I can tell you my opinion, but then 100 others will have 100 other
opinions, all probably just as right as my opinion.
Start with the most basic finish, no finish at all. Remember, there is no
writen rule that you need finish.
Other than that, now you have choices to make. Oil, wax, varnish,
shellac, lacquer, and water-based products are your basic choices. Is it
a food contact piece (will it actually hold fruit)? Be aware of what you
use here to make sure it is food safe. Most finishes once fully cured
(which usually takes over a month to be FULLY cured) are food safe, but
some are more food safe than others.
Behlen's Salad Bowl Finish (a cousin of varnish) is about the only product
that actually claims to be in accordance with FDA safety requirements, so
say the adverti***ts.
Be careful with shellac and food stuffs. Shellac is actually edible (it's
acandy coating among other things), but some food acids (citric acid for
example) actually damage shellac.
Walnut oil would be a good one. It cures very slow, though. Available in
grocery stores in the salad dressing or baking area. Gourmet food stores
should also carry it. Wipe on, allow to soak in, and thoroughly wipe
off. Wait a day and do it again. Reapply as needed. Careful with people
that may be alergic to nuts.
Mineral oil is food safe, but NEVER cures, and does wash away, so you need
to reapply as needed.
Buy Bob Flexner's "Understanding Wood Finishing" at any bookstore,
terrific source of info on all things finishing.
St. Paul, MN, USA
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There are lots of options and I'm not sure there is such a thing as
Richard Raffan firmly believes that turned items should be used. As such,
he uses mineral oil and beeswax on almost everything. The expectation is
that, over time, the piece will be rewaxed to maintain the surface.
You can buy an oil finish called "salad bowl" finish from several
sources. Rockler's Woodworking and Craft Supplies both carry the General
brand. I think Highland Hardware carries Behlen's oil. These are said to
be "food safe" once cured.
I believe that I read in Michael Dresdner's Wood Finishing book that any
finish, once cured, will not impart toxics to items in contact. I think
the driers used in the finish are the culprits. Cure time is considered
to be about 30 days.
In any case, these treatments will provide various degrees of gloss.
Wax/oil is a low sheen. Building finishes are glossier. You will have to
decide what you like.
As with any finish, if the item is subject to wear, the finish may need to
be restored occasionally. Surface building finishes are a little more
hassle than oil finishes, and wax finishes are probably the easiest. This
list is also probably in the inverse order of maintenance frequency for
these finishes. Washing for all wood items should be by hand with soapy
water, then rinsed. I wouldn't let any wooden item soak in the water.
Joe - San Diego