Salad Bowl Finishing

Collated from newsgroup postings.

I need the advice on the best (ie. most durable) finish for salad bowls. I'm inclined toward tung oil, but, never having used it, I'm wondering about drying time, etc.

Personally, I rarely use a finish for salad bowls. The oils from the food or salad dressing usually build up a nice patina on their own after some use. If you want to use a finish, I'd recommend one that was easy to find and apply. Mineral oil works well, I've also heard of people using vegetable oil as well.

I use olive oil inside and the bowl. It soaks in well, doesn't go rancid (unlike sunflower oil), and doesn't smell. It works for me: I don't fancy chemical solutions such as varnishes next to my food!

You could use food-grade linseed oil, but I have heard of people taking a bad reaction to it (vomiting).

I use walnut oil, available from health food stores, and some of the bigger grocery stores. Unlike olive oil, walnut oil will slowly harden. None of the oil finishes are impervious to water, so salad bowls need to be re-oiled from time to time.

Unlike tung and boiled linseed oil, walnut oil can go on the bowl staight from the bottle, and contains no petroleum based solvent, drying agents, varnish, etc. It also tastes good on the salad.

Good idea - go naked. If the bowls are washed with hot soapy water after use, they will be fine. I've got a maple bread board that I've used for years with no finish of any kind, just washed (by hand) after each use.

Careful with vegitable oils, they can go rancid in time.

Is your wood food safe? Rock maple and beech are supposed to be traditional woods used in food contact. I've heard that maple actually contains a natural ability to fight bacteria, at least better than some others.

Pure tung oil does take time to cure. It is slow. It cures by oxidation, the combination of the oil's molecules with oxygen molecules. This is unlike the evaporation of solvents in finishes like varnish. In varnish, once the solvents are evaporated out, and the resin is set, it is cured. This is an overly simplistic way of looking at it, though, because these finishes often have an oil in them. But, these oils are usually modified in some way to make the oil cure faster.

Anything other than a label saying something to the effect of "pure" or "100% tung oil" are not pure tung oil, but just some kind of wiping varnish that may or may not actually contain tung oil. Pure tung oil is just that and nothing else. I use it extensively, both alone and as part of a homemade varnish concoction, on woodturnings.

Most products that claim to be "salad bowl finish" are said to contain ingredients that once fully and properly cured, are supposed to be considered safe by the FDA. In actuality, all surface finishes other than shellac cure to some kind of a plastic film. Don't use shellac, even though it is food safe, acidic food materials like salad dressing can damage shellac. Salad bowl finishes are a variety of a wiping varnish.

Many will suggest using walnut oil as the finish. It cures, eventually. It's a slow curing process, though (I've never used it, but I would give any finish several weeks, maybe a full month, to cure before putting into use for food), but is food safe and available at grocery stores. I'm not sure how people who are allergic to nuts would be affected by this oil finish, though.

If anyone suggests mineral oil, beware that mineral oil does not ever cure, and will be washed off by dishwashing detergents, so you will have to reapply it often. Some people do use mineral oil, though, especially on butcher blocks, etc.

I've started using clear urethane oil, and I love the stuff. You can apply it thinly to achieve a satin finish or apply it heavily for a glossier finish. It is also non-toxic when dry. I have used the a salad bowl finish but I feel that the urethane oil gives a nicer finish.

Personally I don't think it matters too much about the type of finish. The quality of finish is what's important. You will find anything from a natural i.e. no finish, finish to a fairly thick coat of something impervious to the food, heat, washing etc., the bowl will encounter, will be recommended by those who swear by them. You ask about salad bowls plural so I'll assume you might be selling these unless you're really into your greens in a big way.

To sell them you have to first of all make them appealing to the buyer. This is down to choice of wood, shape of the bowl and the finish you get from the tools and sanding, in other words did you make a good job of the bowl.

The other sort of finish, the sort you apply after you have finished is a matter of choice. I would go for an oil finish using an oil I wouldn't mind having on my food, so vegetable oils such as sunflower, olive etc., and in my case nut oils. But for selling I'd stay away from nut oils as there are more and more allergic reactions to these. Mineral oil is safe to use not that I'd want it on my food. What you have to be mindful of is that whatever you put on it the bowl is not going to look in showroom condition for very long. You can suggest to the customer that the bowl will only need a wipe over with a damp cloth and a re-oiling to maintain it but you know that it will probably get left overnight with food in it then dunked into hot water to wash it. Re-oiled? Yeah sure. My point is the finish you start with is just that a starting point, the long term care of the bowl is what will determine how well it looks year after year. Make 'em good, sell 'em none too cheap and maybe the customer will value them enough to give them the care you would if they were your own.

My concern about a finish for salad/food bowls has to do with knives and forks. Most people that I know like to cut up their salads before eating. This cutting is going to cut through and film finish that is on the bowl and most likely continue down into the wood. For this reason, I would lean toward no finish at all. Let nature take its course with the wood and patina.

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