Restoring Handmade Vintage Wood Bowls

DIY Wooden Bowls for Home Decor

In our area, you rarely see old wooden bowls, or old cutting boards, weird? I hawk for them all the time to upcycle and then one day in two different small-town thrift stores I found TWO vintage wood lathe bowls.

Pieces of various hardwood being glued together.
A wooden bowl being made on a lathe.

Because these lathe vintage wooden bowls could be made with what is now considered a rare hardwood like cherry, mahogany, tigerwood, beech wood, etc, bleaching or painting them is out of the equation. I needed to make the wood tones shine again.

The Before

Either because of age or perhaps an original stain (I doubt it) the bowls were rather dark and golden in color. They also had some gouges in them, but oh my all that hardwood makes them worth the work.

A collage of two different vintage wooden bowls before being restored.  The bowls are dark with lots of grey scratches.

How to Clean Wooden Bowls

Wood bowls can be hand washed, in warm water with a mild dish soap. Don’t soak them, immerse them in the water, give them a good wash with a dishcloth, rinse, and wipe dry. Allow to air dry.

Washing a vintage wooden bowl in a sink full of warm sudsy water.

Don’t soak your wooden bowl, soaking it for too long could cause the wood bowl to crack, avoid using anything abrasive on your wooden bowls, like any wood, wood bowls can scratch.

Finally don’t put wooden bowls in the dishwasher, again its too much water, the soap is quite abrasive, and the head could warp the bowls. Also wood floats and if your bowl is large, it could bounce around and cause some damage to other dishes and even the dishwasher.

Stripping the Old Wood Bowls

I could tell my wood bowls had some type of varnish, that was either golden or had yellowed with age. After washing I used a stripper and steel wool to remove the varnish. If your bowl is in good shape, you try refreshing it with a good coat of walnut oil or take oil and skip the stripping and sanding.

A closeupr of the can of stripper I used to remove varnish from a wooden bowl.

The steel wool allowed me to get into the curves of the wooden bowl that you can’t reach using a paint scraper.

Stripping a wooden bowl with wood stripper and steel wools.  You can see the wooden bowl with a gloved hand holding the steel wool and scrubbing.

It took two coats of stripper to remove most of the varnish.

Sanding the Old Wooden Bowls

I believe these old wooden bowls were originally coated with a varnish, and they had some scratches. I began by sanding the bowls with 120-grit sandpaper using a hand sander and then finished sanding the bowl by hand.

Sanding a vintage wooden thrift store bowl by hand using 120 grit sandpaper.

After the varnish was removed I smoothed the bowl using 220-grit sandpaper, and 600-grit sandpaper. I like to use my hands to “look” for any rough edges I can feel. It was glass smooth, which is amazing as it is a lathe bowl.

Painting the Wood Bowls

Painting the bowls at all was a last resort, but my one vintage bowl had a grey film in the corners I could not remove despite my best efforts. I first tried dry brushing the bowl everywhere and nixed that idea. I had to resand all the dry brush paint off. My solution was to paint just the bottom of the bowl white, using Fusion Mineral paint in Picket Fence white ( surprise I know). The bowl got two coats of paint, using a small artist’s brush to make the cutting edge in the corner as neat as possible. Once dry I sanded the edge of the paint with 220 grit sandpaper to soften the look.

Two images the first one points out grey scratches, the second is a wooden bowl with the bottom painted white.

Resealing Old Wood Bowls for Food

When resealing an old wood bowl decide how you want to use it first. If you use your bowl for food, seal it with either a food-safe butcher block conditioner or mineral oil.

Wipe the wood conditioner on liberally with a soft cloth. Place on a washable surface like a glass plate and let it sit for several hours. Let the bowl sit to absorb the oil and wipe it off with a soft cloth. If the bowl still looks dry apply another coat.

If you’re not going to use your wooden bowl for food, you can either seal it with the food-safe solutions or use a non-yellowing poly acrylic sealer. I used Fusion Mineral Paint Tough Coat in Matte. I gave the bowl two coats letting it dry for three hours between each one.

Applying a coat of polyacrylic to protext a wood bowl using a sponge brush.

These bowls will be used as trinket bowls in our front hallway, or home decor.

Vintage Wood Bowls After

The interior of our home is much too dark so we use white or very light coloured paint as much as we can. Although I love the look of the white, a touch of wood warms the area without darkening anything. Especially if I can use light wood tones. These vintage wood bowls are both for trinkets. One is on the front foyer hall closet for keys, receipts, etc. Check out all the different wood tones in 5 natural shades. None of these are stained, the darkest wood I am sure is cherry and it’s quite red.

Vintage wood lathe bowl against a white background.  You can see all the different natural wood colors of the hardwood.

The second one I have placed in the dining room to hold Hub’s crib board and cards. I considered bleaching the wood, but it’s naturally quite light, I think it’s birch. What do you think?

A vintage wood bowl in light birch with a painted white bottom.  The wooden bowl is holding a crib board and cards and is sitting on a white and green table runner.

I can’t decide which is my favorite, this light and bright birch bowl is more in line with the style of my home decor, but I very much love the workmanship in the fancier various hardwoods of the second bowl.

Video Tutorial How to Restore Wood Bowls

I have created a video tutorial of the different steps you need to do to restore a bowl, that is either food-safe or not. Wood bowls are a beautiful way to add just a little wood to our interiors, I need to find more.

The latest on Youtube:
pretty DIY home pin it logo with a house icon.
A vintage wood bowl made with different hardwoods thats been restored.  The overlay text says how to restore beautiful vintage wood bowls.

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