Wedding DIY: Oyster Shell Salt Cellars

This was one of my favorite projects from our wedding shoot. I’m of the mind that pretty much everything looks better with a little gold leaf, and these oyster shells are no exception. This idea came from the amazing Ginny Branch Stelling in Atlanta. I loved it so much that I used the oyster shells from our shoot for a dinner party last week. Packaged with a little bottle of fancy salt, this would make a great hostess gift.  -Amy

Wedding shoot by: de la Barra Photography

Process shots by Kathryn McCrary

Step 3 option A

Get the full how-to after the jump!

Step 1 option A

Updated: Materials Needed:

Step 2 option B
Step One: Make sure oyster shells are clean, dry, and free of any debris.

Step 2 option A
Step Two: Using a round or flat, angled paintbrush and  Liquid Gold Leaf , paint the inside of the oyster shell to the outer edge.

Step Three: Allow to dry.

Step 3 option D
Step Four: Fill with finishing salt and ground, cracked pepper and serve as a pair with a delicate, mother of pearl spoon or two.


Oh my gosh. I couldn’t believe that these were DIY’d when I saw the first picture?? They’re awesome.


I think the topcoat link is fine…isn’t it? It’s for a food-safe varnish.


Yay, Ginny! These are lovely. Will have to try this for upcoming holiday dinner parties.


I love Kathryn McCrary’s photos! So very lovely! I am definitely going to try this DIY. Thanks so much for sharing!


Beautiful! I’m going to make this as a holiday gift for the oyster-loving couple in my life.


How do you wrap these though? I can’t think of any way to “present” them…


I’ve always hated throwing out oyster or any bivalve shells because they feel so substantial! This is a perfect idea!! Love it as a hostess gift idea.

Trix & Trumpet

I love this DIY Amy. I too, think that everything looks a little bit better with some shimmer and metallic. What’s great about this project is it’s versatility; for a wedding favour, hostess gift and even in your own home for a dinner party (as you did). You could also try a small tea light candle in the shell to give a wonderful golden glow to any table design.


love the project idea but a bit disappointed to see you guys linking to Hobby Lobby for the product, when that company well known for bigotry and discriminating against gay and female employees.


Your link for a Food Safe Top Coat goes to Varnish Oil Furniture Finish – how is this food safe?

Ginny Branch

The varnish included in the materials list is used on wooden spoons and cutting boards and is food safe!


I painstakingly cleaned all my oyster shells a couple days ago, then I applied the gold leaf last night (same brand you used). I just attempted to seal with Tried & True, and it caused all the rose color in the gold leaf to rise to the top! Thank goodness I saw it before I did too many. Maybe a combination of too much varnish and not enough time spent drying? How long did you let yours dry?


Also- because of this problem- I am wondering if the top coat is really necessary since they will only be used for dry spices- please advise!


Update, next morning– they still aren’t dry! The top coat virtually ruined the liquid leaf…the gold leaf was dry and lustrous until I applied the top coat (second time around, very very sparingly). It caused the liquid leaf to turn gummy, raised the rose in the paint to the top, pooled, and will not reset. Surprisingly, when I used the varnish on the other, unpainted side of the oyster, the varnish dried super fast and looked glossy as it should. I don’t think this varnish was meant to work with gold leaf. I wasted my christmas present money on thi
s project :(

Grace Bonney

hi juliana

i’ve never (ever) had that problem- i’m so sorry. which top coat did you use and did you shake it thoroughly?



If you meant did I shake the liquid gold- I definitely shook it (and re-shook, halfway through- since I was painting so many). The Tried and True varnish oil was in a paint can, clear, and very very thick. It wasn’t “shakeable”.


I just called Plaid’s customer service hotline, and the rep I spoke to said the bad reaction the liquid leaf had to the varnish oil was normal, and that they shouldn’t have been used together :(

At least I realized I can strip the shells with nail polish remover. I will repaint them with the liquid gold leaf and use them for a different project- maybe a mirror.

I’m off to the Japanese dollar store to see if I can find little dishes to pair with the spoons I already ordered! If not, hopefully I can return the spoons.


I had the same problem as Juliana :( Hoping I can find a way to salvage these as they were my holiday gifts for 20 people.


Same experience for me as Julianna and Megan had although I used Aleene’s Gloss Finish Spray Acrylic Sealer so I too am scrambling to find a substitute gift. If anyone comes up with a solution, please let us know!


Hi, in an abundance of caution, just thought it might be worth mentioning that the link to the Home Depot “topcoat” shellac spray includes a link to a California Proposition 65 warning, which states: “California’s Proposition 65 entitles California consumers to special warnings for certain products that contain chemicals above certain threshold levels. The general Proposition 65 notice is as follows: WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.” Sorry to be a downer – but I think it’s just important for safety reasons to be aware of this warning!


So…will the Zinsser Shellac ruin the gold leaf?
I have gold leaf paint and have used it on some hardware/accent pieces on furniture I have. After a couple months, it was oxidized (?) and the gold is darker and much duller. Any advice is appreciated!

Dawn Gaye

Would the PYM II work perhaps? Non Aerosol, aid free, water repellant, light fast….. must see if food safe! Seals metal, glass, glitter, clay. giclee prints…. hmmm, probably not but will check! BRB:)


It does not have to be in Oystershell either. You can use abalone, and clams. You could use it to hold a soap bar and yes, definitely jewelry. I would paint one silver for silver jewelry and one gold for gold jewelry. For a candle, I do not know if it would be safe to paint the inside, because it may be toxic?


I might experiment with using the gold on the outside of the oyster shell, which is pretty drab naturally… and leaving the pure white interior “as is”, which is food safe naturally… I would include the raw edge of the shell in the gilding…


I agree with Lynn. I’m thinking just gilding the edgeonly – since the salt/pepper covers the interior anyway. I rather like the natural rough look of the shells. Good call, Lynn.