I’ve been researching lately on ways to make brightly-colored wood stains or dyes that are also food-safe and non-toxic. Colored wood stains like analine dyes provide the bright color I want, but are definitely not food-safe. There are some existing commercially available food-safe dye stains, but I really wanted some crazy bright colors.
There is an easy way to get them, using certified food coloring. I tested a few different kinds, including the liquid and the paste linked above — all worked great. The process works best on lighter-colored woods like the baltic birch plywood pictured below. This would be a great way to stain wooden utensils, children’s toys, or anything that would come into contact with food or mouths.
To dye the wood, just dissolve a few drops of food color in warm water (I’ve read you can add vinegar to the mix, but have yet to try it). The more color used, the more saturated the stain. Soak the wood in the dye for a minute or more – more time gives deeper color penetration. I found doing it inside a zip-lock bag minimizes the mess.
After dying, dry the wood thoroughly. You’ll probably want to lightly sand it, as the water will raise the grain. You can sand heavily for a distressed look. Then finish with mineral oil or another food-safe wood finish. I have yet to see if the color fades over time; my guess is that it might.