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

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.

25 thoughts on “Let’s bake’n’roll!”

  1. Kitty Auvil

    Very interesting. You answered a lot of questions for me. I would love to learn more. Also about the Mastic process and blend.

    1. Igor Petrov

      Thanks a lot for your comment, Kitty. Now I’m finishing still one article about spoon carving. So, let it be the next one about mastic and finishing of ready things. Stay connected! 🙂

  2. Валерий Викторович

    Большое Спасибо, Игорь за науку! Все описано предельно ясно. Попробую выпекать орех, он не очень выразителен, вернее мало контрастен. Даже мои ложки довольно ажурные, но без проявленной текстуры древесины много теряют. Запекание для меня это просто открытие.

    1. Igor Petrov

      Это же просто отлично! И я очень рад, что мой опыт пригодился. Ложки у вас замечательные, с запеканием станут еще более привлекательные, это я точно говорю.

  3. Thanks for the article. I baked the first spoon I carved in 1987. Actually it was in a pan of oil at 300° F for about 30 minutes. I also let it cool completely before taking it out of the oven.

    I still have that spoon, we use it almost every day and it still looks pretty much like the day I made it.

    When I mentioned this on one of the British spoon forums ten years ago everyone laughed and made fun of me. I’m glad to see you are seriously studying the effects of heat on wood and documenting your findings.

    1. Igor Petrov

      Thanks for feedback and many thanks for sharing such an interesting fact. How many years have passed since 1987, it’s just amazing! Could you specify from what wood the spoon is made?

        1. Igor Petrov

          Hi Mike,
          Of course the wood of maple is not the best choice for your first spoon 🙂
          But anyway you did it and it’s very good!
          Try something softer, for example, cherry or apple wood, also you can look for birch or linden wood.
          Good luck! 🙂

    1. Igor Petrov

      Nathan, hello! I have many questions about my finishing wax. Let it be the next article 🙂

  4. Hi, thanks for this article. I am not new to spoon carving, but never tried to bake them. Now after reading this I know how, so I have to try this.
    …By the way it´s realy a very informative blog that´s nice to read and of course your spoons are magnificent. Great work!
    Greetings from Austria

    1. Igor Petrov

      Thanks a lot for your kind words! I’m happy that my experience is useful for you.

  5. Anne Kletten

    I enjoyed your how-to article. You are inspiring. Do you ever carve spoons from green (not dried) wood?

    1. Igor Petrov

      Anne, hello! Thanks a lot for your message.
      Of course I like to carve spoons out of green wood, it is easier and very pleasant. But I like dry wood too.
      After an article about the cutting technique, I plan to write an article about the difference between cutting dry and wet wood, I think it will be interesting. 🙂

  6. Cindy Navarro

    Thank you for your article. I am a woodturner and I am going to try this on a bowl, as well as some spoons

  7. I am looking forward to trying this. I have done my first bake out on Hawthorn wood. It is in the cooldown step right now. I can see I need to go longer next time. But I do like the slight darkening that it got already. I will be carving some more spoons today and will save a couple for trying again.

  8. Igor, I will be doing this from now on. Love being able to add some darkness to the Birch and light woods. Here is my test run from today. I had a Ladle that I used as a test, then carved a spoon out of Laurel head wood. It turned out really nice. Thanks again.

  9. Su Orourke

    Can we see some before baking after baking after oiling after waxing pics please I would love to see the piece going thru the process and what difference it makes thank you

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *