The bowl tenon, foot, or some call it the spigot of the bowl, is a critical step in the bowl-making process. The bowl tenon must be sized right and cut correctly to make a secure attachment to a four jaw wood chuck during the creation and shaping of the bowl’s interior.
If you’d rather not use a tenon or a wood chuck, you might consider turning a wood bowl without a chuck.
The size of the four-jaw chuck determines the size of the bowl tenon needed. A loose rule of thumb is the tenon should be about 30 to 40 percent of the total bowl diameter.
Bowl tenon size is restricted and dictated by the size of the four-jaw chuck available. Consider purchasing an additional chuck or additional different sized jaws to accommodate a range of tenon sizes.
Larger tenons, of course, will provide more support. Caution needs to be used with small bowl tenons on larger bowls. If you remember you have a tenon that’s a bit small while clearing away the interior of the bowl, this will work with light bowl gouge cuts. I’ve used tenons in the past that were undersized and got too aggressive with my interior clearing cuts and watched as the bowl shot across my shop, snapping off the bowl tenon.
I prefer to make tenons that will later be removed. The look of a nice thin rim that the bowl rests on is more appealing to me. I also like the fact that it makes people wonder how the bowl was attached to the lathe.
Some turners prefer to leave the tenon and let it be the base later. Either way, you decide to finish your tenon is up to you. The creation of the tenon is the same regardless of the final appearance.
Steps to making a perfect bowl tenon
- Make flat area on bowl bottom
- Set dividers to width of four jaw chuck
- Carefully use dividers to mark bowl bottom
- Clear away material up to this mark
- Form inward dovetail angle to match jaw angle
- Make flat shoulder area around tenon
- Test fit four-jaw chuck
If that all seems straightforward, great. There are many nuances along the way that are important and need to be understood well to make the perfect tenon.
How the bowl is attached to the lathe will determine if the base of the bowl is exposed or partially blocked by the tailstock.
Faceplate and screw chuck attachments leave the base open and accessible. Spur Chuck attachments restrict access to the base a bit, because the tailstock must be used to hold the bowl blank.
Start Clean and Flat
While shaping the bowl bottom, create a flat area on the tailstock end that is parallel to the headstock, wide enough for the selected four-jaw chuck plus a bit more width for the tenon shoulder underneath. Push cuts are best for making an excellent flat base.
It’s usually a great idea to remove all the bark, because you want a good solid piece of wood to form the tenon. Also, depending upon the species of timber, the sapwood just under the bark might not be too great for a tenon, either. In this case, continue removing material to get to a solid base for the tenon.
Stop the lathe and lay the bowl gouge shaft across the face of the base. If the surface bows in a concave or convex direction, the flat edge of the tool will indicate.
If you are using the tailstock for support, a nub will protrude in the center of the bowl tenon. This can easily be removed later.
Once an area is cleared flat and wide enough for the tenon, it’s time to mark the exact location of the tenon. With the four-jaw chuck off the lathe, open the jaws a bit. The jaws should create a circle with small openings between jaws.
Expand or contract dividers, preferably shape tipped, to line up across the width of the jaw centers.
Not Too Small
While we want the jaws to be closed down mostly, we don’t want them completely closed. Closing down the jaws completely would leave the possibility of the bowl tenon slipping inside the chuck.
Also, if this is green wood we will be turning it a second time. The tenon will change shape and need to be trued during the second turning and that will remove more material. Leaving the bowl tenon slightly larger accommodates for this down the road.
Also, we don’t want the bowl tenon to be too large, because then the curved inner walls of the jaws are only contacting small points and the bowl could work free easier. The goal is for maximum jaw contact and slight additional area available to tighten the jaws if needed.
With the jaws slightly opened, set the dividers on the center of opposite jaws to set the tenon width and lock it in.
With the dividers set, return to the bowl blank on the lathe. Position the tool rest parallel to the bowl bottom and about an inch away from the surface.
Marking the bowl tenon with sharp dividers, for me, was the scariest part of the process. Lol. The dividers can go flying if you don’t pay attention here.
ONLY the left divider point touches wood. The right side is close to the wood surface but NEVER touches the surface. If it does, it’s going to go flying and hopefully nowhere near you.
The right side is only used to gauge the dividers’ proper position. Rest the left side of the dividers on the tool rest with the dividers approximately centered or straddling the bowl tenon center.
Angle the left divider tip downward to make just a scratch, not a catch and lightly make a mark on the wood. Without moving the dividers look over at the right divider tip and see if the newly created mark is under, or lined up with the right tip. If it’s not, move the left divider and make another light mark until the line is under the right tip.
Be careful not to move the right tip in and touch wood accidentally. Once the spacing is correct, make a deeper mark to indicate the tenon location.
