The Six S's of Salad Bowl Design

by Russ Fairfield


We often wonder why some folks can sell many salad bowls, while some can't; or why some of our bowls sell and others don't. Could it be that we have violated one or more of the "6-S's of the salad bowl"?

Shape - looks and feels like a salad bowl should

Solid - no soft wood, no voids, no holes, no knots, no patches

Smooth - easily cleaned. No frills, no carving, no beads or grooves.

Stable - stays in place and not easily tipped over

Sight - a salad looks good in it, appealing and appetizing

Smell - a pleasant odor or none at all, doesn't smell like paint

People will always look at a salad bowl shape as having something in it. It doesn't matter how much it costs; it must be useable. It doesn't matter that they will never use it... they could if they ever wanted to.

If it can't pass these 6 tests, it is 'art'... and art in the shape of a salad bowl doesn't sell very well.


This is a subjective thing, 'that vision thing' again, that will be different for different women. Yes, women. Women buy salad bowls and they KNOW what a salad bowl should look like. Men make salad bowls, and they have no idea what a salad bowl should look like. If in doubt, ask you wife or the neighbor's wife if you don't have one.


As woodturners, we worry about 'food safety' of the finish and the wood. The woman buying the salad bowl is concerned about Botulism and things that can kill people. It doesn't matter how smooth the finish or what the finish, most folks are smart enough to know that finishes will wear off; and they see these defects in the wood as something that will trap food particles. Trapped food particles equate to germs, period.

A 'natural edged' bowl is different. Remember that I am talking about a salad bowl. The absence of voids and other defects doesn't apply to the 'natural edged' bowl. When our customers see bark, or a rough edge on the bowl, they expect it to have knots, voids, and all of those other 'natural' things.

If it is presented as an 'artistic' bowl, make sure that there is no doubt that this bowl is for 'display only'. If it is being sold as a salad bowl, it had better be 'solid' wood.


Keep it simple. The inside of the bowl must be a smooth form that is easily cleaned. Avoid those things that we woodturners think will make it a more attractive bowl. This means that there can be no sharp corners, beads, grooves, or carving on the INSIDE of the salad bowl or on the rim. If the lady looking at it can see the decoration as something that can trap a food particle, forget about it.

Stable (Usability)

This one is simple; like an obedient dog, the salad bowl must SIT and STAY where it is placed. 'Usability' is a concept that is too often missed by the woodturner. Usability means that it doesn't require an extra hand to hold it in place while tossing a salad at the counter; and that it isn't easily tipped while the salad is being served. And, should the bowl ever tip over, it must be self-righting, and it should not spill its contents across the table.

All this means is that the woodturner's desires for thin walls, light weight, and a small foot at the base of the bowl might need some rethinking when it comes to a salad bowl.


The 'presentation' of the salad at the table is everything. This is what the bowl is for. It must make a salad look appetizing. The color of the wood is important. It must not detract from the presentation.


Is the wood and finish safe for food? This is the most often asked question by the woodturner, but the least asked question by the customer. Customers are smarter than we give them credit for being. They will let their nose tell them the difference. If a bowl has an odor that is offensive, they won't buy it. The corollary is that a bowl with a pleasant or appetizing odor is an easy sale.

Any remaining odors of paint or stinking wood will kill a sale immediately. Our saying that "it is safe to use and that the odor will disappear with time" won't rescue it.

Some folks have very sensitive noses. There is a thing that I call 'The Cupboard Test'. Place the bowl in an enclosure such as a cupboard for a couple days. Then open the cupboard door and try to capture that brief subtle whiff of a smell that immediately disappears after the door has been opened. IF it is there, somebody will be able to smell it. IF it is offensive, they won't buy it. IF it is a pleasant or appetizing odor, it will sell quickly.