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Permanent Food-Safe Finish?

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  • Permanent Food-Safe Finish?

    I'm interested in trying out carving some products that could be used with food, but the only finishes I've done so far are not food-safe, so I'm investigating options for food safe finishes. So far, it looks like they generally need to be re-applied on a pretty regular basis (maybe every 1-2 months). Are there any food-safe finishes that don't ever need to be reapplied?

    Also, I do chip carving, so lots of little recesses that wouldn't work well to try to wipe out/buff/etc. Any specific suggestions that would work well for chip carved pieces?

  • #2
    In the United States, by law, when fully cured, all finishes must be food safe. Bob Flexner, in Understanding Wood Finishes, calls it the Food Safe Finish Myth. Basically, once you can no longer smell a finish (allowing it to cure according to the manufacturer's instructions), the finish has released any and all toxic compounds into the air, and the remaining finish is inert.

    If you're uncomfortable with that, you have a few options. First is to apply no finish; this probably is a better choice for spoons, but not a good choice for chip carving. The second choice is mineral oil, beeswax, or a combination of the two. I tend to go more toward beeswax because mineral oil doesn't chemically cure, so it will wash off, and you'll need to reapply it often. Beeswax is a bit more durable. Wipe the wax onto the chip carving, and use a shoe brush or something similar to buff it and get the excess out of the chips. The third option is to use shellac thinned heavily with alcohol. Some folks use pure grain alcohol, but denatured alcohol is fine (again, all of the toxic compounds evaporate). Brush on a number of thin coats to build up a durable finish. Unfortunately, though, shellac isn't as water resistant as some of the thick film finishes (Lacquer, varnish).

    Pure tung oil will eventually build up a film finish, but in its pure state, tung oil thick and hard to apply.

    Hope this helps.

    Best Regards,
    Bob Duncan
    Technical Editor, Woodworking/DIY


    • #3
      Using Charles' Law from simple gas physics, you can apply an oven baked vegetable oil finish which is non-toxic
      and soaked so far into the wood that it cannot be washed off and does not go rancid.

      I didn't crack any of the 70 birch spoons and 30 birch forks that I carved.
      The other advantage is that the entire process in the oven takes only 3 minutes and 30 seconds.
      You are done. No recoats needed.


      • #4
        Cool. Thanks for the replies.
        My current finishing method is:
        1) Sanding sealer
        2) Stain (sometimes gel, sometimes oil)
        3) Spray lacquer

        Aside from the idea of all finishes being food-safe, I'm guessing that the other methods will probably require skipping all three of those steps -- just carve then oil/wax. Is that accurate? (I'm guessing it's quite obvious that step 1 is out no matter what, but I'm quite the newbie in wood finishing outside of the specific process above and want to make sure I'm not missing anything.)


        • #5
          BobD, that is the most concise, clear, and complete explanation I have ever heard (or read). thanks!


          • #6
            Preheat your kitchen stove oven to 325F.
            On a cake rack, over a sheet pan, slather the veg oil over the wood until it's dripping.
            I buy Greek Kalamata olive oil it 3 liter tin cans. That's all I've ever used.

            Now, into the oven for 3 minutes and 30 seconds. Any more and the wood will begin to deep-fry.
            Out of the oven, you can see the hot wood air bubbling out of the excess oil.
            Let it/them cool. The wood can suck up a lot of that oil, brush on more of it if you want.
            Wipe off the excess with paper towel. Done forever.

            This is a demonstration of Charles Law in simple gas physics. Same exactly as a hot-air balloon.
            Dr. Google didn't invent this for the internet.


            • #7
              I've used Brian method several times, using Walnut oil, it really soaks into the wood, How safe walnut oil is =?????. My spoons are basically wall hangers.

              Thanks Bob for a great piece of info
              . . .JoeB


              • #8
                No guesswork needed, JP. I looked up MSDS Walnut Oil. The Material Safety Data Sheet which normally over-rides opinion.
                I read the 3 pages. Bland vegetable triglyceride oil ( so is olive oil) that you can use to brush your teeth.


                • #9
                  I think all the vegetable oils could safely be used (Olive, walnut, canola, "vegetable", peanut, rape seed, safflower, etc.) The only caution is to be aware of allergies in whomever you might sell (or give) this to. There are people who are allergic to walnut, peanut in particular. I cook with olive oil all the time, so I use it on my spoons as Brian (RV) mentioned above.

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                  • #10
                    Tung oil, when dried is considered nontoxic. My Dad used mineral oil back when.
                    Living among knives and fire.



                    • #11
                      Just be careful because there is a difference between pure tung oil and tung oil finish. For the tung oil finish, tung oil (sometimes linseed oil) is thinned with solvents and has drying agents to make it dry faster. The consistency of pure tung oil reminds me of syrup.

                      Best Regards,
                      Bob Duncan
                      Technical Editor, Woodworking/DIY


                      • #12
                        The very best thing that you can do is to search on line for the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet).
                        Usually required by law and always over-rides opinion and history.

                        I use MinWax Tung Oil Protective Finish on carvings instead of paint. A real soup of chemicals.
                        When you can't smell it, time for the next coat. Four is max = water-wet glossy.


                        • #13
                          RVs instructions are what I have used and have been completely satisfied. Thanks again Brian.
                          Carve On,