If you are unfamiliar with wood turnings, and you are considering purchasing turnings or just want to know more, this page contains general information about wood turnings.
My turnings (most of them, that is) are made from wood, and wood being a living material will change in color and character over time. The major players in this change are oxygen and ultraviolet light, which tend to darken most woods. Although a few people do not like this about wood, many people, myself included, like the fact that the wood ages, taking on new color, acquiring a patina over time. It is like a bottle of fine wine that improves with age, except, unlike wine, it is never fully consumed and can be enjoyed every day along the way.
Whether one welcomes the change of the wood over time or not, either way, it is important to understand this about wood products before purchasing them, and that the turning you purchase today may look different, most likely darker, in a few years.
There are, admittedly, disadvantages to purchasing over the internet. One caveat is that photos can be deceiving when it comes to how large or small an item is. I find that this is especially true with turnings.
Although the two bowls in the photos look about the same size in the photos, the one on the right is about twice as wide as the one on the left. This is why I include a ruler in some of the photos of my turnings that are for sale and include the approximate dimensions in the description of the turning. I would recommend before buying a turning from me (or from anyone else online) to get out a ruler and get a feel for how large the turing will actually be and ensure that the size of the turning is what you are expecting.
The other thing that often occurs with wood while waiting for it to dry is cracking. This occurs due to stresses in the wood caused as the wood looses moisture and shrinks.
Major cracking renders a turning blank useful only for firewood, but small cracks are much less of an issue. For smaller cracks, instead of tossing the blank into the wood pile till winter, I prefer to embrace wood for being wood, and turn such flaws into an aesthetic opportunity. My favorite way of dealing with small cracks is to fill them with crushed black stone, using cyanoacrylate glue (super glue) as a binder. The results are usually quite pleasing. The other way to deal with cracks, especially larger (but still relatively small) cracks is to use some sort of aesthetic mending, like the use of bow ties or splines. And sometimes, if the cracks pose no strength or integrity problems, I leave it alone, simply letting the aesthetic of the crack be.
There is a lot of discussion and hoopla over so-called "food safe" finishes in woodworking circles. Many manufacturers market finishes specifically as "food safe". However, upon inspecting the ingredients of these finishes, I discovered that there is little difference between them and the supposedly unsafe counterparts. So what is so food-safe about them?
Now, if you are purchasing a turning to use as a candy dish for wrapped candies, and you do not intend to use for direct food contact, then there is no issue. The finish on such turnings is no different than the finish on any piece of furniture. If, however, you are looking for turnings for direct food contact, then read on.
As it turns out, the main culprit that makes a finish toxic is not the finish itself, but the thinners, solvents, and driers that are added to the finish that make it toxic. The bottom line is that most if not all finishes used on wood, once they are fully cured, are food safe. The key here is "fully cured", meaning that all of the solvents and thinners have evaporated, and any driers are encased in the resulting finish. Most of the solvents and thinners will evaporate within hours, but the remaining thinners and solvents may take days, even a month, to evaporate. A basic test of whether a finish has fully cured is to smell it: When a finish is fully cured, you can no longer smell the finish
My favorite finish for turnings is Boiled Linseed Oil. Raw Linseed Oil is completely non-toxic in both liquid and hardened states, but takes weeks to fully dry. Boiled Linseed Oil has driers, and sometimes thinners, added to it to speed up drying. This puts my beloved Boiled Linsees Oil in the category of "needs to be fully cured for direct food contact" category.
I have been eating on wooden plates finished with Boiled Linseed Oil for some time, usually letting it cure at least a month before putting it into service, and have suffered no ill effects. Yet I realized that some folks will still be concerned about the safety of such finishes, or concerned that they will be uncertain whether the finish has fully cured. For that reason I also offer turnings finished with Walnut Oil. In my personal opinion, Walnut Oil does not look as nice as Boiled Linseed Oil, often darkening wood too much, but it is immediately food-safe, completely nontoxic in both liquid and dried states, and is, in fact, perfectly edible. (Walnut oil is often used in salad dressings.)
Caring for Turnings
If properly cared for, wood products can last a lifetime or longer, and in may ways wood items are tougher than items made from other, alternative materials. For instance, dropping a wooden bowl on the floor will not result in it shattering, and a wooden bowl has as a pretty good chance of surviving such trauma.
There are, however, things that should be avoided with wood products. Probably the worst thing is to expose a wood bowl to extremely hot water; so, do not put turnings in the dish washer or wash with by hand with water hotter than you can stand to touch with your bare hand. Also do not submerge turnings in water for extended periods (washing is OK). For best results, wash turnings by hand just like any other dish, and dry initially with a towel and then let it air dry for a few minutes.
For decorative and light duty items (e.g. candy dish), turnings should require no maintenance other than occassional dusting.
If you plan to use wooden plates and bowls for direct food contact, and plan on using and washing them regularly, you can keep them looking good by periodically re-applying oil. My favorite oil for this purpose is Walnut Oil, because it is a drying oil and is non-toxic both in liquid form and in dry form, however, any form of non-toxic drying oil will do.
For both decorative and utility items, you may find that, after some time, the surface may not feel as smooth as it did when it was new. This is due to moisture exchange, either from washing or from seasonal change. This can usually be remedied by buffing the turning with regular brown paper bag. Just be sure to crumple the brown paper first, to avoid any sharp edges.