The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

bread board - to seal or not?

dtaffe's picture

bread board - to seal or not?

I recently purchased a beautiful hard-maple kneading board that hooks over the edge of my countertop. It is sanded but otherwise unfinished.  The man who made it says he's never sealed or otherwise treated his but that I could try to oil it if I wanted.  I've also read that one could use a mix of mineral oil and beeswax, rubbed in. I'm open to suggestions and advice. Thanks in advance.


klmeat's picture

use a light coat of mineral oil both side once a month , so it doesn't warp' larry

ehanner's picture

Depending on how you plan to use your board and what kinds of bread you will be handling, it would be a good idea to apply some mineral oil. If the surface is finely sanded, the oil will help prevent the dough from sinking into the fibers and sticking. Clean up with a bench scraper will be easier also. If you plan to work with rye mixes which are usually higher hydration, oiling the wood often will help prevent the fibers from deep absorption of water. The same applies to using a wet hands and counter approach with any dough.

Cleaning the board with a steel scraper will have the effect of shaving the surface smooth over time. It wouldn't hurt to start off by sanding with the grain using some very fine sandpaper on a block. Start with 320 grit and move to 400 grit for a nice finish. Then apply mineral oil and let it soak in.


Mason's picture

This seals well, protects the wood, and does not need to be reapplied so often. It's also food-safe, which many mineral oils might not be.

I got some at my local home depot. It pInts on and takes a day to dry. It's worth it.

Nickisafoodie's picture

Do not use scented baby oil which is mineral and fragrance, but find the unscented type.  Oil the board heavily with a paper towel, let dry overnight, wipe clean if there is any residual.  Do twice a year they will last far longer than you!  Find in the laxative section of the grocery store.

While Butcher Block is also fine, it is substantially more expensive and contains tung oil (a form of varnish), linseed oil, and mineral oil.   Your call as either will do fine.

dtaffe's picture

Thanks for all the advice. Has anyone tried beeswax? I read about it as a polish historically, and the recipe I've seen is 2 parts mineral oil to 1 part beeswax (would it add durability?)  I might try beeswax/oil on one side and mineral oil on the other for comparison...


Mason's picture

is that it collects moisture (the "rings" that cups leave in fine furniture is moisture trapped in the wax).  I'd be reluctant to use wax on any surface that might get wet occasionally (e.g. from a higher hydration dough, or one you knead with wet hands).

ehanner's picture

I have a butcher block I bought from a wooden propeller company in Pennsylvania many years ago. It's 4 feet long about 30 inches deep and weighs a lot. I was told it was soaked in hot wax/oil for 24 hours during construction. Bees wax should work if you can melt some in mineral oil and combine it. I don't think the BW is necessary though. The wood doesn't need to be water proof, just resistant.

I have found that a 4 oz bottle of mineral oil costs much more at the drug store than at the hardware store. Unscented of course.

If you want to try the ultimate in finishing oil for your new board, check out this "John Boos Mystery Oil" I know one guy who swears by it.


MichaelH's picture

As you can see from the replies to your post there are as many opinions about bread board and cutting board finishes as there are woodworkers and bakers. Everyone has an opinion and is sure that they are right, for a variety of reasons.

I am a both a woodworker and a bread baker and have numerous books about both. This subject has been discussed ad nauseum in all the popular woodworking forums. In the woodworking world there are only two or three real experts who have devoted their lives to the study of wood finishes AND written books about this subject. The federal government has also chimed in through the FDA and the USDA. All expert parties agree on the facts.

The facts are these:

ALL CONVENTIONAL WOOD FINISHES ARE FOOD SAFE WHEN PROPERLY APPLIED AND CURED. This includes both varnishes and oils. A product that might be toxic in liquid form in a can can be perfectly safe when properly cured and dried because the curing process changes it chemically. HOWEVER, THIS DOES NOT MEAN ALL PRODUCTS ARE SUITABLE OR EQUAL.

