3 Rules To Keep Your Wooden Kitchenware Gorgeous AND Functional!

I’m in CA visiting my parents for 10 days. Actually, I’m here for work, my boss told me Friday he wanted me here for a week and a half starting today, so I jumped on a plane; crazy short notice! But, two birds with one stone, the home office is within driving distance of my parents’ place, so I get an all-expenses-reimbursed trip to see my family as well. Yay! So on the family theme, today’s post is inspired by my dad, who is awesome.

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My dad is an amazing woodworker and for years now he has been making gorgeous wooden cutting boards as wedding gifts for my cousins as they get married. He even showed me how to make them and let me use his supplies and his shop to create two of them for two friends of mine who got married many years ago. So when my own wedding came around in October I was secretly hoping he would make one for us as well.

And he did! Isn’t it gorgeous?!?!

Handmade wooden cutting board with apples and cheese
Close up of handmade wooden cutting board

Anytime I need advice about anything made out of wood I turn to my dad. Actually, I turn to him for advice on most crafty, construction-y, home repair, do-it-yourself type things… He knows a lot about that stuff! Anyway, he has a bunch of advice on/rules about how to take care of these cutting boards so that they last forever and stay nice. I figure its great advice not only for the cutting board but also for anything in your kitchen made out of wood, so I’m passing it along to you so you can keep your wooden kitchenware gorgeous and functional as well!

Rule #1: Use it
My dad would be so sad if someone just “displayed” his cutting board because it was “too pretty to use”. I swear when he visits people’s homes he goes to look at the cutting board he made to make sure they’ve been using it. (Not joking here, I’ve seen him do this!) He insists that everything he makes has function first and prettiness second; it’s fun to make pretty things, but for him it is more fun to make functional things (he gets bonus points because everything he makes is actually both).

The idea is: it’s a cutting board…it’s meant to be used. If he wanted to make something pretty and useless he would have made a little figurine or something. Cutting boards are for cutting. Cut on them. If you still want to keep it pretty, then his advice is only use one side of the board for cutting. That way the other side is free of knife marks or stains and can be used for serving or whatever. This is what we do. The side pictured above is the “pretty” side (but we haven’t actually had the board long enough for there to be a noticeable difference between that side and the knifed-up side at this point). I don’t know how well this advice will work for things other than double-sided cutting boards though, I can’t imagine only using half of a wooden spoon somehow…

Close up of handmade wooden cutting board
The knifed-up side… very much the same as the other side

Rule #2: Don’t soak it
…in anything. Don’t submerge it in a sink full of water. The wood will expand and crack when it dries and it will be bad. Don’t let it sit in a pool of juices that ran off the meat you just cut. The wood will soak up that juice and start to smell. Don’t leave your wooden-handled steak knives in a pot in your leaky sink. The pot will fill with water and the wooden handle will soak up that water (in fact, don’t leave your knife blades soaking anyway, it’s bad for them too, but that’s another story). Don’t leave your wooden stirring spoon in the pot of Curried Cream of Chicken soup you are making while it’s cooking (ahem…my spoon turned bright yellow…oops. The soup was delicious though, get the recipe here!). Just don’t soak it. Its wood, it will soak up whatever it is that you leave it sitting in, on, or around.

Rule #3: Treat it with mineral oil
Ok, so I’m going to break Rule #2 here and say “Do soak it, in mineral oil.” Dad treats the cutting boards he makes with mineral oil before giving them to people, and then recommends that they keep treating it throughout its life. Rubbing some mineral oil into the boards helps prevent the boards from soaking up other stuff like colors and smells and generally makes cleaning them easier. It also helps prolong the life of the wood as it is washed and dried and washed and dried. It helps keep it from over-drying. And Wikipedia even says “The oil fills small surface cracks that may otherwise harbor bacteria.”

Mineral oil is colorless, odorless, and basically inert as far as food safety goes. It won’t leach out of the wood into your food, and even if the tiniest nano-particle does, it won’t hurt you to ingest it or change your food in any way. It’s in/on things like Swedish Fish and gummy bears anyway, so if you eat those, you’re fine using it on your wooden kitchen things. You can get mineral oil in your local grocery store or drug store—it’s not hard to find.

When Dad gave us our board he actually didn’t have time to do more than one coat of mineral oil on it, so I’ve taken over the initial treatment of the board. The basic idea is to pour a bunch of mineral oil on the board, spread it out, and just let it soak it all up, then repeat.

Steps to take care of handmade wooden cutting board
Pro Tip: Put down a plastic trash bag or something so you don’t get oil all over your everything else!
  1. You need mineral oil, your cutting board (or other wooden kitchenware), and a paper towel
  2. See how dry the left half is? (I put a little bit of oil on the right half for comparison…) That’s how you can tell when it’s time to oil the board again
  3. Pour a little bit of oil onto the board (should make a circle about 1 to 2 inches in diameter for a board this large) and spread it out thoroughly with the paper towel; make sure to get the oil everywhere that isn’t the bottom of the board (meaning get the edges, and the inside of the little handle/hole as well)
  4. The first time you do this some parts of the board will soak up the oil very quickly (see the little dry spots? That picture was taken about four minutes later)
  5. Once most of the oil has been soaked up it’s time to do it again (the board will still look dark-ish, not as dry as picture 2, but there won’t be large shiny oil spots everywhere)
  6. Pour more oil on the board and spread it out again
  7. The end grain is particularly thirsty so make sure to put extra oil on the ends of the board (or wherever your end grain is)
  8. Repeat, then repeat again. And again. Then turn the board over and do the other side!

