My favorite lumberyard (where I get most of my bowl blanks) specializes in curly/fiddleback/birdseye maple, all of which I love for their holographic/chatoyant qualities.

Because I'm a beginner, I've been finishing everything first with mineral oil, then with beeswax. I like these because they're organic, foodsafe, and easy to apply.

However, as I revisit my oldest works (seeing them, for example, in a friend's house), I'm struck by how badly the finish ages - they become dull, start showing scratches easily, and generally lose their luster. Especially sad with the great figure that comes from curly maple!

What's your recommendation for a durable, foodsafe finish that will help my bowls retain their chatoyancy for as long as possible? (It would be great if the end-user could refresh the finish themselves, as they can with butcher-block finish, etc, but I find my recipients rarely do this).


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    Mineral oil should be reapplied periodically and as needed. This should revitalize your friend's old item. It does put the strain of refinishing on the end user, who are often lax in performing their duties (as you have noted). – Eli Iser Feb 12 '19 at 1:10
  • Thanks Eli! I always instruct my bowl-recipients in this aspect of bowl maintenance, but they rarely comply ;-) – AKA Feb 12 '19 at 16:55

As covered in a number of previous Answers, example, all finishes can likely be considered food-safe once fully cured as there's no evidence to the contrary.

The best finish hands down, for highlighting chatoyancy is an oil, and chief among them is boiled linseed oil1. A straight oil finish is not a very durable one as commonly applied today (virtually nobody has the time or inclination to do it the old way) and even when many many layers are applied over a long period it's still not necessarily that durable2, but what it needs to withstand hasn't been specified.

Over this you'd use a hard finish, shellac would be OK and so would lacquer, but if outright durability is important oil-based polyurethane would probably be your best bet if you can't use a two-pack product with your current setup.

So in summary, oil first and then something else. Note that depending on what you use you may need to wait more or less for the oil to cure — lacquer for example is sensitive to uncured oil underneath the lacquer film, shellac and oil-based poly much less so (it's perhaps not best practice but both can be successfully applied to freshly oiled wood).

1 Raw linseed oil works just as well but it 'dries' far too slowly to be of much practical use these days.

2 Oil finishes tend to remain permanently sensitive to water, and even blended finishes like "Danish oil" (which are enhanced by the inclusion of some varnish) are still not strictly waterproof. This means that for a fruit bowl for example they're not ideal as permanent staining will almost certainly result from weeping fruits, however it is very difficult to protect against this entirely.

  • Thanks for the answer! To be more specific, I'm asking about finishes with the following qualities prioritized: * foodsafe * durable (minimizes need for recurring touch-ups) * highlights chatoyancy ...it sounds like I should try shellac. Thanks again! – AKA Feb 13 '19 at 2:59
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    All finishes are foodsafe. I was in a rush so didn't include this emphasis, but it is a point made in a number of previous Answers. Shellac is actually an excellent finish for turners because it can be applied while the workpiece turns and build to a truly stunning result in only a couple of minutes. But if the bowls are intended for much use, and if they have to withstand any cleaning, then it is unlikely you'll find it suitable. Shellac is/can be highly sensitive to water and it isn't nearly as resistant to scratches as poly, which is why French-polished pieces need to be babied somewhat – Graphus Feb 13 '19 at 8:36
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    On enhancing chatoyancy, if you want to focus on shellac I highly recommend you do a direct comparison between shellac alone and with BLO underneath it. While shellac by itself does enhance chatoyance quite well it has always been very common to oil first as this makes the most of any figure present (maximises contrast) and also brings out the absolute maximum in optical/holographic/cat's eye effects. I've done the comparisons myself but everyone needs to see it with their own eyes on the woods they commonly use. – Graphus Feb 13 '19 at 8:37

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