The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

can I use an old bread kneading bowl?

hullaf's picture

can I use an old bread kneading bowl?

I have an old, probably antique, bread bowl -- I presume it was used for kneading because it has that low sleek look. Dimensions are 17x11x4 inches. Most of it is smooth and well used, there are several thin cracks on the bottom and one on the outside. But it has been in a dusty place for years, probably needs some sort of cleaning. Do I dare clean it and use it? What do I clean it with? I don't want to take away any of the patina, it is so pretty. I wish I could use it, not just look at it. Any ideas? Can I chance it?  Anet

MaryinHammondsport's picture

Sorry -- I would not use it for dough. If it has patina and if you find it attractive, why not use it for fruit or find some sort of low glass or metal container to put inside to hold flowers and water? Or wind some variously colored yarn balls and use it for those. I would be afraid that in cleaning it the patina would be destroyed. And I very definitely would not want to use it for food without cleaning!

Haven't had an experience with such a thing, but from the experience I do have with old wood in other types of furniture, etc., I would be doubtful of trying to clean it up enough to use it for food.

if you want to put a finish on it to preserve the wood, try several coats of vegetable oil. Wipe it on and then wipe it off after a few minutes; don't let it sit on the surface too long or it will get tacky. This is how my Dad finished curring boards.


jowilchek's picture

Vegetable oil will go rancid, I suggest and use this myself on my wood cutting boards, and butcher block island grade mineral oil (look in the vitamin section of pharmacy). It will protect your wood but not go rancid like kitchen cooking oils.

Eli's picture

Unfortunately you are going to be the one to make a decision. I have my great-great grandmother's dough bowls and I use them. They are about 110 years old or older. They have been in use since the day she received them. I have cleaned these with a soft bristle brush and water. Then I dry it thoroughly inside and out. However, you said your's has cracks (mine does too). Mine has been is use and not stored but I clean them and keep them lightly oiled. I guess you are going to have to decide whether to risk it or not. I don't see where a soft bristled brush and damp rag with water would hurt. If you get it too wet you could cause it to swell and crack more.

Good luck and keep us posted. Audra on here has some too. She might be some help if she reads this post. (she has her grandmother's bowls).

edh's picture

Speaking as one who makes wooden bowls for part of my living; unless you have reason to believe it is a valuable antique (in which case I wouldn't use it at all, as using it will change it's appearence), I'd go ahead and give it a good scrub. You can even use a little mild soap if you think the dust is really into the grain.

The hitch; this will change the appearence! The appearence of the patina is probably at least partly dust, so that will go, but more importantly you will probably raise the grain somewhat by wetting the bowl. After washing, wipe the bowl as dry as you can, then let it sit for at least a couple of days to get truly dry. Once it's completely dry wipe it with mineral oil several times; give it a good soaking (with the oil). I generally tell people to avoid vegetable or nut oils as they can become rancid and sticky over time, and actually hold more dust. For future cleanings you might be able to avoid soaking the bowl in water each time, but if you do, more mineral oil will help keep the cracks from spreading.

I'd say, use it and enjoy!


audra36274's picture

and like Eli, I just clean it with soap and water, and a light oiling on occasion. They are a very cool thing to have. Where are you from? Eli and I were talking a while back that we only hear of them here in the south.I don't think a good cleaning will kill it. Look how long it has survived. Try it, I think you will be pleased. Well after all it is no good to you as it is. It was a bowl made to make bread, let it do it's job. Let us know how you make out.

hullaf's picture

I think I'll look into finding out what kind of wood it is, it does seem to be very hard wood. All the above ideas for cleaning sound right. I'll use some cutting board mineral oil (food grade usable) after cleaning. The cracks are minimal and the patina is more on the outside, so perhaps I'll mostly clean on the inside. And I'm the kind of person who likes antiques but tends to use them. The bowl is from the Wisconsin area, my parents had it around for as long as I remember (my Dad died two years ago at age 87.) When I get my camera in gear I'll take a before and after picture. Thanks again.  Anet

hullaf's picture

Well, I cleaned (and cleaned) that ole bowl of my Dad's. And I think it must have been sitting around who-knows-where for a very long time. The dust and dirt came out easily enough with a dilute vinegar water wash and a gentle brush. But I didn't want to overdo the washing and affect the patina. And it brought out and enhanced more cracks than I originally saw, and the one bigger crack on the outside seemed to come through to the inside. So . . . I decided not to use it. So sad. I didn't want to increase any cracks with the weight of kneading and the dust/dirt combo made me think twice about the cleanliness. Thus, I did give it a couple rubs with a food grade mineral oil and it looks very nice . . . as a decoration. 

kneading bowl


antique bread kneading bowl

antique bread kneading bowl 

I then went on a brief hunt for another bowl; ebay, flea markets, antique shops and either found ones too expensive, too flimsy, too porous (looked like simple pine wood), too cracked and damaged, or just not for kneading bread.

Well, my hubby does some carpentry -- we'll raid our woods and find some good old wood and gradually make one, though that might take years I know. And I'll keep on looking. I might even break down and buy a newly crafted kneading bowl and start making a patina in my bread bowl for my great-great grandchildren?   Anet

PaddyL's picture

Couldn't you at least let the dough rise in it, to sort of let it know you still think of it as a bread bowl?  I've got an enormous, free-standing dough box, antique, and I used to let the dough rise in that, even kneaded bread on the top, just to let it know I wouldn't forget its pioneer past.

subfuscpersona's picture

I have an unvarnished wooden bowl that I use at times as a proofing bowl for bulk fermentation for certain bread doughs.

