Wooden Tools and Homemade Spoon Butter

spoon butter

One of the things I love about cooking is that despite all the modern advances available to us in the kitchen, so much of it is essentially timeless. Take for example how often you reach for something made of wood in the process of making a meal. I pull out my favorite wooden cutting board at least three times a day and reach for a wooden spoon or spatula all the time.

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The only issue with wooden tools is that on occasion, they need a bit of care, particularly in my dry, 20th floor apartment. I used to simply give my wooden utensils and cutting boards a quick wipe with straight mineral oil. About a year ago, I learned a better way from Stephanie at 3191 Miles Apart. Spoon butter (or spoon oil, as she calls it. However, it looks and feels more like butter to me, so that’s what I call it).

all the spoons

It just takes two ingredients to make spoon (or board) butter – mineral oil and natural beeswax*. Take a small saucepan and fill it about a third of the way up with water. Put a quarter pound hunk of beeswax (it smells so lovely) in a wide mouth quart jar and set it in the water-filled pan. Place the pan on the stove over medium heat and gently bring the water to a simmer.

As you heat the water, the wax will begin to melt. As it liquifies, slowly drizzle the contents of a 16 ounce bottle of mineral oil** in with the wax, stirring with a wooden implement until the wax and oil are completely combined. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully set the jar on a folded kitchen towel to cool.

wooden spoons on white

Once the butter is cool to the touch, start smoothing it into your spoons, spatulas, boards and bowls. Let them sit for a couple of hours (or more – sometimes I leave them overnight). When most the butter is absorbed, rub everything down with a clean cloth and return them to normal use.

One of the happy side effects of lubing all your wooden tools with spoon butter is that your hands will feel incredibly soft and well-tended (I think that’s why I like to butter my spoons this time of year, my hands are dry and cracked December through March). I also love how appealingly luminous all the wood looks after it’s been treated.

The spoon butter will keep in a closed jar under the sink or in the pantry for quite some time. It would also make a very nice thing to share. I’ve been imagining a wedding shower gift of a couple sturdy-yet-graceful spoons paired with a small jar of spoon butter and a charming note card with instructions on how to use it. Thoughtful and useful, don’t you think?

*I get my beeswax from Bee Natural in Reading Terminal Market. I don’t remember exactly how much it cost last time I bought it, but I don’t remember it being particularly outrageous.

**If you object to mineral oil, you can also use coconut oil. However, there is a downside to making the swap. Coconut oil is more prone to rancidity than mineral oil and so it will shorten the shelf life of your spoon butter. Consider making a half batch if you plan on using coconut oil, so that you’re able to use it up before it spoils.

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100 responses to “Wooden Tools and Homemade Spoon Butter”

  1. My dad made me a cutting board of wood. It is in almost all of my photographs. He comes to my house about twice a year with the same oil mixture and butters my board!

    This post is sweet. Thank you!

  2. I’ve been wanting to swap out my old plastic ones (urk!) to lovely wooden utensils, but wasn’t sure of the upkeep… now I know how simple it is, I shall request wooden everything for my birthday!

  3. Oooh, so awesome! I have 2 go to wooden spoons that I love to cook with. I actually saw on Dr. Oz though that the old spoons with nicks on them should be discarded because it could hold bacteria.

  4. Hi Marisa! This post is so apropos right now. I love my wooden kitchen tools–some have been around a long, long time–and I’m glad you’ve shared a tip to keep them that way.

  5. Thank you so much! I need to do this with my boards and spoons, but I just haven’t gotten around to doing the research. Now I know what to do! I think I’ll put my kids to work on the oiling.

  6. This is great! I have been meaning to work on all my wooden spoons, so this just might happen this weekend. I love Beeswax!!

  7. Thanks for the tip! I have a couple wooden spoons handmade for me by my uncle in addition to a few store bought bamboo spatulas. I want to acquire a few more to replace the plastics … they tend to get a bit melty when in contact with cast iron. No good!

