Over the past few months, we’ve seen a spate of paint-dipped wooden spoons, with instructions to diy or just buy, like these ones we found on Etsy. Wanting them for ourselves, we realize that they’d make great inexpensive gifts,

New unfinished wooden spoons are easy to paint: buy wooden spoons and just dip or paint them with acrylic artist’s paint*. We posted more specifics here a while back.

Then we wondered if painting vintage used spoons is as easy, given that they may have a patina or oils embedded in the wood. We were particulary inspired by stylist Heather Chontos’ boldly colored vintage spoons. So we emailed Jim Dillion, a cabinetmaker who teaches his craft at Thousand Dollar Shop , who we’ve never met in person but became good friends with through the blogosphere. We ran our idea by him: mask off the part to be painted, sand lightly with fine grit paper, prime, and then  paint.

Heather Chontos/Milk Farm Road
Heather Chontos/Milk Farm Road
Jim sent us this amazing reply that helped us REALLY understand the thinking and logic behind this simple project (complete with philosophical underpinnings) and its possibilities for “experiments and improvisations“:
When I see used wooden spoons they seldom seem very grimy, which makes sense: most people wash their hands before cooking, and fairly often during. Yes, oils from the cooking probably get in there, but mostly down at the bowl of the spoon, where the browning onions or cookie batter is being stirred, and I assume you’re thinking of painting just the handle, as in your example.
FIRST OF ALL: Don’t sweat the small stuff, and this is very small. A project like this is small stakes, and if it isn’t (great-gramma’s spoon, or one in a design you can’t find elsewhere), it’s easy to switch over to a spoon that’s less important as an experiment. When I teach woodworking, one of the few universal principles I try to convey is this: PRACTICE ON SCRAPS. For this project that might mean trying it out on a bunch of spoons, since cheap wooden spoons are plentiful. So try it out, and if it doesn’t work, try something else.
As far as sanding goes, don’t bother with anything finer than 150 grit, because the scratches from 150 grit will be filled in by the paint. Many of the cheap wooden spoons I’ve seen could do with sanding all over anyway.
Masking may or may not be necessary. I think you could probably say that with or without masking leads to very different looks (formal v. informal). Masking could also be used to make stripes, another neat idea.
Priming is probably optional, but can’t hurt. Consider using shellac as the primer, especially if you suspect there is some sort of uncured oil impregnating the spoon. Shellac is the refinisher’s great secret weapon, because it sticks to everything, everything sticks to it, you can thin it easily with alcohol (much less toxic than lacquer thinner or paint thinner), and it remains soluble in alcohol, so you can remove it easily later if you want. Dried shellac is extremely food safe – – in fact shellac is used as a coating on pills and candy.
Another twist to add is that artist’s acrylics are really pretty much the same as latex paints, only thicker. That adds a lot of possibility with textures, and mixing your own colors at home, since tubes of acrylic are affordable, portable, and last for years.
My last word on this is: what’s the worst-case scenario? You mess up the handle of a spoon. If it goes horribly wrong, scrape the mess off with a paint scraper or kitchen knife, sand it down, prime with shellac, and start over. The surface area of a spoon handle is so tiny, that getting rid of the “mistake” and starting over doesn’t take much time at all. Which makes this a great project for experiments and improvisations!
We especially love his question: What’s the worst case scenario?
Meanwhile, here’s another spot to buy some sweet painted spoons: Living Embellished’s Etsy shop.




*Acrylic paints are considered non-toxic. And since only the handles are painted, there is an added level of safety. If you do have concerns about toxicity, apply a coat of shellac, a natural sealer, according to Jim Dillon: Dried shellac is extremely food safe – – in fact shellac is used as a coating on pills and candy.

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7 replies on “Paint Dipped Wooden Spoons to DIY or Buy

  1. Not foodsafe in any of the manners that are suggested for creation. Please use caution, suggestions provided could be toxic and cause harm, particularly to a developing fetus. It IS a pretty idea, now to make it safe to eat from them. 🙂

  2. Hi. Thanks for your concern. Acrylic paints are considered non-toxic. And since only the handles are painted, there is an added level of safety. If you do have concerns about toxicity, Jim Dillon recommends applying a coat of shellac, a natural sealer: “Dried shellac is extremely food safe – – in fact shellac is used as a coating on pills and candy”.

  3. Hi Sally!
    It’s fun to see my words on your site!
    The “food-safe” issue is one we hear about a lot whenever we talk about wood finishing. I just hope I can make a couple of statements without angering anyone. People are understandably sensitive when it comes to topics that combine food and the health of children.

    First, regarding shellac: while it’s true that shellac is still used to give candy and pills a nice shiny, hard coating that helps the chocolate melt in your mouth, not on your hands, the shellac used in the food and pharmaceutical industry is kept in a separate “chain of custody” (tracking regime) through its processing, to assure it’s pure and safe. Also, shellac dissolves in alcohol, whether it’s ethanol, which is safe for humans to drink in small quantities, or methanol, which is not. Both forms of alcohol evaporate away, leaving the coating of shellac. One assumes that shellac used in food and drugs is applied either in a non-toxic solvent like ethanol, or some other solvent which has been well-proven to leave no harmful residue.

    Second, with most wood finishes, there are big differences between the raw finish – – in the can or bottle – – and the cured finish on the wood. Shellac, varnish, paint come in a mixture of solvents or carriers that either evaporate away, or go through a chemical reaction with oxygen after they’re applied, or both, so that the dried finish is chemically very different from what comes in a can from the supplier. Since what we expect from a wood finish is that it remain stable and unchanged as long as possible, the cured finish tends to be nearly inert.

    As a parent, I would be horrified to see one of my sons dip a finger into a can of yellow paint and lick it off! I would check the can for poison control information, call Poison Control, etc. On the other hand, I don’t freak out when I see the younger one nibble his pencil as he does his homework. Hopefully our made-in-China pencils aren’t coated in lead paint!

    More to the point, remember that what we’re talking about here is about treating the handle of the spoon, not the bowl.

    This makes me wonder: is the calcium in whitewash bioavailable? I hear that cows and horses tend to lick whitewash off the barn walls.

  4. So great to have had your words to print, Jim. Thank you! And for your comments on what is food safe. We always try to report accurately on this and address our readers concerns, as we did when a paniced reader wrote us about the dangers of shipping pallets. It turns out there are some dangers and we went into how to navigate that (The Scoop on Safe Shipping Pallets). For my money, what you wrote is good common sense.

  5. I appreciate the additional input. I was speaking as a Food Safety and Sanitation Inspector. They would NOT pass inspection here.

  6. Can I use food coloring to color wooden spoons? Will they bleed? Lf so,what do I use to stop the bleeding of the color? Maybe just make as decorative items.

  7. I haven’t tried food coloring, but imagine it would give you a stained, rather than painted look. To do that, you would need to make a really intense color AND used unfinished spoons that have never been used. I think if you rinsed them enough, they would not bleed. But always best to just try your idea out.

    Long ago, I bought some mid-century wooden salad servers on Ebay for friends who had admired my own set. Only the ones I wanted to give them were a not-great lighter brown than my chocolate ones. I soaked the servers in various homemade food-safe dyes including really strong coffee, gravy browning (caramelized sugar) and soy sauce…I can’t remember what else, until they took on a pleasing color. Then I rinsed them like crazy and oiled them. Voila! They are gorgeous to this day (and used often)

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