I’m sure at some point your board will stop soaking up oil, but I haven’t reached that point yet. Mostly I get tired of this whole thing and stop, then come back to it another day. 🙂

Dad says that when the board starts looking dry (lighter in color, like picture 2) it is time for more oil. Don’t freak out about it too much though. Once I get this initial treatment of oiling done on this board I will probably only oil it every couple of months, not every couple of days or anything crazy like that.

NB: In a pinch you can use vegetable oil, but be warned that many people don’t like vegetable oil because they say it gets rancid after a while. My dad uses vegetable oil on their cutting board at home (he has done for years) and has never had a problem, but some people apparently have.

Following these three rules should help prolong the life of your wooden utensils etc. but it won’t make them impervious. We have a dark-ish purple wooden spoon (from some Blueberry Ginger Chutney, recipe to come later, maybe) and the aforementioned bright curry-yellow spoon and there isn’t really much we could have done to prevent that. Blueberries and curry stain. They just do.

But my dad is very blasé about messing up wood. He’s of the “That’ll buff out” persuasion; basically there isn’t anything you can do to a wooden cutting board that a bit of sanding, some glue, or more mineral oil won’t fix. So don’t worry about it too much. I am told that my mother-in-law has burned wooden spoons by leaving them in pans on the stove, but even that can be fixed by sanding! Assuming the spoon hasn’t turned completely to ash 🙂 Just treat your wooden kitchen stuff right and it’ll last you a while, buff out anything that bothers you too much, and you can always just go buy another wooden spoon, they’re cheap!

How about you, have you permanently discolored or disfigured (or burnt!) some of your wooden kitchen items? Have you had any experience using mineral oil to treat wood? I’d love to hear about it; leave me a comment or send me an email at practicallyfunctional[at]gmail[dot]com!

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Jessi Wohlwend

I believe that anyone can do crafts and DIY projects, regardless of skill or experience. I love sharing simple craft ideas, step by step DIY project tutorials, cleaning hacks, and other tips and tricks all with one goal in mind: giving you the tools you need to “do it yourself”, complete fun projects, and make awesome things!

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Reader Interactions

  1. chai says

    4 years ago

    Hi Jessi,

    I’ve absolutely enjoyed reading your info on how to clean various items in my kitchen. They’re so handy to know and has given me confidence in knowing that these hints and tips and methods work!

    Thank you soooooooo much! Mwah!

  2. Janet says

    8 years ago

    Does your father sell his work online? I so wish I had someone like that to show me how to make things (and of coarse borrow his tools).

    • Jessi says

      8 years ago

      He doesn’t, unfortunately 🙁 I am very lucky to have him around to help me make stuff though!

  3. Jessi says

    9 years ago

    I totally agree about the raw meat Shiloh; we use a different non-wood board for that.

    I know that a lot of people (my parents included) have not had any problems, but it still worries me, and it's easy enough just to use some other board!

  4. Shiloh says

    9 years ago

    I'm so glad the comments mentioned the raw meats. I use glass boards for the meat, 'cause I would just be worried about the wood. My mom had a wooden board for years, but it wasn't nearly this pretty.

  5. LDH says

    9 years ago

    Hi Jess! Stopping by your blog and happy to visit with you! Great tips for taking care of cutting boards. Your dad is so talented ~ your cutting board is beautiful!

    Kindly, Lorraine

  6. audrey says

    9 years ago

    It's fine to use a wooden board for onions and for raw meat, in my experience. I've seen some arguments in favor of plastic for meat, but we use our wooden board and our plastic boards for everything, randomly using whatever board is handiest – and we're still alive and kickin' and neither board smells. 🙂 Go for it.

  7. Jessi says

    9 years ago

    Yay! It didn't get smelly did it?

    I'm at my parents house right now and my mom was just mentioning how they cut everything on their board (raw meat, onions, juicy berries, whatever) and have done for 30+ years and it's not a problem at all. I'm still iffy about the raw meat though, at least for our board 🙂

  8. Katie says

    9 years ago

    I daringly sliced an onion on it just last evening, after having given it about ten more coats of oil over the past week. ^_^

  9. Jessi says

    9 years ago

    I do worry that the board will pick up smells or bacteria and whatnot, so we are very careful never to cut raw meat on this board. Besides the bacteria (like I said) the board will soak up whatever it's around, so I don't really want it getting all the juice in it and then smelling like chicken for forever!

    We do cut onions on the board though and haven't noticed it getting smelly at all. I think I'm just picky about things with juices that smell or juices that are colored and could stain. Onions are mostly ok. 🙂

  10. Katie says

    9 years ago

    Oooh, I'm jealous of that gorgeous, gorgeous board! Hyphen got me a wooden cutting board for Christmas (not as nice as that one and I think it's bamboo, actually, not hardwood, but it's still pretty) and I've been so hesitant to use it because it's so pretty (and I can't stick it in the dishwasher).

    Do your wooden boards seem to pick up the smell of items, particularly onions? I have started using the wooden board for fruit/vegetables/bread because, like your dad, I do think objects should be functional and not just pretty. But I haven't used it for meat (what if I don't wash the bacteria off enough? I'm a particularly thorough by-hand washer…) or onions, because I'm afraid of it smelling like onions forever.

    All this to say, thank you for this encouraging and useful post (and the cutting board eye-candy). Yay!

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