The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Wooden Bread Bowl

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twofunnydog's picture

Wooden Bread Bowl

I am a civil war reenactor and recently purchased a wooden bread bowl at one of the events.  Am wondering what I need to do to make it "useable".....meaning that it is just the raw wood and seems to absorb whatever liquid is put in the bowl, i.e. water when I rinsed it out.  Should I rub oil on it?  I would like to use it but am a loss at what to do.  Thanks for your help.

KenK's picture

The flour would be stored in the bowl.  To make biscuits, make a well in the flour and pour in the milk to form a ball of dough.  The wet dough should not actually touch the wood, it is insulated by the extra flour.

That's how it is how it was done in these parts.  The Northern agressors may have done different. : )

Susan's picture

The fat for the biscuits was stored under the sink in a five-gallon bucket, and it was the whitest, goopiest lard you've ever seen.  The best part was the technique.  Grandma would reach down into the bucket and scoop up a handful of that lard and slop it into the dough bowl without spilling a drop.  The best biscuits you've ever eaten!  And start to finish was about 15 minutes.  Five minutes to mix and 10 minutes to bake.  She made 'em three times a day.  Mmmmmmm.

Susan from San Diego (memories from North Carolina)

ryaninoz's picture

You can purchase an oil made specifically for wood that comes in contact with food - it's usually sold for butchers blocks and wooden cutting boards, you can initially season it with this, though it may take 3 to 5 applications of wipping the oil all over allowing it to 'cure' for a an hour or more and then buffing with a soft cloth to absord extra oil and do the same thing agian next day for 3 to 5 days till you are satisfied with the result. I do this to all my wooden cutting boards and tools in the kitchen, in between if it's looking a bit 'dry' you can also use a good quality Olive Oil, I rub Olive Oil onto my board every few weeks to keep it cured and help it maintain itself, it was recommended to me by a mastercraftsman who makes some of the best natural wood cutting boards in Tasmania.......I'm an American, LCB trained Chef living in Australia for a's very old school over here and I love it but try that...if you can't find the cutting board oil online (Amazon will surely sell it), just use Olive Oil.


Good luck and cheers,



Mary Fisher's picture
Mary Fisher

It will eventually become 'seasoned' by using it. There are no instructions in any text I've seen about English historical cooking which give instructions for doing it. Might have been different in your place of course :-)

Don't worry about bacteria, wood has natural anti-bacterial properties, that's why it's used for butchers' blocks. I wouldn't use anything else for any cutting boards.


(Roman to Edwardian)

twofunnydog's picture

THanks for your reply.  I'm just afraid the wood will absorb the liquid I use for the bread or biscuits.  However, I'll try and see what happens.

Mary Fisher's picture
Mary Fisher

That won't matter, I promise. I use mine with months between seasons and we never suffer.

The problem with using lard, shortening or oil of any kind is that they go rancid and will taint any food you prepare or store in them. 

If you feel that you MUST use something oily use a mineral oil, something like paraffin oil (the stuff sold by pharmacists, not for heating!), that won't go rancid. Unscented baby oil will do the trick too. 

But I promise it really isn't necessary. Our forebears didn't suffer from such things and nor do very many re-enactors around the globe.

We've been preparing foods of many kinds in my wooden all-purpose bowl for twenty five years, my husband is so-called vulnerable because he had a heart attack in 1984, we're both considered vulnerable because we're over 60 (we're 70) and we're both considered vulnerable because we're both cancer survivors (3 and 12 years). 

So I reckon that you'll experience more authentic experience if you simply don't 'season' your wooden bowl but let it take care of itself. Do clean it with water or sand after using, that's all it needs.

If you suffer blame me - but I'm confident that you won't. If you use animal or vegetable-derived fats/oils toi prepare it you'll suffer from the flavour but nothing else.


fredepa's picture

Food grade mineral oil is used to seal wooden bowls and cutting boards.

