May 05, 2022

Thoughts on the Care of Olivewood

Thoughts on the Care of Olivewood

The care of olivewood is easy, and you likely practice good wood care already, however, in the spirit of thoroughness, here are my thoughts on the care of olivewood and other wooden utensils for culinary use. First, a statement: I love olive oil, but look askance at anyone who suggests it's a good idea for use as a wood conditioner. Olive oil used in this way will oxidize and leave everything it touches smelling like crayons--the distinctive and disagreeable aroma of rancidity. Yuck.

[Image shown above:  olivewood which needs to be conditioned.]

Cleaning

You'll find that wiping olivewood with a damp cloth is sufficient for cleaning your item nearly every time. If things get messy, however, a good scrub and a bit of gentle dishwashing liquid won't hurt. Whatever you do, please don't soak olivewood or any of your wooden utensils in water--and never, under any circumstances, put olivewood in the dishwasher. 

Heart shaped olivewood board without conditioning, marked "Before"Heart shaped olivewood with conditioning marked "After"

Conditioning

Your olivewood and other wood products will need conditioning from time to time, even if the piece is decorative and not subject to hand washing. This care is intended for all climates, and especially if you live in arid conditions. If your item is employed in daily use, such as with a kitchen spoon or cutting board, then conditioning is needed regularly to help prevent the piece drying and cracking; it helps prevent the piece from absorbing water, too.

We recommend using food grade mineral oil instead of cooking oil because cooking oils, even refined ones, will oxidize, become rancid, and then devolve into stickiness. If you have a food-safe wood oil for your kitchen counters or other cutting boards, that will work fine. 

We also like the idea of classic wood conditioners, sometimes referred to as "wood butter" or "board butter". The most common formulations add beeswax to food grade mineral oil in various ratios depending on the end use -- more wax for harder finishes. A vegan (non-beeswax) alternative might contain carnauba wax, and versions without mineral oil substitute fractionated coconut oil. We've begun producing a wood butter made from beeswax and food grade mineral oil. The beeswax is from our local beekeeper, Olivarez Chico Honey, the same folks who supply our honey and honey comb, and the fragrance is intoxicating. If you don't make your own wood butter, you can order American Olive Farmer Kitchen Wood Butter.

It is common that a newly purchased piece will appear somewhat dry due to transport and storage, so I recommend that you give the olivewood a wipe down and, once clean and dry, massage some oil onto it right away. Allow the oil time to soak overnight, and then wipe away the excess. A woodworker friend who deals in hard rock maple countertops likes to oil new pieces daily for a week or so, then once per week for a few months, then monthly from then on. Most items won't require that much care, however, I mention it to give you a sense of how much conditioning treatment a particularly dry piece might require.

I hope this enhances your long term enjoyment of olivewood. Have you seen my essay on sourcing olivewood? It's here on the post called The Beauty of Olivewood.

- Liz

4 comments

  • Liz on August 20, 2023

    Hello Kandy, Thank you for your recent purchase and taking the time to leave this comment and your question. Olives for our extra virgin olive oil come from orchards developed by the original Lucero Olive Oil partner, a local company called Crane Mills. The acreage is situated about 5 miles north of town and is wholly unrelated to our famous local landmark, The Olive Pit. Although Crane Mills is no longer in the olive business, the legacy of producing premium olive oil from those same trees continues via our website today.

  • Kandy on August 20, 2023

    Hi Liz,
    Thank you for the tips on caring for the Olive wood, I look forward to the new pieces that I just purchased lasting me for years, with good care of them. I just read your article ‘The Olive Orchards that Supply Lucero’ are you a part of the ‘Olive Pit’ store in Corning?? I just came across this article so have not perused your webshop to learn about you yet, so I’m sorry for the question before I’ve done that. Thank you again, for a helpful article.
    Warmly, Kandy

  • Liz on July 19, 2023

    Hello Corry, Thank you for reading my post and leaving this message. Your 40×15 olivewood table sounds amazing!! Although I have a strong point of view about the care of olivewood in the kitchen, I have much less confidence about wood exposed to sun and sea spray as the needs and requirements are so different. Here are two lines of thinking that might be helpful in speaking with an experienced mariner.

    - are you confident the wood was sufficiently dried prior to the original treatment? In other words, is it possible the tackiness is from residual moisture from “green” wood? – Was the result with teak oil acceptable at first because it was only the initial coat? Oils will naturally become dark and tacky with oxidation; this is what happens with cooking oil, for instance. Is it possible that subsequent coats of teak oil were applied too thickly, thus allowing a build up rather than a full soaking into the wood?
    I can only speculate on the best way forward, so rather than guess and misadvise you, I will contact two of my olive oil friends from the Mediterranean (one Turkish, one Italian) both of whom I know to be very keen sailors, and write back. – Liz

  • Corry on July 19, 2023

    I made a table for my boat 40″ × 15″ from olive wood. I have treated it a couple different ways. Most recently with teak oil.
    After 5 years it became dark and tacky. I have now sanded it down to clean wood again. For a boat- in lots of sun, what is the best treatment??

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