Bleaching wood bowls is not as hard as you might imagine.
Have you ever wondered how to lighten the look of a wood turned bowl?
Depending on your wooden bowl design, lightening the wood may add a new striking appearance and take your bowl to a different level.
How do I bleach a wood bowl?
If the wood bowl is recently turned and unfinished, the wood is best bleached with a two-part wood bleaching product. Household bleach and Oxalic Acid, work better at removing stains and are not best suited for new bowls.
6 Things To Not Do When Bleaching Wood Bowls
- Don’t use household bleach
- Oxalic Acid isn’t suitable for newly turned wood bowls
- Don’t use a metal container for ingredients
- Don’t mix the bleach in advance
- Don’t expect all woods to react the same way
- Don’t splash bleach on wood bowl
9 Things To Do When Bleaching Wood Bowls
- Finish and sand the wood bowl thoroughly first
- Allow a green wood bowl to dry for a day or two
- Wear protective gloves and eye protection
- Follow bleach manufacturer’s written instructions
- Use only plastic or glass containers for bleach
- Apply bleach mixture in a well-ventilated area
- Work methodically and apply the bleach evenly
- Neutralize wood bowl surface after bleaching
- Hand-sand the final dry bowl
Different Bleaching Products
There are a few different ways to potentially bleach wooden bowls.
The first, seemingly obvious way to bleach a wood bowl is with regular household bleach.
While this will work to an extent, household bleach is better at removing surface stains and does not lighten the wood surface very deep.
Another wood bleaching product is Oxalic Acid. Oxalic Acid is designed to remove stubborn stains like rust caused by rusty nails.
Oxalic Acid is ideal for restoring old wood which has been damaged and stained and not as suitable for new wood bowls.
The ideal product to lighten the surface of your wood bowl is a dedicated two-part wood bleach.
I have used and tested a two-part wood bleach that works excellent. Here’s a link to the wood bleaching product, if you’re interested.
The two-part wood bleaching system is made up of Part A-Sodium Hydroxide and Part B-Hydrogen Peroxide. There are other chemicals involved, but these are the two main ingredients.
Bleaching Wood Bowls Safety
We need to protect ourself when applying the bleaching components.
Eyes and skin need to be protected. Wear safety glasses and chemical resistant plastic or rubber gloves at all times.
Avoid breathing vapors from the bleaching chemicals.
Be sure your workspace is well ventilated. If not, try bleaching your wood bowl outside.
Be safe and follow all application instructions and safety recommendations on the wood bleach product written instructions.
Some two-part bleach systems recommend different procedures. It is essential to read and follow the instructions for the product you are using.
Wood Bowl Prep
I recommend finish turning the whole bowl, tenon and all and sand your wood bowl entirely before applying the wood bleach.
Many times, when I’m applying finish to a bowl, I will apply the finish with the bowl tenon still attached.
Because the bowl is held perfectly by the four-jaw chuck, it can be easy to apply standard finishes.
Later, after the bowl is reversed and the tenon is removed, I then touch up the base area with the same overall wood finish.
Because we can’t so easily match up bleached areas, I suggest completely sanding and finish turning the entire bowl, base and all, before applying the wood bleach.
IMPORTANT – Do not apply any traditional wood finishes before using the wood bleach. The wood bleach must be applied only to a raw, clean wood surface.
Applying Wood Bleach
Follow your specific product instructions. The wood bleach product that I use requires the following steps.
- Using a new clean sponge apply solution A to the entire wood surface, saturating the wood completely. Let the solution stand 5 minutes for softwoods and 10 minutes for hardwoods.
You will need to have a tray, papers, or old towel under the bowl to catch the runoff liquid.
Also, I precut small sections of clean sponge to use. You will not need a large sponge to apply the mixture.
- While the wood bowl surface is still wet, take another new clean sponge and apply solution B over solution A.
- Let the wet wood bowl sit overnight to dry.
- After the bowl has dried, the next day, sand the bowl lightly by hand to remove any residue and lighten the wood further.
- If you want your bowl to appear lighter still, repeat steps 1 through 4 until you get the lightness you desire.
- You may neutralize the wood surface with a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and water.
Different Bleached Results
As you can probably imagine, the results will vary depending on many factors.
The species of wood, moisture content, amount of bleach applied, etc. all factor into the final results.
The image at the top of this article is of a natural edge sycamore and honey locust bowl. The sycamore lightened quickly with just two treatments. The honey locust still retained some of its golden color even after five treatments.
Experiment with different woods and application techniques. See what works best for you and the type of wood you’re using.
Consider making a small bowl from the type of timber you have on hand and play until you find the results you like.
Bleached Wood Bowl Finishing
Once the bleach wood bowl is lightened to the desired point and dry, you can begin the finishing process.
I recommend hand sanding the bowl surface up to 320 grit. I use an incremental sandpaper progression of fifty-percent of the previous sandpaper.
So, if you start at 120 grit sandpaper, then you’ll want to proceed with 180, 220, and then 320. Here’s a link to the sandpapers I recommend.
The sanding process is vital to remove any remaining bleach residue and smooth wood fibers that were raised in the bleach soaking process.
Once the bowl surface is smooth, you can apply whatever traditional finish you usually use, such as oil or even sprayed lacquer.
Do you have a lacquer spray system set-up in your shop?
Oh, spraying lacquer is a lot easier than you might think and it does not yellow the wood like some oils can.
Check out this article for all the details about spraying lacquer and make your bowls shine with beauty.
Bleach Wood Bowls Wrap Up
If you had a chance to see the 5 Magical Ebonizing Wood Tricks article, you know bleaching is the polar opposite coloring technique for your wood bowls.
Bleaching wood bowls is not a technique I would use on all my bowls, but it can be amazing at certain times.
Similar to the ebonizing effects, bleaching is an excellent tool for a wood bowl turner to have in their arsenal.
Adding the possibility of changing the look of the wood surface can change the way we think, design, and create on the lathe and beyond.
I hope you give this bleaching effect a try.
If you do, or if you have in the past, leave a comment below. I’d love to hear about your results.
Check out these other wood bowl finishing articles:
• 5 MAGICAL EBONIZING WOOD TRICKS
• HOW TO SPRAY LACQUER – ILLUSTRATED GUIDE
• MAKE SHELLAC – HOW TO – WOOD BOWL FINISH
Thanks and Happy Turning,
Hi… just bought my son a lovely bleached maple bowl. Should it be oiled periodically?
It can be if it currently has an oil finish. Don’t apply oil to a “film finish” like lacquer or varnish. All the best to you and Happy Turning!
I left a large piece of Cherry outside and now the wood has some gray staining.
Can I bleach the gray out of the bowl before finishing it?
Good question Brent,
If the wood is not turned, you don’t need to do anything. Just turn the piece and you will see the beautiful cherry color under that gray.
Read your article on bleaching wood… it was great! I tried finding the Zinsser products buy nobody seems to have any around. Are there other products you recommend or do you have a mix-it-your self solution?
Hm? Good question. I don’t at the moment but I will keep an eye out for other options. Happy Turning!
Don’t take my word for it, but give it a test yourself…
I have used lemon juice (real lemon in the bottle works too), to lighten up colours in Juniper, red cedar, Acacia, and cherry.
I have only used it for specific areas of a turning that are too dark, and never have used for an entire item by soaking. I simply paint a little at a time on the specific area with a small brush, then leave it overnight, then do again and again if necessary. 2 applications usually suffice for my needs.
It sounds like a great experiment.
I’m sure the citrus acid is the bleaching agent. I’ll give it a try the next time I bleach some wood.
Thank you for sharing!