How do I choose the right foodsafe finish

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Forum topic by Ross2627 posted 05-18-2020 11:22 PM 547 views 0 times favorited 16 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2 posts in 252 days

05-18-2020 11:22 PM

Topic tags/keywords: finish food safe oil butcher block

I’m in desperate need of help here. I’ve always been terrible at picking finishes. Over the last few weeks I’ve been working on a wooden charcuterie board and I’m having a hard time deciding what food safe finish to use on it.

I’m using white oak and cherry and would like the colours (especially on the cherry) to pop out. I had looked into it and decided to use Tung oil. Unfortunately places around me don’t offer pure tung oil, and the only ones I could find were the “one step finish” tung oils, such as Watco and Minwax, which are apparently not food safe.

My local store suggested using Watco’s butcher block oil and conditioner as a base, and then apply Watco’s butcher block oil and finish on top of it to finish the project:

1 – I’m wondering if I should ignore all these and go for a finish I haven’t thought of yet.

2 – I’m wondering if anyone has used the above oil/conditioner and if it enhances the wood at all.

3 – do I really need to apply both the oil/conditioner and the oil/finish? Or will one of them give me the required results?

4 – If I use a non food safe oil for the board (for example the above tung oil), and then finish it with the butcher block oil/finishing will it make my project food safe?

I appreciate any help that anyone can offer!

I wasn’t sure if I could post links to the products or not so please let me know if you want the link to the product pages.

16 replies so far

View Aj2's profile


3598 posts in 2773 days

#1 posted 05-19-2020 12:18 AM

I use mineral oil on my cutting boards. I buy it from Cvs pharmacy. I don’t see why you want it to pop it’s just a cutting board cheese ,meats ,cracker what ever should be the star of the show.

Good Luck

-- Aj

View Rich's profile


6398 posts in 1564 days

#2 posted 05-19-2020 12:38 AM

For starters, all finishes are food safe once they’ve fully cured. The rule of thumb is that if you can still smell it, it’s not fully cured.

If you don’t plan to do any cutting on your charcuterie board—that is, if it’s for serving only and the food will be sliced elsewhere—then you can use one of the film finishes like varnish, shellac, lacquer, and others. You don’t want to use a film finish if you plan to do cutting and slicing on it since it’ll scratch and chip and look horrible.

If you want a plain oil finish, there are countless options. Mineral oil, walnut oil as well as some of the commercial products like Walrus Cutting Board Oil and many others.

-- Half of what we read or hear about finishing is right. We just don’t know which half! — Bob Flexner

View CaptainKlutz's profile


4012 posts in 2469 days

#3 posted 05-19-2020 12:43 AM

I use a two step finish on food service items:

1) Apply Tried and True Original Wood finish (Link). End grain items usually need 2 coats, 3 coats for large open grain woods

2) Howards Butcher Block Conditioner (Link) as final coat

The BLO/Wax blend in T&T helps to seal the wood and prevent significant water intrusion. The Butcher Block Conditioner has mineral oil and waxes to provide a more lasting protection than just mineral oil, and is easy to re-apply as needed.
Butcher Block Conditioner is also what I recommend as best all around finish for protecting wood items in kitchen, and usually give a small 2oz bottle to anyone who gets one of my cutting boards, or BB kitchen carts.

For candy dishes or light use items that don’t cut; I apply 2-4 coats of T&T Original Wood Finish only.
Made a bunch of router bowls shaped like a football that I gave to many family members. About lost my mind when my sister explains she lost the ceramic cups that fit the cutout’s and she just dumps queso cheese dip and salsa directly into the wood bowl. It looks same today as when I gave it to her.

Follow the directions for both products exactly and the finishing process is nearly fool proof.


-- If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all, - Albert King - Born Under a Bad Sign released 1967

View Walker's profile


443 posts in 1447 days

#4 posted 05-19-2020 01:03 AM

+1 to everything Klutz said.

I use the Tried and True Danish Oil, because that’s what I have on hand most of the time. The Original wood finish is great too. Tried and True says it’s 100% food safe, even saying you could eat the stuff with a spoon. You’ll get nauseous, but it won’t kill you. I haven’t ever tested that personally, but I definitely wouldn’t ever try that with anything that says Watco on it.

