Turning A Wooden Bowl

Turning A Wooden Bowl

Johnny Williams
Mar 8, 2010

It's easy to take for granted how a wooden bowl is made. But as a relative newbie to this age-old craft, I'm learning that woodturning takes practice, patience and one heck of a steady hand.

Sure, the Zen-like process of woodturning can put you in a happy place, but there's a reason Demi and Patrick didn't make love at a lathe. Whereas it's safe to get your hands dirty at a potter's wheel, this horizontal alternative requires a solid grip on a sharpened steel tool — which can easily snap back at you, turning you into, well, a ghost.

Every bowl begins as a "blank," a rectangular block of wood with corners rounded off by a band saw. As pictured above, the thickness of the blank becomes the height of the bowl, while the width becomes its diameter. A pilot hole is drilled in the center of the wood, which is then "screw-mounted" on the lathe. Once you're sure it's secure, it's time to turn.

First, with the speed set to 700 rpm, the bowl's profile is shaped. Then, using a bowl gouge, a small tenon is turned on the bottom of the piece. When you're satisfied with the outer shape, the bowl is flipped and re-mounted using the tenon. The piece is then slowly hollowed out, with special attention paid to its decreasing thickness. A tool called a scraper is utilized for a "finishing" cut, then it's on to sanding.

Once the inside and outside are sanded — gradually moving up from 80 grit sandpaper to 600 — the bowl is again flipped and re-mounted. The tenon is now turned off leaving a small concavity on the bottom of the bowl. In technical/Seussian woodturning terms, this prevents any wibble-wobble.

Finish can be applied to the bowl on the lathe or off. While many folks worry about applying a "food-safe" finish, the fact is that ALL commercial finishes are food-safe once they've dried. Nonetheless, it's nice to use natural finishes when possible — walnut oil and linseed oil are both excellent choices. I happened to have some mineral oil sitting around, so that's what I used to finish my bowl. As for what I'll turn next, I'm not quite sure. You could say, I'm drawing a blank.

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