Homemade Wood Balm

Make Homemade Wood Balm

I must admit that despite the myriad of wood spoons, boards, and whatnot in my kitchen, I didn’t think about protecting them from the dry, winter air until we bought a kitchen island with a solid wood countertop. The instructions that came with the island suggested liberal applications of mineral oil to prevent cracking, and once we figured out where to get it (the pharmacy), we were regularly buffing and oiling that thing up. It makes the wood look so rich and lovely.

Once I saw how nice the counter looked after oiling, my attention turned to other wooden objects in the kitchen. “Right,” I thought, “I guess they could benefit from an oil treatment, too.” And they did. Around that time I also started to notice jars of beautifully packaged, but expensive “wood butters” in fancy kitchen and cookbook stores. I’ve been making homemade skin and lip balms for years (p.s. there’s a recipe for gardener’s hand salve in my first book, You Grow Girl), and the principle is the same: mix lightly warmed oils with just enough melted beeswax to form a light solid that easily melts in your hands. While the oil is fine on its own, the beeswax in a balm helps to seal in the oil and protect the wood further. I knew I could make it myself for a fraction of the cost.

A Note About Ingredients

When it comes to the wood butters that I have seen in stores, the ingredients have always been the same: mineral oil and beeswax. Mineral oil is used because it is considered safe to ingest and has a long shelf life. It’s important to choose something edible, since small quantities of the balm will be transferred to your food and into your mouth. Mineral oil is a petroleum byproduct and some are suspicious of its safety. Unfortunately, most edible oils go rancid quickly and since a little is always staying in the board, you can find yourself with a stinky board over time, with some of that rancid oil making its way into your body. Coconut oil and walnut oil are decent, alternatives, but coconut oil does eventually go off and walnut oil can present issues for people with allergies. While we’d be fine, I worry about using my boards and utensils when preparing food for guests. I would love to hear your oil alternative ideas in the comments. Having done some research, I am sticking to mineral oil for now, but would prefer to find a better alternative.

I considered infusing the oil with dried lavender or rosemary, but in the end decided that it was better to avoid adding anything else to the mix that will be ingested and may add unwanted flavours to my food.

Make Homemade Wood Balm

Make It: Wood Balm

Note that this recipe uses one bottle of mineral oil, which is typically labelled as 16 oz in the US and 500 mL in Canada. Mineral oil can be purchased in the pharmacy section of your local grocery store (it is sold as a laxative product). Beeswax is available in solid brick form at most health food stores. Some stores sell it in small pellets, which is a heck of a lot more convenient, but I have never found it this way. Coconut and walnut oils are also sold in health food stores.

You Will Need:

  • 4 ounces beeswax (100 grams)
  • 16 ounces mineral oil (500mL)

Typically, when using smaller quantities of beeswax, I find it easiest to grate it with an old grater that I keep for just that purpose. However, if you are following the full recipe, I suggest chopping the brick into smaller chunks. It’s a pain to do (the beeswax is chewy and sticks to the knife), but will melt much faster. This is the hardest part of the recipe. I’ve also tried scoring smaller beeswax bricks with a bread knife and breaking pieces off. If you have a better method for doing this please share your wisdom in the comments!

Melt the beeswax in a double boiler over medium heat. You can approximate one by standing a large pyrex measuring cup or wide-mouth Mason jar in a pot about 1/4 to 1/2 filled with water. In fact, the Mason jar option is best if you’re making a big batch for yourself since it saves pouring the balm into a separate jar/s afterward. Stir occasionally with a chopstick until the wax is melted.

In a second double boiler (or Mason jar set in a pot of water) heat the mineral oil gently over low heat. The goal here is to warm the oil for mixing with the melted wax. If you try to mix the two when the oil is cold, the beeswax will start to solidify immediately and they won’t mix.

Pour the warm oil into the melted beeswax and stir until combined. At this point you can choose to allow the contents of the jar to set, or pour into smaller jars for sharing. This recipe yielded 6, 4 ounce jelly jars of balm that I gave as Holiday gifts to friends.

