Your Guide to Buying a Vintage Woodenware Bowl

Like if this guide is helpful
Your Guide to Buying a Vintage Woodenware Bowl

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

History of Vintage Woodenware Bowls

The wooden bowl has been around for centuries in virtually every culture. Beautiful pieces can be found from earlier eras, but the majority were made in the 19th century. Before the advent of metal and plastic, wood was the commonly used raw material for common objects. Until the 19th century all wooden bowls were carved by hand. These bowls were made using simple tools like the chisel, knife, and plane. The first woodturning occurred in 1300 BC among the Egyptians. 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. By the Middle Ages in Europe a pedal was introduced, 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 faster rotational speed of the lathe.

Discover Vintage Woodenware Bowls

Early wooden bowls have not survived to the same degree as those made of metal or stone. Wooden bowls were made to be used and simply wore out and were thrown away. Their study has been somewhat neglected, but their strongly functional and utilitarian form have become highly regarded by designers and collectors. Vintage woodenware bowls make lovely decorative pieces and can be used for display in different rooms of the home. But the ideal use for a vintage woodenware bowl is practical. Their wonderful vintage aesthetic will accent any kitchen and they can be used for chopping and food preparation, for serving, or for displaying fruit and vegetables. 

Components of Vintage Woodenware Bowls

The selection of wood species was usually determined by the geographic location of the artisan or manufacturer. Many early hand-carvers and pre-motorized lathe workers used softer woods such as pine because it was simple to manipulate. The motorized lathe made it easier to work with harder woods. Below is a list of woods that were commonly used in the construction of 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 Vintage Woodenware Bowls

A wide variety of vintage woodenware bowlscan 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 vintage 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 a Vintage Woodenware Bowl

Shopping for a vintage woodenware bowl can be interesting, but a little research and knowledge will inform 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 a Vintage Woodenware Bowl

1.  Hand-Painting

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 occasionally some can still be found in the collectors market.

2.  Nests

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 had one set. They are highly prized by collectors today.

3.  Burl

A burl is a feature sometimes incorporated into the construction of vintage woodenware bowls. A burl is a natural occurrence found in the form of a small, rounded outgrowth on a tree trunk or branch. This outgrowth is filled with small knots from dormant buds. The outcrops are actually the result of something unhealthy or unfortunate occurring to the tree when it undergoes some form of stress such as an injury, virus or fungus. As a result, the natural pattern of the grain is broken, and it develops in a deformed manner. The most common burl used for antique woodenware bowls came from the maple tree.

How to Care for Vintage Woodenware Bowls

The finish of a vintage 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. Store them away from direct sunlight. Antique wooden bowls that are used as any kind of food vessel can be coated with mineral oil (never olive or other vegetable oils which turn rancid) occasionally. Furniture waxes are not suitable except perhaps for the outside of a bowl. Oiling does not need to be done often. Between treatments, dampen a cloth and wipe out the bowl. Should there be a need to immerse the bowl in water, use a gentle soap and wash briefly, followed by thorough drying with a cloth. Allow the bowl to dry completely before storage.

Accessories and Add-ons for Vintage Woodenware Bowls

Vintage woodenware bowls can be complemented with the addition of other woodenware items for the kitchen. Care for them in the same manner as described for wooden bowls.

  • Spoons
  • Cutting board
  • Rolling pin
  • Meat tenderizer
  • Mineral oil
  • Mild soaps or cleansers
  • Soft cloths or brushes

Finding Vintage Woodenware Bowls on eBay

Once you determine the type of vintage 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 Vintage Woodenware Bowls on eBay

Search eBay listing titles for specific words when shopping for vintage woodenware bowls. For example, to find early American woodenware salad bowls, type vintage 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 vintage woodenware bowls with keywords. If you can’t find the exact vintage woodenware bowl you want, try shopping eBay Stores.


This guide provides much of the information necessary to properly research vintage woodenware bowls. There are also lots of online resources available to help with education on the subject. Once you have collected this information, you can buy a vintage woodenware bowl safely and securely on eBay.

Have something to share, create your own guide... Write a guide
Explore more guides