Food safe color fill tips?

Howdy everyone,

I’m hoping for some advice on a current project that has been taking me WAY longer than it should. My friend is starting a nonprofit coffee shop/barista training program for refugees. I offered to help and she asked me to make her 20 of these solid wood trays she’s been dreaming about that have an indentation for the mug base and a spot for a pastry. The trays have all been cut from solid walnut (via my nemesis the Shopbot) and I just finished engraving all of the logos. Unfortunately, they came out really varied in terms of the darkness even though I was using the same settings for all of them. I am now trying to figure out how I might be able to add a bit of dark brown color to bring them closer to uniform. The catch is that it has to be food safe. Also, these are not masked so I will need some way to clean up the excess paint/color after applying. I have seen some YouTube videos where they use a bit of wax first and that seems to work well for cleaning up excess paint. But I haven’t been able to find anything about appropriate food safe paints. Thank you so much for any thoughts. I really bit off a bit more than I can chew with this project.

Here’s what they look like (wood is sanded but unfinished):


Look into vegetable dyes. Black teas, purple onion peels, turmeric, raspberries, strawberries - they will stain the wood permanently and are safe for human consumption.

If the strongly brewed tea doesn’t get it dark enough, mixing the others ought to get you a nice muddy brown color.


Have you looked into:
“Old Fashioned Milk Paint is a biodegradable paint manufactured out of natural ingredients commonly used in the food and pharmaceutical industries. The paint does not contain latex, lead, mercury, solvents or any synthetic preservatives of any kind.
Vintners paint their wine-making equipment with gondola enamel to protect the equipment against the acids and caustic materials found in fresh grapes and grape juices. Gondola Enamel offers a limited number of colors, since the primary purpose of this paint is to maintain the durability of the machinery used to make wine. Colors available include yellow, red, black and white.”

Or what happens if you "re engrave " at a lower setting or slower speed lower setting to try and darken the wood (although too late if already completed).


I imagint the problem with dyes ( or even food coloring) is on wood you may get absorbtion which would not make a good design… :disappointed:


Cool. Have you experimented with these at all? I wonder how I would get them into a paste that will stay put without bleeding into the rest of the wood. I do have some engraved scraps I can experiment on.

Coffee, milkpaint+ hemp-oil seems like a win for serving coffee.

-also saw this list in a wood-turning forum:

Pure tung oil. Extracted from the nut of the china wood tree. Used as a base in many blended finishes. Available from catalogs and hardware stores. Difficult to apply, requires many coats, good water-resistance.

Raw linseed oil. Pressed from flax seeds. Not to be confused with boiled linseed, which contains metallic driers. Listed as a food additive by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Very long curing time, good looks, low water-resistance, frequent reapplication.

Mineral oil. Although derived from petroleum, it is colorless, odorless, tasteless and entirely inert. Sold as a laxative in drug stores and as a wood finish in hardware and kitchen-supply stores. Simple to apply, low waterresistance, frequent reapplication.

Walnut oil. Pressed from the nuts of the walnut tree. Sold as a salad oil in health food stores and in large grocery stores. Walnut oil dries and won’t go rancid. Easy to apply, frequent reapplication.

Beeswax. The work of the honey bee. Can be mixed with an oil to create a better-smelling, slightly more waterrepellent finish. Sold in woodworking and turning catalogs.

Carnauba wax. Derived from the Brazilian palm tree. Harder than beeswax and more water-resistant. Can be used straight on woodenware as a light protective coating or a topcoat polish. Sold in woodworking and turning catalogs.

Shellac. A secretion from the lac bug. Harvested in India. Super blond shellac in flake form is the most waterresistant variety. A film-forming finish. Sold in woodworking catalogs and hardware and art supply stores.

Nothing. Available everywhere. Makes a reasonable finish for woodenware. No application time. Free.

A recipe for one sweet finish
The food-safe finish that appeals most to me is one recommended by Jim and Jean Lakiotes, West Virginia makers of spoons and other kitchen items, as well as furniture. Their finish is a mixture of mineral oil and beeswax.

