Debra Lynn Dadd

Wood Conditioner for Cutting Boards and Bowls

QUESTION:

We're installing a butcher block counter top in our kitchen. Do you know of a product we can apply to protect and condition the wood? We thought of mineral oil, but you recommend against that in your book Home Safe Home. What do you suggest?

POSTED BY P.S :: CALIFORNIA USA :: 05/03/2005


DEBRA'S ANSWER:

I've been using a product called B's Oil Salad Bowl & Wood Preserver, made by Holland Bowl Mill. It says right on the label that it is made only from natural oils and beeswax. I even called the company, who assured me it was "all-natural".

We've been using it on our wooden salad bowls and cutting boards since I found it in a fancy San Francisco cooking store years ago. Just recently, we used it to finish the wooden top on a kitchen island we built. It really protects the wood water beads right up and we felt good having the beeswax around our organic food. It has no odor, except for the slight sweetness of beeswax.

The Holland Bowl Mill website says it has received many letters from customers telling them B's Oil is so gentle that they use it as their favorite hand cream moisturizer.

So I was surprised to find out that it is actually made from beeswax and mineral oil! I had a long phone conversation with the owner and made sure he understood that you cannot label a product containing mineral oil as natural. I see he has changed the description on his website after our conversation.

I set out to find a truly all-natural wood conditioner for my wooden salad bowls and cutting boards, and discovered some interesting things even many woodworkers don't know.

It is important to apply some kind of protection to wood cutting boards and bowls before using them the first time, to prevent staining and absorption of food odors and bacteria, and to keep water from penetrating the wood, which results in warping and cracking.

Some suggest "seasoning" the wood with oil, just as you would a cast-iron pan. Warm the oil slightly, and apply in the direction of the grain, allowing it to soak in between each coat. Apply four or five coats of oil. Wait about four to six hours between coats, and wipe off any excess oil that did not soak in before applying the next coat of warm oil.

The question is: What type of oil should be used to season the wood?

Most woodworkers today use USP-grade mineral oil because it is 1 edible 2 tasteless and 3 the cheapest pure food-grade oil you can buy. Vegetable and olive oils are not recommended because they turn rancid. Mineral oil, however, is a petrochemical product. While it is relatively nontoxic, as a wood surface protector it does come in contact with food. When you see the words "food safe finish" in a description of a wood product, this generally means mineral oil has been used.

Beeswax is often added to mineral oil to give a tougher finish. The wax of bees has been used for centuries for waterproofing and sealing materials from baskets to cloth and for preserving foods and other perishable materials, including wood. This was long before the days of mineral oil, which is a petrochemical product of the Industrial Age.

Beeswax is often used to protect wood. It will make wood water-resistant though not water-proof and will help protect the wood surface from use and wear. It will also give a wood surface a nice smooth feel to the touch and leave a gentle, sweet fragrance.

But...you can't use just straight beeswax because it is a huge molecule and cannot penetrate the wood. It is a great surface treatment, but wood needs oil, which can penetrate for protection. This is why beeswax wood conditioners are mixed with oil.

The solution turns out to be...walnut oil. It's all-natural and is one of the few oils that doesn't turn rancid.

The simplest thing to do is to simply purchase a bottle of walnut oil at a specialty grocery or natural food store and apply it directly to your wood bowl or board [if you can't find it locally, you can order online from ShopNatural. If you want, you can add as much beeswax as you like while you are warming the oil for application. Make fine shreds of beeswax from a block or candle.

Or, you can purchase commercial formulations. Woodworker's Supply carries several food safe finishes.

* Preserve contains "a blend of oils from the meats of exotic nuts"
* Clapham's Beeswax Salad Bowl Finish contains mineral oil and carnuba wax a harder wax than beeswax, along with the beeswax.
* General Finishes Salad Bowl Finish creates "a beautiful and safe finish on...any wood surface that contacts food...Dried film is non-toxic for food contact 72 hours after drying." MSDS shows ingredients to be Mineral spirits, Nonane, Oil modified urethane resin and 1,2,4-Trimethylbenzene. Hardly nontoxic during application. I'd choose a different option.

And what about B's Oil I've been using? Turns out it's 80 percent beeswax and 20 percent mineral oil. Not the worst, but not the most natural. I think I'll get some walnut oil.

Once the wood is protected, it needs to be maintained to control bacteria: * Scrub boards and bowls frequently with hot soapy water.
* Sanitize with a one to five dilution of vinegar to water. Flood the surface with the vinegar solution and allow it to stand for several minutes, then rinse and air dry.
* Keep dry when not in use. Beware of moisture collecting beneath boards left on the counter. Prop one end up when not using your board.
* Oil boards once a week bowls get additional oiling every time you use them from the salad dressing.
* Choose wood boards over plastic. Research has shown that bacteria cannot be removed by hand-washing from knife-scared plastic boards. On wood boards the bacteria dies off within 3 minutes. The theory is that the porous surface of the wood surface of the wooden boards deprives the bacteria of water, causing them to die.
* Use a separate board for cutting raw meat and poultry to ensure their will be no cross-contamination with other foods eaten raw, such as fruits and vegetables, and bread.

