Project: Wooden Salt Cellar

Craft & Design Woodworking

By Mark Frauenfelder
A couple of years ago I whittled a wooden spoon as a thank-you gift for our family friend Valerie, who was my daughter’s elementary school art teacher. Valerie appreciated it so much that my wife asked me to make another wooden gift for Valerie’s upcoming birthday. I thought about it for a while and decided that a salt cellar would not tax my meager skills.
For a PDF of this project, visit the build page on Make: Projects.

Materials & Tools

Wooden branch, about 3″ in diameter


Drill with bits
Dremel tool
Snap-blade utility knife



Step 1: I started out with a branch that had fallen off a tree in our backyard. I think it is an ornamental plum or cherry tree, but I’m not certain. The only thing I know about the tree is that once a year, it produces about three dark red, cherry-sized fruits that are tasty.


Step 2: I sawed off a 3″ section of the branch, using a miter box. If you are unfamiliar with this handy tool, read the miter box tutorial I wrote a couple of weeks ago for CRAFT.

Here’s the piece I used for the salt cellar. It’s about 3″ high and 3″ in diameter.

Step 3: I put the biggest drill bit I had into my drill press and started drilling a bunch of holes into the wood. I adjusted the table height so the drill bit stopped about 1″ from the bottom. If you use a hand drill to complete this step, you can wrap a piece of masking tape around the drill bit to serve as a visual signal for when to stop drilling. Take care not to drill too close the edge of the circle!

Step 4: I used a sanding drum attachment on my Dremel to clean up the drill holes as much as possible.

Step 5: The above steps took fewer than 20 minutes to complete. But the next step – sanding – took hours. I started with coarse sandpaper. I cut out a small piece of sandpaper and formed it into a conical shape that fit the pad of my thumb. Then I started sanding away, swapping in a fresh piece of sandpaper every once in a while.
I got a blister after about an hour of sanding. I set the cellar aside for a couple of days. When the blister went away, I started sanding again. The blister returned, like an old friend. I listened to some podcasts during this step, which made the process more pleasant.
Once you get rid of the drill gouges, switch to a finer grit sandpaper. Keep going. When you can no longer stand it, declare victory and set the cellar aside. It’s time to carve the spoon!

Step 6: I cut 4″-long stick from my branch, and began whittling out the rough shape with a cheap snap-blade utility knife. I hollowed out the business end of the spoon with my Dremel tool.

Step 7: I used the knife and sandpaper to finish shaping the spoon. I made sure the hollow part was deep enough to heft a good dose of salt. (We don’t care for low-sodium diets around here.)

Step 8: Try out your spoon for size. Does it stay in the cellar? If it falls out, your handle is too long.

Step 9: I have some beeswax from my beehive, so I melted a chunk of it, along with a little olive oil, to make a finish. I used a rag to rub in thin layers, giving it time to soak into the wood. After a couple of applications, I let it sit overnight and repeated the process.
I bought some pink Himalayan salt (Trader Joe’s sells it for cheap, or you can be foolish like me and pay double at Whole Foods) to go along with the cellar. When my wife presented the cellar and salt in a nice gift box to Valerie, she called me on the phone and told me how much she loved it. After the call I looked at the blister on my thumb and told it, “You lose!”

About the Author:

Mark Frauenfelder is editor-in-chief of MAKE, and the founder of Boing Boing. His latest book is called Made by Hand: My Adventures in the World of Do-It-Yourself .

11 thoughts on “Project: Wooden Salt Cellar

  1. Darlene Blevins Hart says:

    cool love this project

  2. Monte Asbury says:

    Might want to try walnut or tung oil rather than olive oil. OO, like most veggie oils, doesn’t harden and can turn rancid. You can get food-grade organic walnut oil at your whole foods store. Wipe it on, let it set for 20 minutes, wipe it off, let it dry a day. Repeat.

  3. Alexander says:

    And people say that hand-made gifts are a waste of time…
    I think those people give up after the first blister.
    Hey, I like the sound of that! I’m going to start using that to denote that someone doesn’t do things because they don’t know how hard it will be, and then give up once they realize it.
    “Oh put some work into it. Don’t give up after the first blister!”
    “You never finish anything because you give up after the first blister.”
    I may also use it as an informal unit of measure, similar to how much blood, sweat, and tears something takes to get finished.
    “Hey Mark, how long did it take you to make this Wooden Salt Cellar?”
    “About X blisters I think…”

  4. Randy Murray says:

    In the before waxing photo, the bark is clearly separating, but in the finished it’s tight and gapless. Is that due to the wax and oil, or are we missing a step.
    Reworded: how do you keep the bark from separating?

  5. Kelly Coyne says:

    Mark, you rock!

  6. Mika says:

    Monte I’m not sure where you’re getting your info but walnut oil with go rancid long before olive. Also the bees wax will help it to avoid the oxygen. I’d never use tung oil on food items, only decorative onles. If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t put it on wooden dishes.

  7. Toni says:

    I found this a very interesting DIY and even though I haven’t made anything from wood, I think I could do this one. May I make a suggestion? Go to any office store – or even Wal-Marts- and buy some of those rubber finger guards for counting money. Use that the next time you have to sand something like this. It will help keep the sandpaper from slipping off your finger and may keep you from getting some nasty blisters.

  8. Slerseweep says:

    Привет! сумки tods интернет магазин светски обувь купить сланцы ecco

  9. Clayton Silverheels says:

    Nice little bowl, Mark. Great work.

  10. Challalaa I. Mosen says:

    Love it and am definatly having a go at making one! Thanx :)

  11. Sharpen Your Woodworking Skills with this Easy Bandsaw Box - Make: | Make: says:

    […] for more entry-level woodworking ideas? Try this wooden salt cellar project right here on […]

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Mark Frauenfelder is the founding Editor-in-Chief of Make: magazine, and the founder of the popular Boing Boing blog.

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