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How to turn a wood bowl

Posted by Jason Jones on

Hand-turned wood bowls are enough to make people go “ooh” and “aahh”. Once you finish it and get that grain really popping, they’re beautiful.

Today, I’m going to run you through the basics of how to make a bowl from scratch.

Materials:

  • Your wood blank. 
  • Lathe!
  • Chisels (I prefer the Easy Wood Tools carbide chisels)
  • Nova wood chuck
  • Wormwood screw or face plate
  • Walnut oil or salad bowl finish
  • Cole jaws for chuck
  • Sandpaper – 150 to 600

You start by getting and preparing a wood blank. This can be done any number of ways. Easiest is to go to a local wood store (like Woodcraft or Rockler) and just buying a blank. You can also glue your own together or find a nice log. I won’t cover how to prep it if you’re starting with a log, but you can easily find that on YouTube. Make sure you don’t get a blank whose diameter won’t fit on your lathe. Once you get the blank pick a side and find the center of it. I usually make a small hole there.

Find the center
Guanacaste wood

Now you can either mount it with a wormwood screw or a face plate. I prefer the face plate but if you’re using the screw make sure to pre-drill your hole with a 5/16″ bit. I like the face plate because I feel like it’s a little more secure.

wormwood screw
Example of a wormwood screw in your chuck
face plate
Face plate screwed into wood

The only other prep step you can make would be to use a bandsaw or some other tool to take off the edges of your blank. This step is optional, but the more round your blank is when you try to turn it the less of a shimmy you’ll have. What’s that mean? Well, when I turned this one I decided not to take the edges off and my lathe started “walking” on the workbench. That was my fault for not having it secured, but it’s definitely a great example of why to take off some of the edges. I also found that my workbench was rattling too much, so I ended up putting about 200 lbs of sand on my bottom shelf to give it a little more heft.

All that said, go ahead and put your chuck or face plate into your head stock.

Mount blank on lathe
Mount your chuck onto the lathe

The first thing you’ll want to do here is use your rougher to get the blank round. Depending on your skill level and your lathe, you’ll want to slow the speed down on your lathe and do light passes in the beginning. On my lathe with how out of round this blank was I had to take very light passes until it got round. It took a little bit of time to get it there, but it was worth it. I usually bring up my tail stock for a little more stability.

Round the blank
Making the wood round so you can work with it.

As you can see, about halfway through roughing this bad boy I decided I didn’t like how it felt and put my face plate on it.

Mounted on face plate
Wood bowl blank mounted to face plate.

Once the blank is round and even you can start carving your bowl shape. Go wild, just make it look like a bowl! The one thing to keep in mind is that the side of the blank that is screwed into the face plate (or worm wood screw) is the top/inside of the bowl. On the right is what will become the bottom. Once you get your shape on there you’ll need to turn a tenon on there, so that when you flip it you can mount it in your check. Measure your chuck jaws so that you know the right size to make it. I will also usually sand the outside of the bowl at this point. Start at 150 to remove your tool marks, and work your way up to 600. You might need to touch it up later, but this is a good time to do it.

rough shape and turning the tenon
Shaped, tenon created, and sanded

Once you have all that done, go ahead and remove it from the chuck, unscrew the face plate if you were using it and flip it around. Insert it into your regular jaws and tighten it securely.

flipped and mounted
Bowl flipped and mounted in the chuck

Now you’re ready to start hollowing it out. Move your tool rest over as close as it can get to the top of the bowl and start working your magic. If you have a bowl gouge now would be the time to use it, or you can use your carbide tools.

Hollowing the bowl
Start hollowing out your wood bowl.

You’ll want to give yourself a small lip at the top – if you want your bowl to have one! What I usually do at this point is start working from the outside to the middle. Put a little more pressure on it as you go to the middle so that you’re working your way down. You can also go from the middle out, too. Really it’s whatever you prefer. Measure from the bottom of your hollowed portion to the bottom of the bowl so that you know when you’ve hit bottom. Shape it as necessary. Do you want your bowl to have a slope toward the middle? Do you want it go straight down and then slope? It’s completely your choice, it’s your bowl!

continuing to hollow the bowl
A hollowed out wood bowl.

Now comes the really fun part.. the sanding! Lots and lots of sanding. You’ll want to make sure the interior and the rim of the bowl are smooth so that there are no weird catches in the wood. I like to round the edges of the lip as well. Start at 150 – or lower – and work your way up to 600 like you did for the exterior. Once you’re completely smooth, go ahead and apply your finish. For this bowl I used walnut oil, but you can also use anything else that’s food-safe, like a salad bowl finish. If you plan on eating out of this or putting food/candy in here, you’ll want to use something that’s 100% food safe. Apply the finish to the interior and exterior of the bowl. I usually do this at a lower lathe setting and burn it in a little with a paper towel.

Sanding and finishing the inside of the bowl
Sanded and a couple coats of walnut oil

Okay, now that you’ve played with it enough, we need to remove it from the chuck – again – and flip it over. Remove the chuck and put your cole jaws on there. We need to do this so that we can remove the tenon and not ruin the bowl. So slip the bowl over and insert it into the cole jaws and gently tighten it so that it’s not loose. Re-insert onto the lathe.

Mounted into cole jaws and flipped
Bowl flipped again, and inserted into the cole jaws.

We are very nearly there now! 

Use your parting tool and remove the tenon. Do your best to get this as flat as possible and in one stroke as possible. That will save you a little bit of sanding in the next step.

Remove and sand the tenon
Tenon removed

Now you’ll want to sand the bottom flat. Starting at 150, work your way up to 600 grit. Depending on how cleanly you removed the tenon is how much you’ll need to sand. Once you get it completely flat, go ahead and apply your finish (the salad bowl finish or walnut oil in this case) and burn that in like you did the exterior. 

Sanding and finishing the bottom of the bowl
Bottom of bowl after sanding and finish applied

I usually like to let it sit for a couple hours to completely dry at this point. After that, you can remove it from the chuck and admire your handiwork!

Inside of bowl
Interior of finished bowl
Side view of bowl
Side view of finished bowl
Bottom of bowl
Bottom view of finished bowl

Comment or send us an email if you have any questions! Thanks, Jason

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