-- ~Walker

View Kelly's profile


3297 posts in 3919 days

#5 posted 05-19-2020 01:26 AM

No reason to spend more than a couple bucks on finish for cutting boards. The cheapest mineral oil you can get is fine.

For everything else, as others said, it’s all food safe, once hardened.

View mel52's profile


1863 posts in 1239 days

#6 posted 05-19-2020 04:49 AM

I use a mineral oil and refined yellow bees wax mixture. Works well for me. Mel

-- MEL, Kansas

View Woodknack's profile


13543 posts in 3355 days

#7 posted 05-19-2020 05:10 AM

What I’m about to post isn’t advice, just my jumbled thoughts on the subject. To be honest, I’ve always been skeptical of the claim that all finishes are food safe once hardened/cured because AFAIK it is unproven and based on a claim by Bob Flexner who is an expert in refinishing but does not have the expertise to make that statement. Even epoxy finishes which have been approved by the FDA have come under some suspicion as it has been proven they leach chemicals over time, those chemicals mimic hormones naturally produced by the human body and the consequences are still in question. Now I can’t say it isn’t true, just saying that I’m skeptical. On the other hand food is only exposed to cutting board finishes for a short time and the danger is probably minimal and it’s not something I feel strongly enough about to argue. To end I will say that I use Howards Butcher Block Conditioner or mineral oil but I do have some commercially made cutting boards that have a film finish. I would like to see more studies done on the safety of wood finishes.

-- Rick M,

View wildwoodbybrianjohns's profile


2414 posts in 522 days

#8 posted 05-19-2020 07:30 AM

That Walrus oil Rich mentioned is gaining alot of followers. Havent tried it myself, too expensive for me to import with that tax and shipping.

-- Wildwood by Brian Johns: The Big Bang: Nothing - exploded into Everything. Thanks to Nothing.

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

6743 posts in 3468 days

#9 posted 05-19-2020 10:38 AM

Go back and read Rich’s post…his advice is golden.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View Wildwood's profile


2935 posts in 3109 days

#10 posted 05-19-2020 11:39 AM

Have posted this article several times over the years please read and make your own conclusions.

While could not find either MSDS or SDS at 2nd link look at section three at the 3rd link. 2nd link talks about Safflower oil and by itself is a drying oil which will harden (polymerize) in air pretty much same as other pure drying oils (linseed, Tung, walnut oils). Since didn’t know if hemp oil polymerizes looked it up and it does too:

Any one know why combining two drying oils together makes sense?

To me mineral oil (laxative) never baby oil or industrial mineral oil is one of safest & least expensive safe finish can use. Yes laxative mineral oil or liquid paraffin derivative of petroleum is not a drying oil! Yes must be re-applied as needed after item placed in use. Low cost & ease of application & reapplication, low cost make it a winner!

I use mineral oil buy at the pharmacy at Wall -marts for salad & serving bowls and provide free bottle to customers. For salt & pepper shakers used a film finish on outside and left inside un-finished. Scoops & rolling pins do not apply any finish.

Just remember penetrating wood finishes pure linseed, Tung, Walnut oil do not penetrate wood surfaces very deeply. So with exception of walnut oil need to mix those other oils with solvent or thinners. Addition of solvent or thinner help those oils penetrate & dry faster.

-- Bill

View ChefHDAN's profile


1792 posts in 3824 days

#11 posted 05-19-2020 11:39 AM

I use a multiple of many different types of wooden platters, vessels, and boards in several of my kitchens, as a wood working chef, I can tell you the advice from Rich and Klutz is sound. Anything that could be possible cut on gets either Boos Mystery Oil or Howard's Cutting Board Oil , I tend to find better prices on the Boos, but see similar results from them both. In my home kitchen where I can trust it will be properly applied and not wasted, I will use the board creams from both Boos or Howard’s. I can’t say that it offers any better protection, but I do see that it extends the “appearance” of the board. Whenever I make or have a wooden item that I Know will not be cut on I will use a film building finish, usually poly for it’s toughness & longevity.

