oiling your wood.

One thing life has taught me, is that some things really are made to last – and there are definitely some kitchen equipment I plan to have for my lifetime. Our throw-away culture is destroying our minds into thinking that most of what we have is disposable. So treat it rough, with American panache, and then dump it in the trash.

Well, I’m here to tell you that your things – with a little cultivation – can remain functional for a long, long time. In specific, you wooden equipment will smile at you if you follow two simple rules: do not soak and oil regularly.

Below I have included pictures of my sadly neglected wooden cutting boards and spoons that I loved up on and oiled on one side, to show you the contrast.
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The hows and whys.

Why wood? First of all, I prefer wooden equipment for many reasons – some of which are: they are aesthetically pleasing, they feel best to the touch, unlike plastic they don’t leach nasty chemicals and they don’t give bacteria a happy home to breed, they are easier on your pans and knives (respectively), they are heat resistant, and they last a long time.

Why oiling? Wood is natural substance that dries over time. When wood dries it shrinks (that is why your cutting boards will pull apart at the seams) and becomes brittle. Heating wood and washing it with soap further dries it out. Regular oiling with proper food-grade oil keeps your wood soft, which keeps it from cracking, warping, splitting, or splintering – and they will also retain their color longer.

How to clean your wood. Soap is fine, some people like bleach – but I think it is unnecessary (see link above about wood’s natural anti-bacterial properties), but never place wooden items in dishwasher (too much water and heat) or leave soaking (this will cause your equipment to soak up water and expand, leading to cracking and warping).

What kind of oil? You want to use a food-grade oil that is not prone to rancidity. Olive oil does not work, because it will go rancid quickly (if it’s not already, check out how gross olive oil can be). Use mineral oil, a mixture of mineral oil and beeswax, or you can buy a pre-prepared oil in a bottle just for the occasion (pictured below).

How to oil your wood. Now that your wooden spoon/cutting board is clean and dry, rub oil on generously with a soft cloth and leave to soak in for up to 24 hours. Then wipe off with a clean cloth and you’re done! Simple as that. Repeat once a month.

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unoiled side

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a generous greasing, waiting to be wiped off

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after oiling

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For some great heritage made spoons - check out my friend James Blackwood at Pretty Good Mules!

For some great heritage made spoons – check out my friend James Blackwood at Pretty Good Mules!

 

Ans a little wood wisdom from James:

Wood will expand and contract as it absorbs and gives off water. Unfortunately, it does that much better at the surface (especially the end grain) than on the inside and all that movement over an unchanging interior will cause cracks and fissures. Adding an oil or oil/wax finish helps stabilize the moisture content of the wood in the face of all the hydrological vagaries of a kitchen.

Mineral oil and the butcher block conditioner you indicate are good options for treating wooden items. It’s a bit more expensive, but for most things I’ve gone to using flax seed oil. It is a hardening oil which will slowly build up a finish as it oxidizes. This is a very slow process, a single application of oil not wiped from the object may take up to 6 months to dry fully, so just keep applying it as you mention in the article. Wipe it on. Give it a few hours or a day to rest and then wipe away the excess. Slowly it will build up a more durable finish. Another option is walnut oil, but I’ve seen some quibbling over nut allergies sensitivity and I don’t want to take the chance, though I personally know folks that swear by it.