To use: using your hands, slather a generous portion of wood balm onto clean and dry utensils and cutting boards. It is also brilliant on knives with wooden handles and can be used to care for wooden mortar and pestles. I have also used it on old rolling pins, but made sure to really buff away any excess balm and oil so that they aren’t sticky or greasy afterward.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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23 thoughts on “Homemade Wood Balm

  1. I just bought a new wooden rolling pin, made in Maine, that needs to be sealed. What a timely post! I even have mineral oil and bricks of beeswax lying around, too. Great idea, thanks!

    Years ago, when using beeswax for candle making, I broke it up with a rubber mallet hitting the handle end of a sturdy screwdriver whose pointy end was placed on the wax brick. It was messy, though, with chunks flying around a lot. I placed the wax in a low, wide tub and worked outside. Not a good idea today, though, with wind chills near zero.

  2. Has anyone used walnut oil with good results? I can tolerate using a mineral oil and beeswax mixture on my cutting boards, as there is NOTHING worse than rancid oil. However, I’d like to skip the mineral oil for my new pasta rolling board and rolling pin.

    • Hi Gayla, thanks for this recipe, and the tip on where to find mineral oil. I never would’ve thought to check a pharmacy. As to cutting your wax, have you thought of heating your knife blade up over your (gas) stove first so that the metal melts the wax rather than you having to slog your way through? I personally haven’t tried this though.

  3. I’ve been using pure coconut oil on my butcher block for awhile now with no issues. Maybe I haven’t had any issues with it going rancid because it rarely gets about 70 in San Francisco? I prefer it to mineral oil although the butcher block does smell like it needs a frufru umbrella in it for an hour or so after I oil it.

    • This is my fear with coconut oil. Great right now in the winter when my kitchen is cold. But what will it be like in the summer months? Maybe I should try it on one item as a test…

  4. Great post, thanks!
    My method of breaking up beeswax (I use for salves) is very similar to Beverly’s. I’ve found that placing my beeswax brick in a paper bag first before hammering into smaller chunks contains the mess.

  5. If you warm the beeswax just a bit in the microwave or work with it on a hot day, it will grate with ease. If you don’t heat it slightly, the longer you work with it, it will soften from your body heat and grate more easily. The colder the wax, the harder your job will be. You also don’t want to try to grate old wax. It gets harder as it ages.

    • I have never owned a microwave so stuff like this never comes to mind as an alternative. I am always dealing with the beeswax according to the season… definitely easier in the summer months and a pain in the winter.

  6. Good point about natural oils going rancid. I made a small batch of wood balm with beeswax and a olive oil because I really don’t like the idea of smearing petroleum products all over my food prep and work surfaces (although, it does a lovely job). I mixed in 2 vitamin E capsules, as tocopherols are natural preservatives, but I better use that batch generously because now I’m a bit concerned about it going off.

    • My concern with oils like olive oil isn’t just in using up the batch, but also that a little bit stays in the wood… I’m not sure how that would play out over the long term. If enough would fade away so that it is fine, or if that little bit would go off and cause problems?

  7. Thank you Gayla! I just pulled out my beeswax to make some candles and my boards also need some attention so I will definitely make this. I was planning on grating the wax and now I have a few tips for breaking it up, thanks to you and the folks in the comments.

  8. What a great article. I have been using coconut oil for quite some time and have yet to have it go bad on me. i love coconut oil and use it on just about everything. I am beginning to think you can accomplish almost anything in life with coconut oil, apple cider vinegar, and baking soda lol. Oh and beeswax!
    I agree about breaking up the beeswax in a bag. Much less messy! I learned the hard way…

  9. My oven has a warm setting and I place the beeswax in there while I set up everything else for balm or lotion making. After a few minutes it cuts easily. It doesn’t melt but I do keep it in a Pyrex baking dish just in case.

