Experience

Let’s bake’n’roll!

I would like to say thanks a lot to my American friend
Wendy Rome for her invaluable assistance in editing this article
and systematizing my chaotic thoughts.

Igor Petrov

(Русскоязычная версия)

People often ask why I bake spoons in the oven. They want to know how I do it and what happens as a result. I’ve answered these questions in various forums, but not all people belong to these groups. In this article, I talk about this mysterious baking process and hopefully answer the questions people have.

Why I Bake Wood

There are several reasons for baking wood. Simply stated, a baked finish looks better, is more structurally sound, and smells great.

Enhancing the Look of the Wood

Baking enhances the wood’s texture and color. If you start with fancy grain, baking will enhance it, highlighting what nature has already provided. For a more modest piece, the result can be just as or even more dramatic. A light wood with ordinary grain comes out of the oven with brighter colors and grain that ‘pops.’ Sometimes things just need a little push.

Strengthening the Wood’s Structure

When wood is baked, it becomes denser. The tightened fibers more effectively resist liquids and other environmental factors that can systematically break wood down. By limiting the penetration of these natural wood enemies, you protect the wood from repeatedly swelling and contracting. This preserves the wood so your carved piece can be used and enjoyed for years or even decades.

That Magical Scent

When the wood is baking, a magical scent wafts from the oven. It’s earthy, deep, and elemental. The baking process adds this additional sensory explosion for the user. The incomparable aroma adds to the overall enjoyment of the piece—people can’t resist using it because the whole experience is that much richer.

The Baking Process—How It’s Done

No Shortcuts

In any endeavor, people are tempted to take shortcuts. I want to emphasize here that this is not a process that allows for this.

I do not bake a piece unless it is absolutely dry. The baking process makes the wood substantially harder so you want to complete all your carving, sanding, and other surface preparation work before baking it. After the piece has been baked, the wood will be much harder to work. If you try to change it at that point, you can ruin the piece.

Baking must occur before any finish is applied. If you try to take a shortcut, your piece is likely to crack or break. If you try to bake a piece that has been oiled, the oil can boil out of the piece in the hot oven environment and can actually start a fire.

Baking the Piece

I bake my carvings at 200ºС for fifteen to thirty minutes. The actual time needed will depend on the piece’s size and mass/thickness. I don’t just leave the piece in the oven for a predetermined time. I check it periodically to ensure that I shut down the process at just the right moment.

Keep in mind that the wood will darken further when you apply oil after the baking process. Allow for this darkening effect and limit your baking time accordingly.

The Cooling Period

As soon as the surface reaches the desired shade, I turn off the oven and leave the piece inside to cool for half an hour. Don’t remove the piece right away—the sudden temperature drop can crack the wood. Let it cool gradually, giving the wood fibers a gradual adjustment period.

Oiling the Baked Piece

After the piece has cooled down a little, I cover it with several layers of oil. People often ask me how many applications of oil I use. My best advice is to keep applying the oil until the wood can no longer absorb any more. Depending on the wood, you can expect to apply anywhere from two to five applications.

After the wood stops absorbing the oil, I allow the piece to rest overnight. In the morning, I remove any excess oil with a rag. Then I apply a wax finish that I prepare myself. I then hang the piece in a spoon holder until the oil is completely polymerized. This takes about two weeks for linseed oil.

Finishing Oil/Waxes

Everyone wants to know which oils and waxes I use. I use raw (not boiled) linseed oil on the newly baked wood. It protects the piece perfectly and, as a natural product, it is safe to use with foods and won’t go rancid. I make my wax finish with linseed oil, beeswax, and carnauba wax. These products can differ slightly from batch to batch, so I adjust the proportions empirically.

Now it’s Your Turn

The baking process is one of trial and error. Finesse comes with experience. The more you do, the better you’ll get at achieving that exact color and texture you want, so practice, practice, practice! Be happy!

If you have any questions, put them in the comments section.  I will definitely expand this article as new points come up.

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