Debra :-)


COMMENTS:

I'm a wood turner making primarily salad bowls. I read your Q&A: "Wood Conditioner for Cutting Boards and Bowls." I've been using Clapham's Beeswax and Salad Bowl Finish, a blend of beeswax and mineral oil. A friend recently told me about the origins of mineral oil--I had no idea it was petroleum based ! So now I'm looking at other options.

You suggest walnut oil and I've also seen that on some woodturners' websites. There's a combo of products from Mike Mahoney at www.bowlmakerinc.com. One is a first coat of a heat treated walnut oil utility finish and over that you can apply his beeswax/carnauba wax product oil wax finish. It sounds good, but I'm concerned about food allergies to the use of walnut oil. I'm wondering whether potential allergies to my bowls is something I should even be concerned with. Any info would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Clarissa

POSTED BY CLARISSA SPAWN :: GLOBAL ARTISANS SHOWCASE :: WWW.GLOBALARTISANSHOWCASE.COM :: FLORIDA USA :: 09/20/2005 2:32 PM


I think it would be prudent to state on the label if your bowl is treated with walnut oil. It's not going to be a problem for most people, but it would be considerate to disclose that for people who are allergic to nuts.

Debra :-)

POSTED BY DEBRA LYNN DADD :: DEBRA LYNN DADD :: DLD123.COM :: FLORIDA USA :: 09/21/2005 2:33 PM


I'm finding it pretty impossible to find a product that doesn't contain mineral oil except for the product I told you about before made by Mike Mahoney. It's a great product though I'm still concerned about nut allergies.

I've got a couple gallons of almond oil and some beeswax, so I've been searching for a recipe. Many of the older recipes for wood floor finishing use turpentine. I found this recipe on the website for the Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia. Thought you might find it interesting.

Wood Floor Wax
1 cup olive, almond or walnut oil
1/2 cup vodka
30 - 40 grams grated beeswax
40 - 55 grams carnauba wax depends on hardness desired.
Put oil and the waxes into a wide-mouth glass jar or tin can and set in pot of simmering water. Stir gently until waxes are dissolved. Remove from heat and add vodka, mixing well. Allow to harden. Use a rag to rub into the wood. If the rag "drags" too much, dip it into a tiny bit of oil.

Clarissa

POSTED BY CLARISSA SPAWN :: GLOBAL ARTISANS SHOWCASE :: WWW.GLOBALARTISANSHOWCASE.COM :: FLORIDA USA :: 10/06/2005 2:35 PM


I got this response (below) from the woodturner who sells the walnut oil/beeswax finish. I am really not sure his statistics are accurate as I know two people with walnut allergies--one fairly severe. I get sores in my mouth from eating walnuts--though not enough to keep me from eating a chocolate chip cookie if it's got walnuts in it. It's just that I substitute pecans when I can. I've also heard of a wood worker who gets blisters on his skin from working with walnut. I can't imagine I'd know that many people if the problem was so scarse.

There are only three oils that dry: walnut, tung, and linseed. Mike claims that his walnut oil dries faster than that you would buy at the grocery as it's been boiled I think that's why. I've never compared the two. I use his walnut oil first and then use his beeswax/oil combo as a finishing coat as it adds some water protection. The results are striking--rich grain and minimal gloss. It really does make the grain "pop".

Clarissa

From Mike Mahoney:

Clarissa,

I have done a lot of research on this problem. I haven't found anything conclusive on the subject. I did find some interesting things about walnut oil and allergies. I in 2.5 million people have nut allergies. Walnut oil has been used in many food products for decades without even being listed, not to mention industrial products paints, cosmetics.

Similar oil products claims that once they dry they become inert. Also typical oil finishes Boiled lindseed oil, Tung oil, Watco, Danish oils all have toxic dryers in them Benzyne, Toulune, Turpentine etc.... I believe these to be way more allergic to people than nut oils.

I wish I had something more conclusive for you.

Thanks for using the product. I believe it is a great wood finish since it is a natural wood oil.

Good Luck, Mike

POSTED BY CLARISSA SPAWN :: GLOBAL ARTISANS SHOWCASE :: WWW.GLOBALARTISANSHOWCASE.COM :: FLORIDA USA :: 10/15/2005 2:39 PM


hi debra

i came across your website looking for ideas to treat my new butchers block and found this blog entry in which you make the claim that walnut oil won't go rancid.

However, as walnut contains upwards of 50% n6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), like any oil rich in polyunsaturates, it will tend to go rancid without proper storage (which is why good quality walnut oil is stored in air-tight, dark colored bottles).

Generally speaking, the higher the PUFA content, the more unstable the oil.

For a chart that lists these oils, see:
http://www.scientificpsychic.com/fitness/fattyacids1.html

if you look at the chart, the vegetable oils with the lowest polyunsaturated content are palm kernel oil and coconut oil. Olive oil is also quite low in PUFAs, and is probably a better choice than walnut oil, at least in terms of stability, however, all vegetable oils will go rancid eventually.