HUGO's picture

You could also season the bowl with ''lard'' or a tastless vegetabe oil.  AKA corn oil or canola oil.  Never wash the bowl.  Rather scrape clean after each use. Thinking of CIVIL WAR RELICS I have a walnut handled folding knife, spoon, and fork similar to the old boy scout utensel.  The boy scout one is a bone handle.



KenK's picture

The worst enemy of your wooden bowl is something our ancestors did not have to worry about; a bone dry heated house.


Mary Fisher's picture
Mary Fisher

Absolutely right, Ken! The same goes for chopping boards and wooden spoons. 

Our house isn't over-heated because we don't like it so have the thermostat set as low as possible, well below 10C but I've seen shakes develop in wooden articles in others' houses. Once a crack develops in a bowl it's ruined, no attempt at repair will cure it.


kygin's picture

Former woodcarver here.  Made doughbowls for something like twenty years.  If the bowl is dirty, first wash it with soap and water.  Scrubbing with a plastic scrubbie is fine, just don't submerge the bowl in a sink of water.  Run water over it to rinse.  Dry it well, then it rub well with mineral oil.  Liberally coat it.  (Do NOT use vegetable oil or lard.  Both will become rancid over time and cause the bowl to stink.)  Allow the mineral oil to soak in for a day, then repeat.  At that point, it's fine to use.  Washing after use is fine, but again, don't submerge it in water.  It's a good idea to give it a dose of mineral oil once or twice a year whether the bowl is use or not.  That will help keep it from cracking.

ehanner's picture

KyGin, I'm interested in carving a dough bowl. Could you suggest a species of wood that would work well and a rough size that is common?

Thank you,


kygin's picture

My first choice would be buckeye.  It's a soft wood and easily carved, but its best feature is that it resists cracking and chipping.  The wood is white with little obvious grain, but if you can find well spalted buckeye, it's gorgeous with black lines and sometimes pink or peach colored areas that make it look much like marble.  Second choice would be yellow poplar (tulip poplar).  Again, a white or cream colored wood, soft enough to carve well but harder than buckeye.  Not quite as good about reisisting chipping, but still well within acceptable range. 

Size can be anything you want.  I carved a huge cherry "boarding house" doughbowl that's 24"x15"x6".  Doesn't get much use, but it's darn pretty sitting in the middle of the dining room table.

ehanner's picture

Thanks KyGin. I don't think I have ever seen Buckeye here in Wisconsin. We use poplar for paint grade moldings and such. Where are you located that Buckeye is available? Maybe you could recommend a source for a slab of it suitable for a nice size bowl.

You can email me direct if you would prefer, at



Mary Fisher's picture
Mary Fisher

You and I and other woodworkers know that spalting is no danger. but explain to some people what causes it and they'd be reluctant to use if for food.

KenK's picture

Poplar is what was commonly used in this area.  Buckeye is in the very N.E. portion of Georgia but not around here. 

SusanWozniak's picture

I worked at WilliamsSonoma for a long time and we always told people that they could hand wash and dry wooden implements, bowls and cutting boards but that they must treat them with mineral oil and mineral oil only.


The formula for a new cutting board was to oil every day for a week, then once a week for a month, then once a month for a year.  After that, oiling was as needed, maybe once a quarter.


I have a beautiful bowl that I use for kneading.  The curves of the bowl make kneading a pleasure!  I use it for nothing else but kneading yeast-based breads and, so far, I have scraped it with a plastic scraper.  I bought it directly from the man who made it who said it would not need treatment with mineral oil for a long time.

sewcial's picture

I was recently looking at bowls and recommendations for keeping them. I read suggestions for mineral oil, but then happened on one suggestion to use a blend of mineral oil and beeswax.

i don't have a dough bowl yet, but I recently replaced all my old cutting boards, mostly with bamboo ones. I have been wondering how to prevent flavors like onion from absorbing into the wood, so I tried this on all my cutting boards and my bread peel. I melted a bit of home grown beeswax into pure mineral oil. This I poured into a small glass jar and let it cool. I rubbed all my boards, let them set an hour or so, them rubbed them with a clean dry cloth to remove any excess. The boards are beautiful (some are hardwood and some bamboo). I love the result on all of them. They are now very easy to wipe clean and do not absorb some of the stronger flavors as much as without any oiling. Washing is a breeze, just a rinse and wipe in most cases. I would think this would also be good for a dough bowl. If I ever find a place to store one, I would like to get one some day.