A varnish type product sits on top of the wood and provides a barrier against moisture, dirt, chemicals, etc. Varnishes are referred to as "film" finishes because they sit on top of the wood. Varnishes are excellent for furniture and other surfaces that need protection from use and the elements. With heavy use or scraping or sanding they flake off and are thus not suitable for use in food preparation, not because they are toxic, but because they can get in your food. Most of us see this as unacceptable.  Varnish based products can be reapplied only when the the surface is properly prepared for the particular finish being applied.

Oil based finishes sink into the wood and never really "cure" to the same extent that film finishes do. For wooden counters and boards used in food preparation oils are the only practical choice. The vast majority of informed woodworkers agree that the oil of choice is FOOD GRADE MINERAL OIL. It is both odorless and tasteless. This product can be found in your favorite drug store in the laxative section. It is specifically made and FDA approved to be injested by humans and is totally harmless; except for the fact that when taken as a laxative IT WORKS! The mineral oil in the hardware store is essentially the same product with one big difference; it is not refined under sanitary conditions as is the food grade variety. Most woodworkers who brew their own warm the mineral oil in a pan and add beeswax to the oil. The ratio is not critical, but 2/3 oil to 1/3 wax by weight is a good mix. Apply this "paste" sparingly and allow the surface to sit overnight, then wipe off any excess with a paper towel. Do this as often as you think is necessary, when the board seems dry or rough. Commercial products are almost universally based on food grade mineral oil and come other "secret" ingredient. Booz makes one that uses fish oil as a base....if you doubt this just take off the cap and give it a smell.

For the average consumer I would recommend food grade mineral oil with a little wax. For less than $10 you can mix up a batch in a few minutes that will last you for many years.....but always be careful when heating wax because it can be flammable. I heat the mineral oil on the stove until it is above 140 degrees F and then remove it from the stove and add the wax shavings. After the wax has melted I pour the warm solution into a shallow container and let it cool. You can apply it as often as you see fit. If you use a board for other types of food preparation such as choping vegeatable, onions garlic etc., clean the board before you re-oil it with an acid solution such as lemon juice or vinegar. Let it dry overnight before applying the oil. Never immerse the board in water or put it in the dishwasher.

This might be more than you wanted to know, but this topic is so full of myths and superstition that I had to write this post.

Since this topic has been so thoroughly discussed and resolved in other forums on the internet I am not inclined to argue it here. These are the facts and you can do with them as you see fit.



hanseata's picture

Michael, we're just installing unfinished butcherblock countertops in our new kitchen. I was against it, not because it doesn't look and feel nice, but because of the constant black rings and marks that happen even if you are extremely careful not let any water sit on it (my experience from my old kitchen).

The Ikea product we used to oil it didn't seem to work too well. Do you think your mineral oil/beeswax mix would be a better option?


Edie's picture

Thank you Michael for an excellent review of the options. 

I've been trying to find out what is in Boos Mystery Oil.  I laughed when I read your post - YES it smells like fish; that explains why my kitchen smelled fishy for a few weeks after oiling our edge grain maple "butcher block" table.  Surprisingly, I don't detect the odour as much when I use it on our end grain maple cutting boards.

dtaffe's picture

Wow, thanks again for all the replies.  I oiled one side tonight with mineral oil.  I have a 1-pound bar of beeswax (I use it for other projects) and will make a paste tomorrow for the other side. I'll be interested to see if I notice a difference between the two sides.  

oskar270's picture

Maple is a tight grain wood and I would not recommend to apply any kind of finish. Once you start with a finish you will always have to re do it once in a while so why bother?

I have a maple small cutting board for ages and I never used any finish and looks like new. After i use it I just rinse it with water and let nature do its thing.

At least that is my opinion

dtaffe's picture

An early report: I rubbed one side of my new board with mineral oil and the other side with a paste of beeswax/mineral oil mix (1 part beeswax to 2 parts oil by weight.)  Two days later, neither side feels greasy or sticky, but the oiled side looks dryer, as if it might need another oiling already.  The beeswax side has a deep luster. I've kneaded on both sides, and with a dusting of flour they seem to work equally well with little sticking and easy cleanup (scraped with a bakers' blade and wiped with a dry cloth. I think I'll go with the beeswax mix in the future.