Antique Woodenware Bowl Buying Guide

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Antique Woodenware Bowl Buying Guide

Antique bowls are among the best surviving examples of vintage woodenware. Woodenware, or treenware (made from trees) refers to items made of wood that were used for eating, serving and storing food. Both are generic terms for any small wood, handmade, functional, household objects. Woodenware is distinct from furniture, but can include anything from wooden plates and servers to spoons and chopping boards. This buying guide will provide information about the history, types and styles of antique woodenware bowls. It will also provide tips to assist the selection process, and instructions for care and maintenance after purchasing.

History of Antique Woodenware Bowls

Common to virtually every culture, the wooden bowl has been around for centuries. The majority of antique woodenware bowls available for purchase are from the 19th century, but beautiful pieces can be found from earlier eras as well. Before the invention of metal and plastic, wood was a much more common source of raw material for everyday objects. Until the 19th century all wooden bowls were hand carved. They were made with simple tools like the chisel, knife, and plane. The Egyptians were the first civilization to use woodturning, somewhere around 1300 BC. One person would turn the wood with a rope while another cut shapes with a sharp tool. This was the first lathe. The Romans later added a turning bow to the design. A pedal was introduced in Medieval Europe, allowing both artisans to work the various tools. During the Industrial Revolution the lathe was motorized, allowing turned wooden bowls to be created in less time. The quality of craftsmanship also improved with the greater rotational speed of the lathe.

Discover Antique Woodenware Bowls

Early wooden bowls were made to be used and simply wore out and were thrown away. They have not survived as well as those made of metal or stone. Their study has been neglected to some degree, but their strongly functional and utilitarian forms are highly regarded by designers and collectors. Antique woodenware bowls make lovely decorative pieces, but their ideal use is practical. The right bowl will add a vintage touch to any modern kitchen and can still be used for chopping and food preparation, for serving, or for displaying fruit and vegetables. Although utilitarian in nature, some woodenware bowls can be found with intricate patterns and carvings that make them wonderful to display.

Wood Used in Antique Woodenware Bowls

The geographic location of the artisan or manufacturer usually determined the selection of wood species. Many early hand-carvers and pre-motorized lathe workers used softer woods simply because they were easier to work by hand. The power lathe allowed them to work with harder woods. Below is a list of woods that were commonly used in the construction of antique wooden bowls.




A strong, close-grained hardwood.


A strong, close-grained hardwood that sometimes produces wavy grains which were highly prized for making bowls.


A strong, close-grained hardwood resistant to splitting or chipping so ideal for wood bowl construction. Boxwood tree trunks are fairly thin so bowls made of boxwood are usually smaller.


A fast growing softwood that is easily manipulated and popular with early hand-carvers.


Extremely hard wood also used to make bowling pins and baseball bats. Many early bowls still in existence are made of maple.


A fine-grained hardwood with a very attractive, satiny sheen. This quality made birch a very popular choice for making wooden bowls.


The unique, deep-reddish hue of cherry made it a popular choice with bowl makers.


Ash has a straight grain with long, clear sections that are virtually knot-free.


Open-grained hardwood prized for its toughness and deep, chocolate-brown colour.

Types of Antique Woodenware Bowls

A wide variety of antique woodenware bowlcan be found on eBay, ranging from small salt dishes to round and oval bowls for serving the main dish at a meal. Below are some of the more common antique woodenware bowl types:





Serving Bowl

Round, oval or elongated.

These are some of the largest and most beautiful bowls available on the market.

Elongated serving bowls may be delicate so hold with one hand on the bottom at all times.

Salt Dish

Small round dish for holding salt.

Can be re-purposed to hold other small items like herbs, spices etc.

Also known as a salt cellar.

Chopping Bowl

Large oblong shape.

Very much in demand by collectors.

Can be restored with a little work, but are more authentic-looking when chopping knife marks and chips are left visible.