    I definitely want to keep my handmade spoons around for as long as possible, so I will be looking around for a source of beeswax!

  8. Thanks for the advice! This is something I’d never thought of before, and I have a few nice wooden bowls and utensils. Most of my wooden spatulas and spoons are stained with turmeric, unfortunately.

  9. Oh, this is a handy post! We usually just oil things with mineral oil and even still, we almost never remember to do that when we should. I remember some sort of wooden implement developing a huge, splintery crack in it and being of no use any more…so I’m definitely using this here spoon butter to avoid that again! Thanks! 🙂

  10. Oh, how I miss Reading Terminal Market! I usually just use mineral oil, but the addition of beeswax sounds lovely. Now I just need to find some here in Chicago!

  11. Thanks so much for posting this! I picked-up a commercial version of it while on a trip to Maine awhile ago and I find it much longer-lasting and easy to apply than mineral oil (and it smells nice too). However, it’s been difficult to locate more and I don’t really want to pay the shipping to order it online. Now, maybe I can make my own!

    BTW, the commercial version I found (for those who don’t want to DIY) is Tree Spirit Bee’s Oil: http://www.thekitchenstore.com/trspbeoil.html Looks like other manufacturers have come out with similar stuff recently, also.

  12. Dumb question here – same rules apply to bamboo as for wood? Am LOVING this idea, though, and will fondle all the wood (and bamboo?) stuff, soothing their little spirits, tenderly caressing every lovely curve – and get some deep moisturizing into the hands as well! What a great side benefit!!

  13. Why would you use mineral oil on utensils you cook with? Eating petroleum doesn’t sound like the healthiest way to cook to me! I use natural tung oil for cutting boards and have never had a problem with spoons cracking since I only have a couple and use them all the time. People who are worried about plastic melting into their food should not be eating mineral oil.

    Also, bacteria is naturally drawn into and killed by wood so don’t worry about cracks “breeding bacteria”. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16640304

    • Using tung oil on food surfaces is not a good idea if anyone with a nut allergy is going to be eating off it (and you may not know if you have a guest with a nut allergy), since it’s extracted from a nut and can cause the same allergic reaction as any other nut. Mineral oil is completely neutral and not absorbed by the body, so it’s generally a safer bet.

        • Coconut oil is a good option. There’s a spoon butter sold on Amazon made with beeswax and coconut oil… and coconut oil is not allergenic (I have a daughter with nut allergy and coconuts are not ‘nuts’). Also, you avoid the petroleum issue.

  14. Love, love, love this post! I just wrote a post on my blog very recently about how much I adore my wooden spoons. Your photos are beautiful (and I now have kitchen-envy of your table and utensils! I think I need to branch out from just wooden spoons and find other things made of wood.) Thanks for the recipe for the spoon butter… sounds just wonderful!

  15. Hope you don’t mind, Marisa, I just linked to this post. I can’t wait to get me some beeswax and try it out! I’ve used just plain mineral oil in the past. This sounds like it would work even better.

  16. Chickybeth – I was scrolling through the comments specifically to see if someone would mention an alternative to mineral oil! I totally agree and thanks! I am going to give this recipe a go with tung oil and see how it works.

  17. I was thinking about purchasing some beeswax for a DIY body product project, but I was having a hard time justifying purchasing the minimum 1 lb of beeswax. You’ve just given me another use – thank you!

    • I have to reply to this comment rather than post a new one because it makes me feel less alone in being exactly the same! We can feel ashamed together 🙂

      I had to look up what exactly mineral oil is at first and was also somewhat disturbed to find it’s a petro-based product. Seems like it’s okay to use and that vegetable oils are not recommended due to going rancid and sticky over time but it would be great to hear back from anyone who tries other options.

      Thanks for this tip. I am constantly amazed by all the ‘little’ things I hear about other people doing that it has just never occured to me need to be done as routine!