twinwoodcarving's picture

I "finish" all my bowls with 6 coats of organic tung oil from The Real Milk Paint Company. This is a finicky process that takes two weeks to apply and another month to cure. Apply a coat, wait 40 mins, wipe off the excess, wait three days and repeat, do this six times. Leave for 30 days to cure. Check out my bowls at

All things wood's picture
All things wood

Just like twinwoodcarving said - Pure tung oil is the way to go. Here is a link to The Real Milk Paint Co.. There aplication process is a little different than what he explains though it does take 15-30 day's to fully cure.
What you will get by using a finish like pure tung oil is beuatiful looking wooden bowls that will be stain resistant. This finish will also last for some time with heavy usage.
You do not need to use any oil's or finish at all as the wood will kill bacteria on it's own. Your wooden bowl will stain easily and start to feel rough with no finish on it. That is the main difference.

Any cooking oil will work it will just require more up-keep than the tung oil.

You can go to to veiw my wooden bowls and other unique wooden products

ilovetodig's picture

I recently bought a Mexican pottery bowl which the woman assured me that she used the pottery all the time and there is no lead in them.  However, it absorbs all liquids and I wondered if the oil treatment would work on it.  I have another large bowl that I actually witnessed being used on a gas stove to cook pinto beans in and it is slightly glossy whereas the new one is not.  If anyone has any info on how to treat pottery bowls, I would appreciate your ideas.   I will not be using either bowl for cooking, just mixing and serving. 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Get a lead test kit and test it, for your own protection. 

Clay bowls or pottery that absorb liquids have not been fired high enough for vitrification.  Glazing is one way to seal the surface.  Unglazed bisqueware dishes are porous and will absorb anything put into them, including oil and foods and make a good place to grow bacteria.  Liquids will eventually run through.  

I suppose one could soak such a surface with oil (it will gravitate thru the clay body) heat it slightly for better absorption and hope water is repelled (oils will not.)  Garlic sounds good for it kills lots of bacteria, not all but a fair number.  I prefer mixing in something I can clean well when I need to. 

I wouldn't serve in my mixer bowl that uses raw ingredients.  A serving bowl should be extra clean and never used for raw eggs.


skier14's picture

I currently live in Mexico.  My wife and daughters wash and dry the pottery after purchase and rub garlic onto the surfaces.  They say this is the seasoning proccess.  Let set for an hour and wash with mild soap and rinse.  All our dishes are dishdrainer dried, no towels.

dlstanf2's picture

Anything food prep should not be coated with anything but mineral oil. This is what is used in the manufacturing of food prducts. The outside can be shellaced or varnished.

Here's a pic of my flour bowl. It was shellaced both inside and out, but I sanded the inside and coated it with a food grade mineral, i.e. digestable. The problem with cooking oils is that they can become rancid.

BTW, the paper bag is for my sourdough storage. And, just t left is my starter.


twinwoodcarving's picture

Hi dlstanf2 while you are correct that mineral oil can be used as a wood finish in a food safe bowl you are incorrect that it is the only thing that can be used. There are many products out there that work better than mineral oil and are better for a number of reasons. My favourite product is Tung oil, it is finicky to apply but provides a more beautiful and durable finish than mineral oil. M. O. is a petrochemical product, a byproduct of gasoline production see . Tung oil on the other hand, in it's pure form easily available from several sources, is natural, organic, and food safe. It's been used for 2000+ years. I suggest you research this product as you could find it a more attractive oil than your current choice. I make dough bowls and trencher bowls which I finish in organic tung oil, I'll upload a couple of examples and you can see more at my blog . Have a good one, Joe 


P.S. can't get the pictures to post, head to the blog instead.

.   elm dough bowl