With the tenon marked, use a bowl gouge to begin removing material up to the bowl tenon line. The depth of the tenon needs to be less than the depth of the interior of the four jaw chuck.
The tenon should never touch the inside bottom of the jaws. It is the flat top surface of the jaws that will hold the bowl securely and flat in the chuck, not the interior base. The tenon does not need to be very deep at all. Some turners, especially with smaller bowls, create tenons thinner than an eighth of an inch in depth.
The shoulder area under the bowl tenon needs to also be level and flat. The level shoulder area can be eyeballed by comparing it to the top of the bowl tenon, which is already level.
Now that we have the tenon sized and the shoulder formed, it’s time to make the inward angle for the four-jaw chuck. This step will depend on your particular chuck.
If you have grooved gripping edges and not dovetail jaws, it is still essential to shape the bowl tenon. A smooth-walled cylindrical bowl tenon will work free from the chuck and send a bowl flying—not what we’re trying to do here. Whether you are using a dovetail or serrated grooved jaw chuck, an undercut angle on the tenon is essential.
There are a couple ways to create the undercut tenon angle to accommodate the jaw angle. Let me share with you how I create this undercut angle.
Using a dedicate spindle gouge with a long fingernail grind, I start my cuts on the edge of the tenon and push inward. With the tool rest parallel to the base of the bowl, I place the tip of the spindle gouge at a 90-degree angle right on the edge of the tenon cylinder.
If the gouge is not at a 90-degree angle, it will either be pushed away from the tenon, left or skate across the tenon top, right. Gently apply pressure until the gouge makes a small groove, then slowly add pressure until the spindle gouge is cutting forward. Push the gouge along the edge of the tenon inward making an undercut angle until it meets the shoulder. Repeat this cut until the angle matches the chuck jaws.
If you have a serrated grooved jaw chuck, use the same technique to remove material near the base of the tenon to accept the serrated grooves.
With the lathe stopped you can check the angle by attaching the chuck to the bowl base. If the angle is too shallow, remove more material at the base of the bowl tenon. If the angle is too steep, the area at the top of the tenon needs to be trimmed back, and because of that, the tenon width is reduced.
If the bowl tenon becomes too small and the chuck does not grip, just turn away the existing tenon and create a new one. While this reduces the depth of the bowl a bit, it’s a much safer way to proceed rather than work with an inferior bowl tenon.
Custom Bowl Tenon Tool
After doing many bowls, I eyeball the angle with a spindle gouge, and it matches pretty close. It takes a few bowls to perfect, but anyone can do it.
If you prefer more precision compared to a freehand gouge angle, consider making a custom dovetail bowl tenon scraping tool. Converting a dedicated parting tool into a custom dovetail scraping tool is possible.
Using a simple protractor, measure the angle of the chuck jaws. Grind and undercut the cutting edge on the left side of the parting tooltip. This first ground angle will be used to form the flat shoulder side of the cut.
Now carefully mark the jaw angle on the right side of the parting tool. Make an undercut grind to create this angle.
The parting tooltip now is 90 degrees minus the undercut angle of the dovetail jaw. Once the angle is correct, and the two sides are undercut a bit, not flat or 90 degrees, refine the cutting edge with a finer grit wheel or hand hone the edge for a sharp, clean cut.
Using this custom-created tool is straightforward. However, it is important to realize two sides are cutting or scraping at the same time and this can cause a catch. Want to avoid catches, read this.
Work slow and gently introduce the tip into the tenon bottom corner. If the base shoulder is clean and flat, there should be little or no cutting occurring on the left side of the tool. As the tool reaches the corner it will begin undercutting and making a perfectly matched bowl tenon angle for the dovetail jaws.
If you’d rather not make a custom-ground scraping tool, or you don’t have an extra parting tool to defile, there is an additional option. There are a couple of specialized bowl tenon scraping tools which may be purchased as well.
Hurricane makes a Dovetail Tenon Scraper (check Amazon for current price) which is designed to make a push scraping cut at the perfect dovetail angle. Also, Nova has a Dovetail Chisel that also scrapes a perfectly angled dovetail every time.
There’s one last step before taking the bowl off the lathe and turning it over. We need to mark the center of the bowl.
This step has taken me a very long time to get in the habit of remembering. I think it is because I’m so excited to clear the bowl interior, and I just forget.
Later when the bowl is nearing completion, and the tenon is to be removed or further shaped, it makes it so much easier to mark the bottom center of the bowl tenon.
Making The Mark
The tailstock can be pulled up and, with the lathe turning, lightly push the live tailstock center into the bowl tenon, marking the center.