    • Same here. I had no idea that wooden spoons needed special care except for washing. I do not wash them in the mashine because of the soap it uses. How do you wash your wooden utensils?

  18. I just a small batch, and I can already tell it’s going to be wonderful for my cutting board, the spoon I used to stir it hasn’t looked this good in years!! I wish I had known beforehand that drugstores sell mineral oil for very cheap, otherwise I wouldn’t have spent $10 on a small bottle at a specialty kitchen supply store :s

  19. Forgive my ignorance… But would you use this on wooden (for-eating-out-of) bowls and other things as well? Or just cutting boards and cooking utensils? Could you use it on a butcher’s block?

    Also, am I right in assuming you’d apply this to wood once a year?

    • April, you can use this spoon butter on any wood, whether you use it for cooking or not (I sometimes treat furniture with it too). As far as the frequency of application, once a year is a good starting place. However it really is simply a matter of need. You might find that certain tools or boards might need it more or less often.

  20. Chickybeth: I was also hoping to find an alternative to mineral oil as I’d rather not use petroleum products whenever possible. I was thinking of trying linseed (flaxseed) oil since that’s been traditionally used as a wood varnish, but I’m not sure if it would impart any undesirable “flavor” to the utensils. I think most nut oils would eventually go rancid.

    • Over on Facebook, someone suggested using jojoba oil in place of the mineral oil. I plan on trying that once I work through the batch I currently have made up.

  21. oh, grand timing! i love this reminder nearly as much as the glimpse of your mid-century mod goods 🙂

    i’d read Stephanie’s recipe, then forgot all about it. lucky for me, i have a bees wax surplus PLUS xtra dry hands. time to attend to both…

  22. I am trying to make this – in fact, over the last several days!
    However, I’m finding it a bit too “hard” – Can you describe the texture of your finished spoon butter? Also, how do you know how long to cook it til it’s “emulsified”. I appreciate your responding. I am loving the site and enjoying your attention to details! Thanks so much! Lyn

  23. How timely! The Michigan Lady Food Bloggers just did a monthly theme on favorite tools. We were hopping about America then, and I couldn’t focus long enough to think about what my favorite might be. Reading their posts, it occurred to me that my wooden spoon is top-ranked. I reach for it all the time, and prefer my wooden tools in general to all others. Thanks for a tip on how to care for these beloved friends!

  24. i enjoyed is recipe however i dont have a good quality set of wooden spoons..where did you get yours? any suggestions of type of woods, eco, bamboo, cedar??

    • I’ve been collecting those spoons for years. I buy them at craft shows, stores that sell kitchen and homewares, and even sometimes at thrift stores. I’m partial to hardwoods, but I do have a couple of bamboo implements that I really like.

  25. Thank you! I love the idea of giving little jars of this as gifts. I just puttered every wooden thing in the kitchen that I could find. Big fun! The knife block was especially thankful. 🙂

  26. I wanted to let you know that I just made this! It’s wonderful, thank you so much for the recipe. I liked the idea of putting it into little jars to give away, so I poured some into 4oz. jars and made a cute little label. I just posted some pictures on my blog if you want to see. 🙂 Check it out at http://www.kitchen-55.com. Thanks again!

  27. I have been concerned with using a petroleum based product in this preparation since it will come in contact with food. I have wondered if anyone has found an alternative to the mineral oil that is food safe and will not go rancid? I have read about walnut, linseed, jojoba and coconut oils as alternatives but without reviews as to the results.

  28. I love this idea as I’ve had many of my spoons for ten to twenty years. Those poor uncared for untentils. I appreciate the alternatives to mineral oil. Would coconut oil work? What do you think?

  29. Definitely trying this with coconut oil as I buy it in a five gallon size and I know I am o.k. with eating it and rubbing it into my skin. Mineral oil gives me the heebie-jeebies! I know they say it does not absorb into our bodies but then… where DOES it go?

    Your photos are gorgeous and inspiring and I LOVE your collection of wooden implements. Thanks for sharing.

