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.

  1. Nicole says:

    This is really beautiful! Would be great to put small pieces of jewelry in too!

  2. This is so classy! I love it. It’d be so cute as a next to the sink ring holder too!

  3. These are so elegant! Love it.

  4. Suzanne says:

    I think the liquid gold leaf link is a little off.

  5. Elisa says:

    Any suggestions on where one could buy empty oyster shells?

  6. Maya says:

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

  7. Maya says:

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

  8. Sejal says:

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

  9. Meghan says:

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

  10. Carla says:

    These are simply gorgeous. I suddenly have the urge to go walking on the beach…

  11. wooong says:

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

  12. diynovice says:

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

  13. Thuy says:

    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.

  14. 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.

  15. Mary says:

    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.

  16. Kim says:

    What food safe top coat did you use??? Love this idea!

  17. Sage says:

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

  18. OMG I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. thank you for the inspiration!!!! Gold + Shells = the best!

  19. claire livia says:

    gorgeous! but where did you get those super cute matching spoons?

  20. Ginny Branch says:

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

  21. They look so beautiful and fancy!

  22. juliana says:

    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?

  23. juliana says:

    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!

  24. juliana says:

    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 :(

    1. Grace Bonney says:

      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?


  25. juliana says:

    I used the same exact paint and varnish in the article

  26. juliana says:

    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”.

  27. juliana says:

    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.

  28. Megan says:

    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.

  29. Tracy says:

    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!

  30. Irina says:

    It’s a beautiful idea!!! :-)

  31. Gertie says:

    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!

  32. Brittany says:

    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!

  33. Dawn Gaye says:

    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:)

  34. Remi Zagari says:

    Wow…such a cool idea dude!

  35. CapoChic says:

    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?

  36. Lynn says:

    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…

  37. Sharon says:

    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.

  38. Dawn says:

    Hi. We can supply oyster shells if you need them :-).

  39. Jessie says:

    it would make nice soap dishes too :)

  40. Sue says:

    Just a warning. The gold leaf paint is highly. Only use in a well-ventilated area and do NOT let children or pets inhale the fumes. I make a lot of projects with the Plaid and the Martha Stewart liquid gold, bronze and silver leaf, and I use a respirator. Reading all the warnings, not only on the package of the products but on their websites scared the hell out of me. Hence, the respirator. And gloves. If it gets on your skin, wash immediately.

    I’m typically not a nervous Nelly about things, but this stuff is serious. Remember, keep kids and pets away from the room you are using this stuff in.

    With all that said, I have some of the most beautiful vases, artificial fruit and many other trinkets.

  41. Sue says:

    Sorry. In my second sentence, I meant to say “highly toxic.”

  42. Sandra says:

    1. I think that Sue’s comment about toxicity should be the first thing mentioned in the instructions.
    2. The developer of this craft should revisit the products used and rework them so that the idea REALLY works.
    3. Better yet, develop with non-toxic items. I was going to do this craft with a buch of 10-12 year old girls. THANK YOU SUE!

    1. Grace Bonney says:


      Sue’s comment is inaccurate in the case of the products recommended here. Please see my earlier comments above. These products are food safe and that’s the reason we researched, used and suggested them.


  43. Nancy says:

    Where did you get the little spoons??

  44. sally says:

    would this be ok for lettering on flower pot for cemetary

  45. pam says:

    I have concerns about the food safety of this too — so I will be using edible gold leaf. My one concern is how it will hold up without a top coat under the abrasion of salt… still looking into options on that front. Gold leafing the outside of the shell might be the answer, with the mother-of-pearl left on the inside.

    Here’s edible gold leaf:

  46. pam says:

    a little googling and bingo: bees wax as the top coat. Ingestible, water resistant, and easily reapplied if it wears off.
    Polyurethane et al are technically food safe, once they are allowed to dry and all the solvents evaporate — but the reaction some have had between the gold leaf and the poly seems like too big a risk to take (though with true gold leaf it might work fine).
    I am going to make these using these products and will report back.


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