I like to use the same spindle gouge I use to make the bowl tenon dovetail angle to simply make a little, indented tick mark at the center with the lathe turning. Using the spindle gouge saves the trouble of moving the heavy tailstock for a simple center mark.
That little mark we just made is critical for lining up the tailstock and getting the bowl back to its center to remove the tenon.
Custom Jam Chuck
Using a scrap piece of material, and the same tenon-creating techniques described above, we need to make a jam chuck.
A jam chuck is merely a piece of wood that has been turned round and smooth to match the shape of the interior of a bowl closely. Jam chucks can be made in a variety of shapes and sizes and stored for use with particular bowls.
The nearly completed bowl is then positioned over the jam chuck with the tenon side facing out or right. A piece of foam padding is placed between the jam chuck face and the bowl interior to protect the bowl surface.
With the lathe off, position the padding inside the bowl and center the bowl over the jam chuck. Bring the tailstock up and match the tailstock tip to the center mark created earlier. Apply enough pressure from the tailstock to hold the bowl but not excessive pressure.
Start the lathe slow and confirm the bowl is centered. If the bowl wobbles a great deal, stop the lathe, loosen the tailstock and adjust the bowl until it turns truer. Re-tighten the tailstock and bring the toolrest up to the bowl tenon.
Want more details about making your own custom jam chuck? Be sure to read this thorough article about making jam chucks.
Bowl Tenon removal
Using a freshly sharpened small bowl gouge, make light cuts and gently shape or remove the tenon. Once the bowl tenon area is shaped the way you’d like, reduce the nub connecting to tailstock as much as possible.
Do not try to part or remove this nub with the lathe turning. Instead, make it as small as possible and, with the lathe off, chisel off the nub or sand it off. For detailed information about tenon removal, read Wood Bowl Tenon Removal – 3 Easy Ways.
Bowl Tenon and the final bowl base
As I mentioned before, some people like to leave the tenon as is on the base of the bowl. The bowl tenon can also be turned and shaped into a foot, or it can be removed entirely.
In some cases, notably taller or more angled turned pieces, the tenon and shoulder may be later incorporated and used to increase the final base of the bowl.
After making many bowls, the step of creating the bowl tenon may seem routine and rudimentary.
But the importance of having a proper and secure attachment to the lathe while finishing your bowl cannot be stressed enough.
Learning to make a correct and accurate bowl tenon for a wood turned bowl is a significant step along the path of making great bowls.
If you’d like to know what some bad tenons look like, check out this article.
You might want to see these articles next:
• 5 WORST TENON SHAPE WOOD BOWL (FOOT, SPIGOT, ATTACH)
• WOOD BOWL MORTISE OR TENON – WHICH IS BEST?
• WOOD BOWL TENON REMOVAL – 3 EASY WAYS
Thank you and Happy Turning,
Kent, I checked out your Amazon link for the Nova tool and read few reviews. I actually own the tool (or one very similar) but so far have used it only for recessed dovetails for “expansion gripping” using my Nova chuck.
I found one review that said “Maybe I should have read description better. It does id not od. But it does work well for what it does.” I agree that it does a good job of ID, but for the life of me I cannot figure why it wouldn’t work exactly the same for OD when forming a tenon instead of the recess. Its the same angle either way.
When I read the Amazon description for use of the tool, it doesn’t mention this one way or the other. As I have long ago lost any instructions that may have come with the tool, I can’t verify whether reviewer’s comments are accurate or not.
If you have any opinion or information regarding this, please share. I might give it a try for making a tenon, but if the mfr. says it is only for interior dovetail, then they must have a good reason.
Fred in Houston
Thank you for writing and sharing!
I recently heard a description that made sense. Essentially the serrated ribs make contact but can push the wood away instead of sliding along the surface and increasing the contact, or fitting into the dovetail. And it usually happens right when the jaws are tight. Instead of locking down into the dovetail shape, the serrate edges can cause the wood to rise up and not seat flush.
I hope that helps.
All the best to you and Happy Turning!
I love all of your content! I purchased the hurricane tools dovetail scraper for making tenons, and it’s definitely in need of some sharpening, but I can’t find any resources on how to sharpen this particular tool. Do you have any advice or thoughts? Thanks so much!
Thank you for writing and sharing!
We cover all the bowl turning tool shaping and sharpening in my Tool Sharpening Course. Check it out http://www.TurnAWoodBowl.com/sharp
All the best to you and Happy Turning!
have been getting into turning for past couple of years and realize have lots to learn, Have watched lots of your vids. then try to duplicate what you show. originally started with carbide and now trying to use hss and learn to grind, I have lot more control with carbide but see advantages of special grinds on tools, I do prefer tenons over mortis for the clamping effect versa outward force against the grain or segemented joints. Thanks for all your videos and I find them very helpful,
Thank you for writing and sharing!