Welcome to LJ’s

-- I've decided 1 mistake is really 2 opportunities to learn.. learn how to fix it... and learn how to not repeat it

View Ross2627's profile


2 posts in 252 days

#12 posted 05-19-2020 12:54 PM

Thank you everyone for all your help! This community is fantastic.

I’ve only been a woodworker for a few years and it looks like I still have a lot to learn about finishes. I’m usually limited by what my local orange home improvement store has to offer but I guess I need to broaden my horizons and find somewhere to buy higher quality products.

This project will be a gift for someone, which is why I’m focused on how the board will look once it’s finished. I also don’t have the luxury of time as her birthday is in a few weeks and if I order something online it may take a few weeks to ship (I live in Ontario, Canada).

Everyone’s insight helped. I think what I’ve decided to do is use one of the richer finishes that will leave a film/clear coating over it and make sure the recipient of the gift knows that this is just a serving board and not meant for cutting.

Since it won’t be used for cutting, I won’t worry too much about it being food safe.

Thanks again everyone!

View Kelly's profile


3297 posts in 3919 days

#13 posted 05-19-2020 04:02 PM

Keep in mind, those huge butcher blocks that stand the ages were not treated with magic hardening or even thickening oils. Most just used mineral oil.

One advantage straight mineral has over all the pretty, magic oils is, penetration. Unlike ones with wax, fairy dust, or other things added, they are not thickened, which allows them to keep wicking deeper into the wood. (rather than evaporating or hardening).

Another advantage is, it does not leave an undesirable surface coat, which will chip with slices of knives or hacks from cleavers.

The importance of the wicking is, as we know, wood dries. As it does, it shrinks, which brings cracks and splits.

As the oil is absorbed in the wood, it swells it. I brought a badly cracked and split end grain butcher block back to life by drowning it in oil, adding where it absorbed throughout the day, then leaving a thick coat on and walking away. A few weeks later, when it all had soaked in, the cracks and splits had disappeared, to the naked eye.

One other final advantage is, if the wood is saturated with oil, other things are not going to soak in. Anything that [supposedly] seal can be breached, just like your old wood window sills. Once the seal coat gets even a crack or split, the greatest solvent in the world can penetrate, when work from within to swell the wood and pop more of the seal coat open.

These are good things to remember about cedar roofs too. One which is saturated in oil will not gain and lose moisture, which can then freeze and crack the shakes or shingles. Saturated in oil, they remain resilient, leaving them less prone to breakage when walked on.

All that aside, since it doesn’t need to be food safe, we are talking a whole different ball game,

View Lazyman's profile


6375 posts in 2362 days

#14 posted 05-19-2020 04:30 PM

+1 on the Tried and True original wood finish but personally I don’t like the (Howards) mineral oil add on. It tends to leave it feeling oily because it never cures or dries. One nice thing about the T&T finishes is that you can always lightly sand and apply another coat or two to rejuvenate; however, if you’ve added mineral oil to it, that might not work so well (never tried).

I second Ricks skepticism about the often repeated “all cured finishes are food safe claim”, but with the T&T finishes at least, the chemistry is much simpler (heat polymerized linseed oil and beeswax) and for me at anyway, a little easier to trust. By adding mineral oil, you are adding a petroleum distillate which, even though it is use as a laxative, I don’t want in contact with my food, especially since it never dries or cures. The ultimate wood safe finish is one that is derived from food in my opinion.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View pottz's profile


13859 posts in 1959 days

#15 posted 05-19-2020 05:21 PM

For starters, all finishes are food safe once they ve fully cured. The rule of thumb is that if you can still smell it, it s not fully cured.

If you don t plan to do any cutting on your charcuterie board—that is, if it s for serving only and the food will be sliced elsewhere—then you can use one of the film finishes like varnish, shellac, lacquer, and others. You don t want to use a film finish if you plan to do cutting and slicing on it since it ll scratch and chip and look horrible.

If you want a plain oil finish, there are countless options. Mineral oil, walnut oil as well as some of the commercial products like Walrus Cutting Board Oil and many others.

- Rich

+1 this is all the advise you need.

-- working with my hands is a joy,it gives me a sense of fulfillment,somthing so many seek and so few find.-SAM MALOOF.

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