  30. I love all your wooden utensils. I think maybe I am going to treat my kitchen island wooden top to this treatment. I live in the desert, so it is pretty dry for most of the year.

  31. The major problem with this recipe is Mineral oil really shouldn’t be consumed. It is a by-product of distilling oil for gasoline (honestly, I’m not being hyperbolic here.) It is difficult to find oils that don’t go rancid but that aren’t, well basically, poison.
    Would be interesting to know if you could use an edible oil with the beeswax to the same effect.
    Thanks!

  32. Just to make sure I understand…the water gets mixed in with the beeswax and oil, or is just used in the saucepan a la a double boiler?

  33. Here is what is recommended by Edwards Smith, fine woodworker.

    http://www.edwardssmithfinewoodworking.com/blog/2010/05/29/making-wooden-spoons/

    Sanding and Oiling the Spoons

    What remains is to hand sand the spoon. I do not go above 220 grit as these spoons are for cooking and finer finishes are not important. I oil my spoons with sesame oil. I used to use mineral oil but since this is a petroleum based product and not renewable, I feel more comfortable using a vegetable oil.

    I choose sesame oil as it has the longest shelf life of all the non-drying oils and does not become rancid easily. This is due to unique antioxidants found in sesame oil and not in other vegetable oils.

    I don’t recommend olive oil as it spoils very quickly and you get a tacky residue building up on the utensil. A food safe drying oil such as tung oil can also be used.

    Care of the finished product is very easy. Just wash in soapy water and let it air dry. Over the course of time the surface may become whitened due to fragmentation of the fibers with repeated use and washings. Just apply another coat of sesame oil and the finish is restored.

    For heavily used spoons a light sanding before reapplication of the oil is all that is needed. A well cared for spoon can last for generations. Below is a picture of spoons ready for oiling.

  34. Comment 66 is just the comment that I’d been scrolling and waiting for….very authoritative and to the point! THANK YOU!

  35. Marisa, where did you get your kitchen/tea towels? I’ve been on the hunt for some good, lint free ones that will last a while. Are they linen or cotten? If anyone else has suggestions, I would appreciate it!

  36. Im not sure exactly where to start with this but I think one can a lot better than mineral oil and beeswax while still being foodsafe.

    First of all, mineral oil is simply refined crude oil, nothing more. Sure, it’s been used for years as way to “unclog” ones digestive tract but would you drink 10w30? The second problem with mineral oil is that it NEVER cures or hardens. Pour a little blob on a plate and leave it. Come back in 10 years and it will still be a slimy liquid.

    Now, when you are cleaning dishes, pots, utensils in your kitchen, you use soap of some kind, right? Why? Two reasons: to kill bacteria and to remove OIL and grease. What do you think happens to the mineral oil you applied to your spoons, bowls and cutting boards? Yup, you leach it out, wash it away and your kitchen tools dry out, crack and split.

    Beeswax is virtually useless as a wood finish. It is incredibly soft and gets worn off (into your food. Mmmm, yummy) and washed away when you clean it. Seriously, to have any effect whatsoever you must use beeswax after EVERY cleaning. Are you willing to do that? Sorry, my time is more valuable than that.

    One of the commenters mentioned using sesame oil. I cannot comment of this because I don’t know if it cures and hardens. I make wooden bowls for a living. I make each one by hand and I sign my name to the bottom of each one so quality, food-safety, ease and durability are very important to me, my business and my reputation. Because of that, I use walnut oil, specifically Mike Mahoney’s Utility Finish. Walnut oil soaks into the wood fibers and cures thus, it doesn’t get washed away. It is completely food safe and I have not found a better finish for my work.

    If you use wooden bowls, cutting boards or utensils, do yourself a favour and order a bottle of Mike’s finish (over at http://www.bowlmakerinc.com). A small bottle will last AGES unless you bathe in the stuff.

    Hope this helps some of you.

    Kind regards,
    Steve

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