Remember; persistent, patient practice will yield the bowls you imagine creating! I think you will see some great results if you keep practicing with the bowl gouge.
All the best to you and Happy Turning!
Your Videos and Articles are GREAT. How do you suggest creating a new tenon….if one just happens to break off while turning. I have tried to turn a new one or use a glued waste piece, however the bowl seems to allways be out of round. Thanx
Well Sandy, yes it will be almost impossible to glue on or recreated a new tenon perfectly aligned with the first. Instead, cut a new tenon (or attach a glue block) and then re-turn the exterior until the bowl is true to the new connection. Then continue with the turning. Happy Turning!
i recently purchase a hurricane tenon scraping tool, but discovered that it cut a very nice 90 degree, square tenon. i measured the tool and the tenon side of the scraper is 90 degrees to the flat scraping side. i had expected the tenon side to be at a slight taper. any idea what i am doing wrong? do i need to grind a little off the tenon side so there is a slight taper? thanks, jim
Hm? Is it this one? https://amzn.to/3IqwtJB If so, the two angles should be about 80°. So the left side forms the flat shoulder and the right side scrapes an inward angle at about 10°-11°. If that’s not the case, perhaps it was not shaped properly? Either way, yes, you can simply grind back the right side a bit to get the tenon angle. Actually, it is a good idea to match your dovetail jaws more precisely. All the best to you and Happy Turning!
Okay. Stupid question time. What is the wood attached to on the head stock while you are making the tenon? How do you attach it?
That’s not a stupid question. There are a number of ways to attach the bowl blank. Check out this article. https://turnawoodbowl.com/attach-wood-lathe-3-safe-secure-methods/
It is very obvious that the quality of your videos and supplemental material is only preceded by extensive planning, Having a very expensive disaster in the shop this morning (details are not important suffice to say that Trump paid for it with his incentive check) necessitates the need for an addendum to your basic bowl turning video.
One of the most common bowl turning errors occur when the workpiece flies off the chuck due to an improper cut sized/cut tenon. I have made it a habit of periodically checking the tightness and alignment of the workpiece during the initial shaping and hallowing of the bowl, but as with everything else in life, S#$T happens. What should be addressed is ‘What Happens Next…?”. Basically, what are the recovery options leading to recovery and/or salvage of an expensive piece of wood? Your thoughts and input is appreciated.
You bring up a good point.
However, without the specifics, I can’t begin to solve the problem.
If a tenon is poorly shaped and causes problems, it can be remounted in a jam chuck and turned true again. That’s one possibility.
It is through the challenges and trials that we build our skills and solve problems. It may be a lost turning, but the experience and knowledge gained is priceless.
It is obvious you took a lot of time and effort to put this together, so it seems only fitting I take the time and effort to say THANK YOU !!
I’m trying to read and/or watch everything I can since I’m learning this with no formal instruction. There are dozens, even hundred of instructional sites but none have articulated ANYTHING, much less tenons alone, in such a clear manner. Thank you for the reasoning behind why you “do what you do”. I’ll be reading everything else you have out.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
It’s a thrill to hear you are enjoying the information here.
And yes, it does take large amounts of time to create, and I enjoy all of it!
Especially when I know it’s helping you and so many others.
Thanks again and let me know if you can’t find an answer to any turning questions.
I’ll be glad to try and help.
My God….soooooo long not learning to do something so basic basic.
This should be the first item covered by everyone that teaches wood turning, and I know from experience, it’s not!
Shame on all teachers that bypass this most fundamental aspect of turning a bowl, or anything else, for that matter.
I have been on a hundred, or more sites that teach this or that about turning…not once, till now, have I learned how to prepare a proper tenon…so many months, or years blaming the wood, the lathe, the Chuck, etc.
I also know this….I will hear from many that tell me I haven’t looked…it’s my fault, etc.
Well if you don’t know what to ask, you’ll never realize how ignorant you are.
I worked with higher education for over 35 years, and a statement told me when I first started was this: the first four years in higher education, the student is learning how to learn…that’s pretty much it for most undergrads.
Turning wood for most is, in the beginning, learning how to learn…teachers, Paul attention to the fundamentals!
Wow! You are the reason I work so hard on this site!!!
It is the breakthroughs that make all the difference. It doesn’t matter where you have the breakthrough, it’s just important that you DO!
I’m so thrilled you are so passionate. Thank you!
Well done my fellow sawdust/woodchip maker! I thank you for making me look back to the basics and correct some of my slothful skipping of those small steps that make such a big difference. I produce custom Cremation segmented Urns which all of your artical address; maybe more so. Thanks!
Well played out thanks
Thanks! Let me know how your tenon goes. Send a pic, if you’d like.