I could say that, when the weather is hot and very humid, the wood has a slight wicking action on the dough and that this seems to be good for the dough during proofing.- ;) - However, the real reason is just because I enjoy getting some use from it. -:) -

I don't see any reason why, if you wish, you couldn't use your wooden bowl for the same purpose. I don't see that the cracks would matter. Unvarnished wood will, over time, absorb the flavors of what it contains, so if you want to use it for bread, then dedicate it to this use.

I've read that if the same wooden bowl is used over and over again for bread dough, it will develop a favorable environment for whatever little microoganisms are best for bread. Don't know if that is true, but, I have two wonderful old wooden rolling pins that have a lovely patina simply from rolling out pastry/cookie/biscuit dough for many years (over time, they absorb minute amounts of the butter or fat from the dough). They hardly have to be dusted with flour anymore.

hullaf's picture

Maybe I could use my Dad's old bowl to rise a few doughs. You're right, PaddyL, it needs to continue to develop a history patina, a pioneer past. And subfuscpersona, I didn't think about the bowl wicking during proofing -- I think that might be a definite process. Especially helpful where I live in TN, where it is humid all summer. I did read in a bread book, might be Hamelman, that told a story of an old woman using no yeast but the bowl 'flavor' to keep her rye bread rising.  Thanks ya'll. Anet

Mary Fisher's picture
Mary Fisher

Paraffin, mineral oil, is natural, it's a product formed from living creatures of millions of years. It is NOT sustainable in our lifetimes, as is tung oil, but that doesn't make it non-natural.

It's used in cosmetics and baby oils so can't be considered to be unfriendly to humans. Not that I'd use it on my body because I don't like the feel of it. But nor do I like the feel of any oil on my body.

Over time I believe that even tung oil would, along with other vegetable oils, begin to go rancid.

Why would you want to distress a wooden artefact - to make it look 'aged'?

By the way, the item in question isn't called a bowl in England, it's a 'trough'. A trug is a similar shaped item but made from plant stems and used in the garden.

I foresee more hands in the air :-)


paulm's picture

The mineral oil we are talking about can be found in the laxative section of any drug store or pharmacy.  In the U.S., it is not labeled "food grade" but rather U.S.P.  According to its label the uses are:


Relief of Occasional Constipation

Skin Moisturizer


yankeedave's picture

Try it and see what happens, what do you have to lose but one batch of dough? I'm no microbiologist but I have a hard time believing it would cause any problems. In the relatively short time it takes bread to rise, I very much doubt that anything left dormant in there could compete with your healthy, active yeast. It's easy to get freaked out about this stuff but I think that a lot of it is needless worry. I say give it a shot.

Mary Fisher's picture
Mary Fisher

I agree 100% with yankeedave!

clazar123's picture

I enjoy using my grandmother's porcelain bowl every time I make bread. If this is your family bowl I vote to use it.Wonderful memory trigger.

 There is very little that could have been in that bowl that would affect you now-who stores anything in a bowl? Most of anything nasty would have been washed out with time and your recent elbow grease. The crack does not look significant but if you are concerned,use it to raise the dough,as suggested, rather than to knead. Or better yet, mix the dough and then use a gentle stretch and fold rather than firm kneading.

Who says you can't teach an old bowl new tricks?

lacoet's picture


any suggestions as to how to go about trying to find one to purchase?

I just watched a video of somebody kneading the dough in one of these bowls and it seems so much neater that messing the kitchen counter.


kristiblue's picture

Hi all,

I'm new the world of proofing bread in an antique dough bowl, but I recently purchased one at the Tobacco Barn in Asheville, NC. I sanded, sanitized, cleaned, and seasoned it with food grade mineral oil just as I've read on numerous sites. My issue is that weeks later (still haven't used it), the oil I wipe off the surface is very brown - it almost looks like I'm wiping a stain or finish off the wood. I'm concerned that ingesting it through the dough will be harmful, but am not sure that's even what it is. I'm so discouraged because I really wanted to start making bread with my dough bowl weeks ago. My carpenter uncle believes it's walnut, but as far as the brown that will not stop wiping off, I'm just at a loss of where to go next. Thoughts? I've included 2 photos: the first is a side by side of the bowl (left is after sanding, sanitizing, and cleaning and right is after the first coat of oil). Second photo is weeks later when I took a white napkin and gently wiped the inside of the bowl. I'm beginning to think that this bowl isn't even a real antique and was made for decoration only.

kristiblue's picture

Forgot to add the photos to my last comment:

gary.turner's picture

It is very difficult  to  determine wood species after they're harvested. Even scientists in that field have to do it with a microscope and a thin cross section sample.  It's a lot easier when it's still a tree.

Color changes with exposure to air, and with the finish.  If you want to see the natural color, use a gouge to expose fresh wood about 2 mm below the surface.

Walnut, pecan and hickory are heavily pigmented brown and have been used for coloring since prehistoric times.  Walnut has a greenish and sometimes bits of purple tinge and pecan and hickory yellowish. This will vary with the local growing environment. 

The "patina" on wood is nearly always a build up of wax, oil  and dirt. The real patina is from exposure to air, not dirt.  Clean the bowl thoroughly with mineral spirits, let dry and wipe on the oil of choice*.  I mostly use olive oil since that's normally what's in or on the dough (or in the salad).  Wipe off all surface oil and let dry with good air circulation.  Likewise after each use.


* I am not averse to using a hardening oil, e.g. tung or boiled linseed (polymerized flax seed oil), to finish my bench because it penetrates the wood, hardens and seals against water. ~g

pmccool's picture

If that is the case, you may need to strip the existing finish before using the bowl.  Even then, having confidence that no trace of the finish leaches through is iffy.