I just made a pizza peel out of scrap poplar and mahogany. After I completed it, I gave it a coat of olive oil. My wife used it to make some small pizzas. I looked at it the other day, and the fibers in the poplar were starting to look like driftwood. The mahogany looked great. I gave it a coat of dewaxed shellac. It was then that I had second thoughts. Am I poisoning my family? If you can advise me, I would appreciate it. – Larry Stokes
Tim Inman: M&M’s, shiny cucumbers at the supermarket, even some hairsprays – they all are treated with shellac. Shellac is one of nature’s nontoxic wonders. It is safe and has amazing properties, almost all of which are friendly to man. M&M’s don’t melt in your hand because the chocolate is (or at least once was) coated in hard shells of shellac. A coating of shellac on many fresh food products keeps them lasting longer and looking better at the store. So, it is food-safe, and your pizzas will be just fine.
The more important part of your question, though, is the observation about the differences between mahogany and poplar! Right before your eyes, you are seeing why mahogany is the king of cabinet woods, and poplar is used for drawer bottoms and backs. Mahogany is stable, and poplar is not. After a few times sanding down the poplar and re-coating the peel, it will stabilize and behave itself. But remember this lesson next time you pick a fine wood for your finest projects! Poplar is for drawer bottoms and backs, veneer cross banding and glue blocks. Mahogany is what you want underneath your best French polish.
Chris Marshall: I’m a big fan of poplar. I think it’s one of those unsung heroes of our species options. Poplar is durable, easy to work and less expensive than nearly every other hardwood. But for me, it’s a paint-grade choice — and for that job, it’s wonderful. Sorry to hear it didn’t work out so well for you under an oil/shellac finish. So it goes in the woodworking world … we learn as we go!
For those of you who might like to make a pizza peel of your own to match the walnut-and-maple version shown in the top photo, you can watch a free video and download a tracing template by clicking here.