Putting wooden items in the oven may seem harmless, but it can actually be quite dangerous. Wood is flammable, so exposing it to high heat can lead to fires or damage to your oven or wood item. However, not all wood reacts the same when baked. Here’s an overview of what happens if you put different types of wood in the oven and the risks involved.
Dried, Untreated Wood
Pieces of lumber, firewood, or other dried, untreated woods are very prone to catching fire in oven temperatures. As the wood heats up, its moisture evaporates and the natural oils, sap, and resins get extremely hot. At a certain point, the wood reaches its autoignition temperature and sparks into flame.
So if you place a wooden spoon, untreated chopping block, or other dried wood item in the oven, it can easily ignite once it gets hot enough. This can damage the wood item, leave charred residue on the oven interior, set off your smoke detector, or in the worst cases cause a house fire. Never put these untreated woods in the oven.
Treated Wood with Finishes or Glues
Any wood that has been treated with finishes like varnish or epoxy are not safe for oven use either. As the finishes get hot, they can melt or leach chemicals into the air and contaminate your food. Glues can also contain harmful chemicals that get activated under heat.
In addition, while the wood treatment may delay ignition at first, treated wood will still burn at high enough oven temperatures. So items like finished cutting boards, wooden spoons with varnish, or glued products pose fire risks and chemical contamination when baked. Avoid putting them in the oven as intense heat can damage the wood pieces.
Wood Pulp Products
Some products, like paper plates, wood pulp-based bowls, and bamboo kitchen tools, are made of pulped and pressed wood fibers. While heat exposure doesn’t make these burst into open flame, they can still burn. Exposing wood pulps to oven temperatures degrades the adhesives bonding them together.
As they break down under heat, you may notice scorching, browning, or charring of the wood. They become more brittle and degraded with prolonged exposure to temperatures over 150°F. For food safety and to preserve your wood pulp items, do not bake them in the oven.
Wooden Handles & Utensils
Wooden handles on oven safe pans or cooking utensils like spoons may seem harmless to leave on. However, the oven heat conducted through the metal can slowly carbonize and burn the handles. Prolonged exposure can lead to ignition, especially once the wood’s oils pass their smoking points.
For safety, all wood handles, trivets, and utensils should be removed before placing cookware in the oven. If your wooden cutting board has handles, take those off too. Leaving wood attached while baking leads to charring or loosens glued joints due to expansion from heat exposure.
Wood-Based Panels & Composites
Plywood, particle board, MDF, and other composite wood products are equally dangerous in oven temperatures. These engineered woods contain glues with low smoking points and the heat causes off-gassing of chemicals like formaldehyde. Prolonged exposure can emit toxic fumes or degrade the materials until they catch fire.
In addition, composite wood panels aren’t designed to withstand such high, prolonged heat. As they delaminate and break down, you risk contamination of your oven and food. Avoid ever putting composite wood products inside a hot oven.
Kiln-Dried Wood Blanks
Now, most wood turner blank blocks have been safely kiln-treated to a low moisture content. As such, they likely won’t immediately ignite or split apart during quick exposures to oven heat. But that doesn’t make them 100% oven-safe either.
The natural resins and oils are still present within wood blanks, which means with enough sustained heat, they could still potentially combust once they cross flash point temperatures. And over time at high heats, kiln-dried wood blanks can experience expansion stresses that lead to cracking or checking. It’s still best practice to not bake these wood blanks.
When Is Wood Oven-Safe?
The only wooden items truly safe to put in the oven are those specifically manufactured as bakeware. These include:
- Wood-based pizza peels rated for oven use
- Wood-fiber baking sheets and oven liners
- Bamboo steamer trays meant for the oven
- Wooden baking molds coated in food-grade oils
Anything marketed as oven-safe wood has been properly cured, dried, and treated to withstand baking without charring, off-gassing, or sparking into open flame. Items not specifically labeled for high heat cooking should be assumed unsafe for your oven.
Signs of Heat Damage
How can you tell if wood has experienced too much oven heat? Look for these signs of heat degradation:
- Charring, scorching, or browning
- Checking (cracks) from expansion stress
- Delamination between glued layers
- Bubbling or melting finishes
- Strong burnt wood smell
- Visible sparks, glowing embers, or smoke
Risks of Baking Wood
From smoke inhalation to large fires, there are many inherent dangers with uncontrolled wood heating:
The adhesives and treated chemicals in manufactured woods give off toxic fumes when overheated. Continued exposure can cause headaches, nausea, or respiratory distress for people and pets.
Oven & House Fires
Once wooden items reach ignition temperature, the oven and home can quickly go up in flames. Fires easily spread to food items, oven mitts, cabinets, and homes.
Smoke Alarm Triggers
Before wood actually ignites, smoking off gasses can be detected and trigger sensitive smoke alarms. This causes loud nuisance alarms and potential fire department calls.
Oven & Utensil Damage
Charred wood residue left in ovens is extremely difficult to remove from oven walls and racks. The contamination can also ruin bakeware and utensils.
It’s clear that putting wood items into ovens is extremely dangerous. With the risks of smoke inhalation, oven fires, and destruction to wood products, heat and wood do not mix. Leave all untreated, finished, or glued wood pieces safely out of the oven unless explicitly labeled oven-safe. Take proper precautions to only bake approved wooden cookware when cooking at high temperatures.