disposing of the Danish Oil application rags as they create heat as they cure and there is a possibility of spontaneous combustion. Dispose of in a fireplace, not the bin!

Stunning Ash Bowl from Glencar Co Kerry
Glencar Ash Salad Bowl

Water and wood

When you use the bowl for food, things start to change. The introduction of water or liquids will change the finish of the bowl if and also when you wash it. The type of detergent you use will also affect the finish. Some detergents contain salt among other things which are abrasive to any finish so try and find something neutral if you can and only use this on wood products.

Also, remember a bowl comes from a tree which sole function was to procure and transmit water from the ground to the top of the tree without loss. Wood is dried out completely to stabilize it before it can become something like a salad bowl. You need to be careful how much water you expose the bowl to or it may change shape and or discolour. Check my After Care page if you are unsure of how to treat wood products.

Beautiful Grained Tralee Ash Bowl
Tralee Ash Salad Bowl

Always Looking for Improvement

I am constantly looking for great finishes which protect the wood up to the point when a customer buys the product and even better if it is easier to apply when finishing the Bowl. If everything works as planned, the customer is buying the product in the condition I intended it to be sold. I have found a new Hard Wax Oil that gives a great finish and doesn't have some of the roughness that Danish Oil can leave behind once cured.

Don't Be Fooled!

There is no such thing as a completely waterproof finish on wood and none that would be certified as 100% food-safe. Wood is a natural material and is constantly moving because of moisture in the air or changes in room temperature and this affects the permeability of any finish you apply. Anyone who tells you something is waterproof doesn't know any better or is lying to get you to buy their product. Even if you coat wood with layers of plastic, water would eventually find its way in underneath the finish if you expose the bowl to water. Far better to allow the wood dry naturally and let any water evaporate away.

So what happens when you wash a new bowl

Ok, if you use a bowl for food and need to wash it you should see the shop bought shine diminish or disappear. This is perfectly normal and happens every wood product that is washed. Wood requires TLC to keep it in good condition. The initial shine is achieved by the Woodturner so that you see the wood for the beautiful material that it is. It is then your responsibility to maintain it to whatever standard you choose. The wood may also roughen up a little as the surface fibres stand up after water exposure, perfectly normal for wood. Check my After Care page if you are unsure of how to treat wood products.

New Hard Wax Oil

My latest finishing product. If you choose to display the bowl as is, the bowl will look stunning forever and the only thing needed is to give it a wipe with a soft dry cloth or household dry tissue. Keep it away from direct sunlight though or the wood will darken.

If you wash the bowl after food soiling then you need to take care of it. Before plastic became common, many items in the kitchen were made of wood, Cutting Boards, Rolling Pins, Bowls etc. and these all developed their own natural roughness and colour without any great care taken. In our modern world we have the ability and products to take care of these things so that they always look their best.

This finish is smooth, almost as smooth as I can achieve with Liquid Paraffin. Due to the nature of this finish, application marks may be possible. They will be hard to see but your bowl will be better protected.

Check my After Care page if you are unsure of how to treat wood products. Again, if you use water the finish will dull and you may have to recoat with something to keep protecting the wood surface.

After Care for you

I am currently working on a Liquid Paraffin/Beeswax/Carnauba Wax mixture that I will be able to sell to the public so that you can easily give your wood products a quick rub and buff to restore them to full luster again. This new product would be non permanent but will allow you to easily and safely polish your bowl to make it shine again. Outside of that I sell HS Danish Oil and hope to sell small batches of the new Hard Wax Oil too.

Update on mixture; I have decided not to go forward with my own mixture. While the products on their own are food-safe, once I mix them I would probably have to get them re-tested officially before selling commercially. The cost and risk of making the mixture is therefore not worth it. If you are a Woodturner and considering your own mixture, I would advise taking advice before going forward.

Large Tralee Ash Bowl by David Condon
Large Tralee Ash Salad Bowl

This stunning bowl is coated with Hard Wax Oil, you can see more salad bowls here.

The Business Plug

As someone who owns a Craft based business I can tell you that each sale I make is very important and gives me the will to carry on and keep creating beautiful pieces. If you liked the Post, maybe you would consider a small purchase in my online store. No matter how much you spend, you will make a difference in my life....Thank You and thanks for reading! David

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