  10. To break up my beeswax chunk I place the knife on the block of wax just as if I was going to slice it. Then I place a folded towel over the blade and GENTLY TAP the back of the blade a few times with a regular hammer. It works like a charm and there is no mess with wax flying around. Just be gentle. Move the knife around and break the piece into as many chunks as you need.

  11. Thanks for the recipe. I’ve got a lot of long overdue chopping blocks and spoons that will be happy. Would this also work for furniture? I inherited a bedroom suite circa 1930′s that is simply drinking up all the wood moisturizer I’m currently using.

  12. Since we raise a few bees, we do have beeswax sometimes. One of the nicest most peaceful ways to cut beeswax into small pieces is using a hot metal knife. Use two, Keep one in a stove’s gas flame while you switch back and forth, using the knife like a saw. Not sure about the food safety, but a bit of lanolin mixed in with the beeswax and vitamin E oil makes a beautiful paste for wood, your hands and lips. I like to add a drop of lemon oil as well just for the scent!

  13. I’m so happy to see this article! I, too, have been looking for an alternative to mineral oil-my house has a beautiful butcher block counter that needs refinishing. My dad had it made when he built this home in 1960 and it’s seen its share of abuse being unfinished all this time. I also have knotty pine (also unfinished) with a beautiful patina that needs some TLC. What do you use to clean the wood before applying the wax?

  14. Comment from a chemist here on alternatives to mineral oil. What you are looking for is an oil that will polymerize on the wood surface and not be broken down into smaller fragments, which is what going rancid involves. Oils that have more of a tendency to polymerize than go rancid are called drying oils. If you look up “drying oil” on Wikipedia, they explain the process in more detain and mention linseed, tung, and walnut as drying oils. You can also speed up the polymerization process, once you have oiled your wood items, by putting them out in the bright sun. The UV radiation acts to initiate the polymerization process.
    I’ve posted on this aspect of wood chemistry on the forums at Permies.com, which I would invite you to visit.

  15. Thank you, John, for the explanation re: polymerizing the wood. Good info.
    Some years ago, I bought an oil to seal cutting boards at a fine woodworking store. Its base is linseed oil, which at first put me off because I think of that as industrial and chemically treated but the man working there explained that he had a brand that was processed “cleanly” and safe for food surfaces. I just went into the garage to check the can and here’s the info. (Btw, it worked great on my cutting boards.)
    Bioshield Herbal Oil#2, ingredients: High-grade, organically grown, cold-pressed Linseed oil, lead free dryers (zircon, cobalt, octoat), essential oils. The guy also explained that w/o the dryers, it would take forever to dry (like painting in oil vs. acrylics), so the dryers are necessary. Even w/ the dryers, the can says drying time is 12 to 24 hr.s, depending on temp, etc.
    One other note: this product comes in a can w/ a plastic spout and cap. As I have only one large cutting board and 2 small ones I use it on, and they don’t seem to need it often, it has lasted probably 8 to 10 years. Due to a leak under my sink, the can began to rust, so I moved the contents to a glass jar. I recommend this if you are going to store it for extended periods as the can states that opened cans “must be well sealed to prevent air infiltration.” This product was somewhat pricey, as I recall, but I felt/feel so confident in it, I feel it is worth it.
    Well, I just looked it up and looks like they’ve been working on their product (still safe for food and much cheaper.) Don’t know if the spec’s are the same but check it out. Link below…

    http://www.woodcraft.com/Product/2085622/43193/BioShield-Wood-Counter-Finish-8-Fl-Oz.aspx?keyword=&refcode=10INGOPB&device=c&network=g&matchtype=&gclid=CPyepfTtuLwCFc1qfgodpB8Akg

  16. To cut beeswax, used thin wire (picture hanging wire). Warm up the wire by running it through hot water or setting in warm oven. The wire will cut through the wax very clean. Wear leather gloves or your hands will get cut up.

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