Washing Bowl

Large round bowl used for washing other kitchen items, clothes etc.

Very strong construction.

Because it was handled very roughly it is rare to find one in good condition.

Factors to Consider When Buying Antique Woodenware Bowls

Shopping for an antique woodenware bowlcan be interesting, but a little research and knowledge will help the selection process.

  • Wood Colour – Wood changes colour over time, so a true antique bowl will have slight variations in colour unless it has been refinished.
  • Carved Versus Turned

A hand-carved bowl will usually be less uniform and have rougher edges. A bowl turned on a lathe will have a smoother and rounder appearance.

  • Faked Aging – Wear and tear that appears too uniform may have been deliberately applied to make a bowl look older.
  • Ask Questions – The buyer should ask the seller as many pertinent questions as possible. Sometimes the photo and description provided does not provide enough information upon which to base a purchase. Ask for details about the bowl’s origin and history.
  • Condition – The condition of the bowl will significantly affect its value. Study the photos provided closely for any marks, scratches or blemishes.

Typical Features of Antique Woodenware Bowls


The Shakers of New Hampshire and New York made well-crafted bowls of excellent design and proportion. They often painted the outside of their wooden bowls with yellow, blue, blue-green, or orange. Many Shaker wares now reside in museums or private collections, though some can still occasionally be found in the collectors’ market.


Early American settlers used white ash to fashion nests of bowls i.e. bowls in graduated sizes sitting one inside another, forming a pyramid of bowls. These were rare even then, and a household usually only owned one set. They are highly prized by collectors today.


A burl is a feature sometimes incorporated into the construction of antique woodenware bowls. It is most commonly found in the form of a small, rounded outgrowth on a tree trunk or branch. This outgrowth is filled with small knots from the now dormant buds. As a result, the natural pattern of the grain is broken, and it develops in a deformed shape. A burl is created when the tree undergoes some form of stress. It may be caused by an injury, virus or fungus. The most common burl used for antique woodenware bowls was maple.

How to Care for Antique Woodenware Bowls

The finish of an antique woodenware bowl is often as important as the bowl itself. Polishes, adhesives, fasteners and finishes should be avoided. UV light is also damaging to vintage wood, turning clear finishes yellow or opaque. Curtains or shades should be used to diffuse or block sunlight.

Bowls used for food preparation can be coated occasionally with mineral oil – not olive or vegetable oils which will turn rancid. The outside of a bowl may be renewed with furniture paste wax if necessary. Dampen a cloth slightly and add wax. Turn the bowl frequently while waxing . Wax may not be appropriate for surfaces with a deteriorating finish. Consult a furniture restoration specialist if you are unsure how to proceed.

Accessories and Add-ons for Antique Woodenware Bowls

Antique woodenware bowls can be complemented with the addition of other woodenware items for the kitchen. They also require the same special care as your woodenware bowls to maintain the look and value of your woodenware collection.

  • Spoons
  • Cutting board
  • Rolling pin
  • Antique furniture wax or paste wax
  • Mild soaps or cleansers
  • Soft cloths or brushes

Finding Antique Woodenware Bowls on eBay

Once you determine the type of antique woodenware bowl you want to purchase, visit the Antiques portal on eBay, find the ‘Woodenware’ sub-category, then click on ‘Bowls’ and start searching item listings. The Categories list on the left-hand side of the eBay page helps to narrow the search.

Searching for Antique Woodenware Bowls on eBay

Search eBay listing titles for specific words when shopping for antique woodenware bowls. For example, to find early American woodenware salad bowls, type ‘antique woodenware bowls’ into the search box, and then click the Advanced button to customise the results. Also visit eBay’s Search Tips page for more advice on searching for antique woodenware bowls with keywords. If you can’t find the exact antique woodenware bowl you want, try shopping eBay Stores.

This guide provides much of the information necessary to properly research antique woodenware bowls. Once you have collected this information, you can buy an antique woodenware bowl safely and securely on eBay.

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