Turning a bowl in dry woodA bowl is a good project to start with when learning to turn. My preferred method for turning a bowl is described below. The numbers refer to the illustration to the right. The drawings show the wood seen from above the lathe.
Start by selecting a suitable piece of dry wood and mount it on the faceplate. The sort of wood isn't important but hardwoods are usually easier to turn to a smooth surface than softwoods. The wood must be without cracks. The grain should be parallel to the faceplate. A square piece 15-20 cm wide and 5 cm thick is suitable.
The bowl blank may be sawn from a plank. You can use a square blank, but if you are beginner, it is an advantage to cut off the corners to make it octangular or even cut it to a disc with a bandsaw or a jig saw.
Of course, the height of the lathe also put a limit to the size of the blank. You can make larger bowls starting with a disc or an octangular piece than with a square. If the height from bed to spindle axis is 15 cm you can turn a bowl with a diameter of almost 30 cm if you start with a roud disc and 21 cm if you start with a square.
I recommend mounting on a faceplate but there are many other possibilities - se the page about mounting of the wood. On the faceplate, it is important that the screws used for mounting the wood are not too short and there are enough to hold the wood securely. Of course, you have to be sure that the screws arn't so long that they will reach the part of the wood that should be part of the bowl.
For turning the bowl you need a bowl gouge of about 10 mm. You don't need other tools.
1. Now the blank is mounted in the lathe. The toolrest is placed at the large side of the blank perpendicular to the lathe axis. First, you have to true off the flat side. I do that by using the wing of the bowl gouge as a scraper. The gouge is placed at an angle of about 45° to the wood (depending on the grind) with the flute pointing towards the wood and slightly upwards. The middle of the lower wing of the cutting edge is used to cut the wood. The bevel should NOT touch the wood as the tool is used as a scraper. The cut starts in the centre and the tool is pulled towards the rim. Take very gentle cuts, at least in the beginning.
You can see and feel that the tool only cuts parts of the wood in the beginning because the wood isn't perfectly flat. When the tool cuts all the way round, the surface is true and you can go on to the next step:
The tool is moved so that the bevel is against the wood and the tool points from the centre towards the rim. It can be a quite inconvenient position to turn if you have a lathe with long beds. Then, you have to sit on or bend over the bed. (The tailstock should be removed).
2. If the blank is square or octangular, you first cut away the corners. The first time you do this, it feels inconvenient because you 'cut' in the air most of the time. You have to do as if you were turning 'normal' wood but it is very important to take gentle cuts and not to press the tool against the wood. Otherwise, the tool will bump against the corners. If the tool doesn't cut. you must not press it against the wood. Instead, turn the flute a little upwards or the tip a little more in the direction into the wood. In general: never press the tool against the wood. - These guidlines apply for 'normal' turning also.
In the beginning, start turning from the area away fromm the corners so that you aren't turning air. Move towards the corners and cut the whole way to the corner. Move back and repeat each time going a little deeper at the corner.
It may be an advantage to start at the very tip of the corner, but not until you have practice from turning a couple of bowls. Here, you slowly move the tool towards the wood until it barely touches the wood. The bevel should be parallel to the wood surface with the cutting edge slightly off the wood. To begin cutting, you slowly move the tool back and forth and slowly turn the tip to get into contact with the wood. When it starts to cut, you move it back and forth cutting more and more away.
The wood at the corners is removed more and more 'around' the corner as shown in the illustration. You continue until the blank is round.
3+4. Now it is time to shape the outer side of the bowl: Begin shaping the edge towards the rim. Continue until the shape approaches the desired shape of the bowl. Remember to move the handle so that the bevel keeps contact to the wood. Beginners should avoid making deep bowls or too sharp corners in the bottom of the bowl (see small inserts in illustration) as the hollowing then becomes impossible with an ordinary bowl gouge. Also avoid the rim to bend over the bowl as shown in the lower small drawing.
5. Now a tenon (or a recess) for mounting in a scroll chuck is turned. The size depends on the chuck - check the manual. If you make a tenon that you intend to remove later, it is a good idea to make a small hole in the centre of the tenon to guide the centre later. You can make this hole by pressing the live centre in the tailstock against the wood.
Now, the final turning and shaping of the outer side of the bowl is performed. For the beginner, it may be difficult to obtain a smooth shape, usually there will be small bumps or waves. These may be gently removed with a scraper reducing the sanding work significantly.
The whole outer side is sanded (except for a tenon that is to be removed later). Some also applies oil or another finish at this point.
6. The bowl is taken off the lathe and the faceplate is screwed off. The scroll chuck is mounted on the lathe and the bowl is mounted in the chuck.
The hollowing of the bowl starts from the centre as shown in the illustration. It is easiest to start each cut with the bevel parallel to the top surface of the bowl and then turn the tool towards the bottom of the bowl. If you start the cut pointing towards the bottom of the bowl, there is a significant risk that the tip of the tool catches the wood and runs to the left leaving a bad groove. It takes som practice to be able to start the cut directly pointing towards the bottom of the bowl. Find some tips here.
As on the outer side, it may be difficult to avoid to make bumps and waves. Again, these may be gently removed with a scraper. Finally, the inside is sanded and a finish like oil may be applied.
Removing the tenonMost turners prefer to mount the bowl on the lathe again to turn away the tenon used for mounting in the scroll chuck (or soften the mounting recess). You may make a foot on the bowl from the tenon. There are more ways to mount the bowl for this purpose. Which to use depends on your equipment and the shape of the bowl.
7. The easiest is to mount the bowl using 'Jumbo jaws' on the scroll chuck - if you have them, they are quite expensive. This mounting isn't possible with bowls with bark edge or other types of irregular edge. If the rim of the bowl is vertical or bends inwards as in (8), it also may be impossible to mount the bowl using jumbo jaws. Smaller bowls can be fixed very well in the jumbo jaws but for larger bowls or bowls with a rim that is more difficult to hold with the jwas, you should used the centre to give extra support.
8. A mounting method that is cheap and requires no special equipment is to make a jam chuck from a scrap piece of wood. It can be reused for smaller bowls. Always use the centre for extra support.
9. You also can mount the bowl on a curved piece of wood fitting inside the bowl. It should be covered with some sort of foam or rubber, and the bowl is fixed using the centre in the taistock.
You are welcome to send me an email if you have comments, corrections or additions.