In the last blog entry Kenneth detailed how he finishes his Windsor chairs.
This one is all about finishing his beautiful wooden spoons.
We publish it here as an addendum to our workshops, where there is time
to learn to make green wood items, but rarely time enough to do the
oil finishes that will protect and preserve them.
These blog entries are a guide to give complete information to our students
and others who are looking for details of how to finish certain handcrafts.
I prefer to use raw tung oil on spoons, as opposed to the polymerized oil which
is the finish I use on chairs, the polymerized is a bit more expensive. It is available from Lee Valley. Many people like to use raw linseed oil on spoons and bowls, I like the tung oil because it hardens off to a more durable and hard protection for the wooden ware. Jögge Sundquist told me that he likes linseed oil over tung oil because he says he doesn't like the way the tung oil smells. I don't think he has used it with the Citri-magic which has a lovely lemon or orange smell. Linseed oil is also a more traditional finish for wooden ware in Scandinavia.
You can use polymerized tung oil if that’s what’s available, and I occasionally
use it for a touch up on spoons, it is a finish that builds up layers fast. It is expensive to get enough to soak the spoons in it.
For my standard spoon finishing, I cut the tung oil 50/50 with a citrus based
solvent called Citra-magic, which makes the tung oil dry faster and allows
it to penetrate better. Plus I think a natural solvent is a more pleasant way
to thin the oil, and it smells really nice, like oranges.
(I buy Citra-magic in bulk from the Shelter Institute here in Maine,
or the Milk Paint Company also sells it.) There are citris based household cleaners that might confuse you so make sure it is a solvent and not a household cleaner.
For my soaking mixture, I mix half raw tung oil and half solvent together
in a large jar. I will soak any smaller items like spoons or butter/jam
spreaders overnight with the jar’s lid on.
If the item I’m finishing is too large to fit entirely into the oil I’ll drape
a plastic bag over the top. Then I’ll invert the piece - I’ll do the bowl
one night and then I’ll flip it around and do the handle the next night.
This overnight soaking is just for the first time, a really deep soaking,
for when I’ve just completed carving a spoon and the wood has dried
and I’m going to oil it for the very first time.
I’ll do the overnight soaking once on the whole spoon, then when
I remove it from the jar I use a small rag from a cotton T shirt to
wipe off as much oil as I can.
Then I take a second, dry rag and wipe off all the remaining oil with
the dry rag. You want to rub it with a dry rag until there’s no more
oil on the spoon. There actually is some on the surface, but you can’t
really wipe off any more of it.
important safety reminder:
I always put rags that have tung oil on them into our wood stove,
because when the tung oil oxidizes it gives off heat and if you have
just the right conditions it can actually self combust.
Because of this, I put my oily rags in our wood stove as a safety measure.
You can also put them in water or put them outside, spread out
(not wadded up). It’s mostly when they’re compressed and wadded up
that they heat up, but if you spread them out the heat usually dissipates
and they won’t catch fire, but either way they should NOT be left
around the house or the shop. They can burn your house down.
After the first application of oil has dried overnight, I like to wet the
entire spoon down with water, which raises the grain of the wood.
After that dries, I give the surface a light sanding to remove all the
wood grain that has risen, either with 600 grit wet/dry sandpaper
(you can even do a wet sanding with the oil to really finish it off nicely),
or with 0000 synthetic steel wool.
I will give my spoons just a light sanding between each coat of finish.
You want to be careful not to sand through the finish as you build those
coats, so don’t sand too aggressively or you might go back down through
the layers you’ve been trying to build.
After the initial soaking has dried, after raising the grain, drying the
spoon again and after the light sanding, I’ll dip a rag in the oil/solvent
mixture from the jar, wipe the spoon down with it and let it sit
for 10 or 15 minutes. Then I wipe it off and repeat the process with
the drying, light sanding and the rubbing/polishing.
You can get away with just one or two layers of finish, but when you
start getting up to 3 to 5 coats it really starts to build up a smooth
surface and that’s the kind of finish that I appreciate.
I like the built-up tung oil surface because it makes the spoons perform
and look better over the long run. Using and cleaning wooden spoons
seems to go a lot easier when they have a nice slick finish on them. The water will literally run off the spoon when you wash it.
The other day I was at the Shelter Institute and a gentleman was
talking to me about how he’s been finishing his spoons using mineral oil,
but he wasn’t super happy with his results.
An important thing to know about mineral oil is that it never actually
hardens off. What happens is that it’s always washing off the surface,
every time you wash the spoon with soap and water or get it near hot
water, the finish washes off the surface and then the wood becomes
dry, and it will look it too. It really changes the way the spoon looks
and feels against your skin.
The pores of the wood and any indentations or marks from carving
will tend to hold food and dirt if it’s got this kind of soft surface.
It’s like putting olive oil or something similar on the wood.
I’ve found that the tung oil finish holds up much better than
mineral oil or similar kinds of oils that don’t actually harden off.
The idea of toxic finishes on spoons and bowls is a big concern for people,
of course. (I really appreciate the Citra-magic for that reason, it’s nice to know
that I’m not putting anything with strong chemical dryers on my spoons.)
My understanding is that almost any finish, when it’s totally cured and dried,
is going to be nontoxic and inert, especially if you wash your spoon with
soap and water after you’re completely done finishing it and after the
finish is fully cured.
When your wooden ware is in daily use, the finish has to be reapplied occasionally, not all that often, but it does seem to wear over time so I do
reapply the finish periodically. It’ll just build up more and more and your
spoons will benefit from more protection.
I think you’ll find with a finish that hardens off like tung oil does, you’ll
be able to build up a surface that doesn’t require maintenance as often.
some thoughts about containers -
I have found that a large jar is the most durable, reusable and easy to
seal container for the tung oil finish, but there are other ways to hold
oil finish for spoons.
Drew Langsner (at Country Workshops) was using a tray which he had made
out of a big rectangular olive oil can by cutting the top off and leaving a lip
about 4” high. He would pour his oil in there (he also uses tung oil), set spoons
in it and then place a weight on top of the spoons to push them down below
the surface. Once he was done soaking the spoons or butter spreaders,
he’d pour the liquid back into a jar to re-use it later.
If you don’t happen to have a jar or a can that’s large enough to do a really
big spoon, I discovered an alternative this past summer which may help.
You can use a large plastic bag instead and fill it with the tung oil/Citra-magic mixture, place your item to be oiled in the bag, squeeze the air out, seal it
up and just let it soak there for a day or two.
Then you can pour the finishing liquid out into a jar when you’re done in
order to store it longer term.
Unfortunately you’ll end up wasting some because you can’t really get it all
out of the bag. But if you squeeze all of the air out of the plastic bag and seal it up, free from air, you can re-use your plastic bag quite a few times.
And finally, here’s another type of finish I like a lot -
I used to finish my spoons with a polymerized linseed oil finish called Tried
and True, there's one that has beeswax in it, it’s the ‘original’ Tried and True finish.
I would coat the spoon with that, then I’d put it in the microwave for 5 to 10, maybe 15 seconds on high, until the spoon was really warm. The microwave would heat the spoon up from the inside and draw the oil and beeswax mixture into the wood. I used that finish on a lot of spoons.
But now we live off the grid and we don’t have a microwave, so I switched.
I think the finish soaks in better with the overnight method, and the
tung oil creates a harder, less permeable finish on the wood as compared to linseed oil and so that is now definitely what I prefer.” - KK
Angela & Kenneth Kortemeier
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