The most stable oils are completely saturated fats like clarified butter, which in India is often used as aged product, sometimes 10 years or older (in some temples, 100 years old!!)

if you want to know why i know all this, i am a herbalist, and apart from using oils therapeutically, also use them in various medications, such as salves, of which the base is oil and beeswax.

Speaking of which, many of the herbs used in salves have an antioxidant properties and contribute to shelf-life and stability. Probably you could "medicate" an oil with an herb, and then add the beeswax. Some plants could also add colors, such as st johns wort, which is very red, or turmeric for an orange-yellow color...

best... todd

Todd Caldecott, Dip. Cl.H, RH(AHG)
Ayurvedic practitioner, Clinical Herbalist

COMMENT FROM DEBRA: Your ideas sound very interesting to me. I would love it if you would continue to work on this and come up with a good formula, as this would be something a lot of people would want to use on butcher blocks, wood bowls, and cutting boards.

POSTED BY TODD :: TODD CALDECOTT :: WWW.TODDCALDECOTT.COM :: BC CANADA :: 10/17/2006 3:20 AM


If anyone is looking for pure tung oil, without the toxic additives, Lee Valley sells it on their website - 100% Pure Tung Oil at www.leevalley.com (if this link doesn't come up, look for it under Woodworking/Finishes/100% Pure Tung Oil)

POSTED BY MICHELLE :: ONTARIO CANADA :: 10/19/2006 4:47 AM


I have already put olive oil on my butcher block island..... after further research I have found out that it can turn rancid, what do I do now to make sure that this doesnt happen?

COMMENT FROM DEBRA: I don't know...anyone have any ideas?


POSTED BY AMY :: IOWA USA :: 10/31/2006 9:18 AM


Re the use of carnauba oil in any form or combination with other products on chopping blocks, bowls, floors... at http://www.zymol.com/carnauba.htm I learned that "The leaves (of the tree that produces this oil) are soaked in kerosene or turpentine to soften the wax resulting in a thick liquid that is then poured into molds and allowed to solidify." Scary. It is more than a full-time job, it seems sometimes, trying to not exacerbate conditions which already leave us with little energy. Thanks, Debbie, for your assistance.
Katherina

COMMENT FROM DEBRA: Thanks Katherina. This just goes to show that something can be natural, but have toxic chemicals be used in processing that we don't know about. We just all need to keep a look out for this kind of information and keep sharing it.


POSTED BY KATHERINA :: OHIO USA :: 11/02/2006 8:16 AM


I wanted to let you know about a company called Golden's Antique Supply (www.antiquesupply.com) that sells pure Tung Oil and a natural citrus solvent that it can be thinned with. I also bought Howard Naturals wood cleaner and polish from them.

POSTED BY CLARISSA SPAWN :: GLOBAL ARTISANS SHOWCASE :: WWW.GLOBALARTISANSHOWCASE.COM :: FLORIDA USA :: 01/23/2007 12:31 PM


Hi Debra!
I am allergic to walnuts, so walnut oil is a no no for me. For all my wood conditioning, I use ORGANIC coconut oil. It has an incredible shelf life even with being open to air. When I use my cutting boards for raw meats, I wash them in all natural dish detergent with a couple drops of Grapefruit seed extract, which kills just about everything, then leave to airdry in the bright sunlight. Here are two very good websites:

http://www.coconutresearchcenter.org
http://www.nutriteam.com

Christine

POSTED BY CHRISTINE :: NORTH CAROLINA USA :: 02/23/2007 1:58 PM


To the person who put olive oil on his or her cutting board and are worried about it going rancid: I can't remember the source but remember reading that this is not a problem if you are using and washing the board often. That way the oil won't have a chance to go rancid. So if you use the board often you are probably OK but should look for an alternative if you don't use it often.

POSTED BY SUSAN :: CALIFORNIA USA :: 02/28/2007 6:20 AM


I use coconut oil a lot for cooking, and one day I let some get too hot in the frying pan. I didn't want to just through it away, because it's not cheap, so I put it on an old scratched up bench. It filled in the scratches beautifully. Looks almost like new.

POSTED BY KITTY DAVIDHIZAR :: USEFUL HOUSEPLANTS :: USEFULHOUSEPLANTS.BLOGSPOT.COM/ :: OREGON USA :: 03/01/2007 10:36 AM


Block Brothers Block Oil lists as ingredients: Refined Seed Oil, Lemon Oil, Vitamin E, Carotene. See for this and other safe household products.

POSTED BY SHAMS :: CALIFORNIA USA :: 09/12/2007 5:58 PM


:: POST YOUR COMMENT

Return to Q&A Blog

Debra's List ~ 100s of links to 1000s of nontoxic, natural & earthwise products
Debra's Free Newsletters ~ website update, natural sweetener recipes, words of wisdom
Debra's Bookstore ~ recommended reading on health and the environment
MCS Recovery ~ resources for recovery from multiple chemical sensitivities
Sweet Savvy ~ how to choose and use natural sweetners (lots of recipes)
Talk With Debra ~ call for a personal consultation (fee)

Copyright ©2004-2007 Debra Lynn Dadd - all rights reserved.