How to care for
Wooden Kitchen Utensils
by Ed Strauss

    What is actually more important than what you do, in this case is what you don't do. Never put a cutting board, spoon, rolling pin, mortar and pestle, bowl, platter, or other wooden utensil in the dishwasher. Never soak them in water. If you need to wash them off that's all right, be sure to towel dry them afterwards rather than letting them drip dry.
     Wood must be completely dry before it is made into finished products. This is because wood changes dimension as it either dries out or rehydrates. The wood I use is dried for at least one year for every inch of thickness. Some lamp blanks take several years to dry.
    Two things happen to wood when it absorbs water. It changes dimension (it swells up) and it becomes softer. Neither of these is good for kitchenware. In general, wood is happy and lasts the longest the drier it stays. If wood does soak up water by being left out on a wet counter overnight for instance, it is not good to dry it out too fast. Never dry out wood by putting it in the oven or in direct sunlight. If wood dries too fast it will crack. When wood dries it shrinks. If it shrinks faster than the flexibility limits of the cells it separates. If you need to dry out wooden ware that has accidentally soaked up water, towel dry it then leave it near the floor where it is cooler rather than on top of a counter. This is not necessary for things which have been only rinsed off, they only need to be towel dried.
    Wood does not like rapid changes in heat (temperature) or humidity. Do not put wooden bowls in the refrigerator. If your kitchen can get above 85 degrees on a hot summer day. I suggest that you not store wooden bowls or any large woodwork on selves or in cabinets near the ceiling. They might dry out too much too fast. It is also known that woodwork and wooden furniture taken to the desert Southwest from a humid climate can warp or crack. Even if the wood was completely dry in its previous environment.
    The luster of wooden kitchen utensils fades as the oil is washed off. Color and luster can be restored by reapplying mineral oil or a cooking oil (one that doesn't require refrigeration). Reoiling can be done as often as you like, probably once every month or two is enough. Some wooden utensils may be finished with compounds that contain linseed oil, tung oil, solvents, and polymers . These are all right for decorative pieces but I don't recommend it for food preparation tools (they can also be reoiled). Some wooden utensils may be finished with varnish, lacquer or polyurethane. These are all right for decorative pieces but the finish can be scratched or chipped and is impractical to spot refinish so it is not recommended for utensils. Questions?

Copyright © 1998 by Ed Strauss. All rights reserved.