To make it, warm the mineral oil in a saucepan over low heat, and melt a chunk of beeswax in it equal to about one-fifth or one-sixth the volume of the oil. (At high heat, there’s a potential for fire. Be sure to keep the heat low, and consider using a double boiler.) As the wax begins to flake apart and dissolve, stir frequently. When the mixture is blended, pour it into a jar to cool and solidify.

To apply, wipe on an excess of the soft paste, let it dry a bit, then wipe it off. If you want to apply it as a liquid, you can reheat it. Like any mineral oil or
wax finish that will take a lot of abuse, this one will need to be reapplied often to afford decent moisture protection. But applying this fragrant finish is such a pleasure that you may find yourself looking forward to the task.


I’ve done a lot of egg shells with them, and bleeding might be a bit of a problem with wood.

You might try mixing them with some powdered bentonite clay and using that to keep it corralled.

Or you can mask the area that you don’t want colored with wax before applying the stain.


Yeah, re-engraving would have been the best route but I am using a maker space it’s far away and I can only get 2 hours at a time.

I saw some mentions of milk paint online but didn’t find anyone who’d used it for this purpose. The gondola enamel sounds promising but none of those colors would work. I am looking for something a bit more subtle.

If you seal the wood could you use an enamel or oil paint underneath? Isn’t shellac sealer “food safe” (don’t they use if for jelly beans?). If you plan on sealing the wood, that may open other options for the design coloring.


There’s an age old method for dyeing leather black called vinegaroon. If you have a couple of weeks to brew some up basically take some steel wool, wash it with a degreaser, stuff a mason jar with it, fill with vinegar, and let it sit with the lid somewhat loose.

When the steel wool has dissolved you’re left with a cocktail that will chemically turn the wood black. Brush it on, let it dry, and sand off the top layer of wood leaving the engraved recesses black. You may need to engrave a little deeper to account for the sanding.

I skinned my outdoor kitchen with redwood fencing but antiqued and distressed the boards using this method. It looks awesome!

Here’s a quick tutorial:

And an image of my boards. Before on the left. On the right, after distressing with vinegaroon, whips, chains, screws, and belt sanding the black off some.


That’s beautiful! I’m familiar w/vinegaroon for leather, but didn’t realize that it could be used for wood as well. Very striking effect.

1 Like

My friends have an eco home store (meaning that they focus on environmentally friendly products). I know that they carry milk paint, and they’re very well versed on their products - I bet they could tell you what you’d need to do to ensure that it’s sealed and safe. Here’s their link:

In fact, I may ping her about this myself … I have a bunch of raised beds out in my garden that I’d like to milk paint.

Edited to add: I asked her about this and she said that milk paint is not certified food safe. She would not recommend using it on a serving tray.


Personally I would go for shellac mixed with a little lampblack (basically just soot from a candle). Mix up a small quantity and paint it into the engraving. The surface can be sanded off or wiped down with denatured alcohol. You should really consider rubbing the whole surface down with mineral oil or beeswax or something before using them as the coffee will stain pretty well on its own.

For that matter you could probably just use some espresso. :slight_smile:


It works great on wood. It’s the same chemical reaction that happens when nails in fences leave black streaks over time.


Thanks! Appreciate you following up on that.

1 Like

I am going to be using the Good Stuff to finish them. It applies really easily, is safe for food contact, and has a nice finish.

Lots of good suggestions from everyone. Really appreciate it! I’ll report back on what worked best.


NP! I was curious too :slight_smile:

When I saw vinegaroon I thought at first it was made up from milking whip scorpions or crushing them. Scared the heck out of me the first time I saw one.

They call them vinegaroons because the spray acetic acid from their whip.


When I lived in AZ, I found one of those underneath my daughter’s baby swing. When I tried to get a closer look, it jumped at me!

They’re hideous and terrifying.


Yikes! How’d you like to wake up with that in bed with you? (Gonna quit griping about the extra large tree roaches now.)