A common question for new wood bowl turners is,”What woodturning tools do I need to turn a wood bowl?” While it’s easy to acquire many tools that do different things, there are only a few woodturning tools truly needed to turn a bowl.
If you like buying tools and plan to turn a variety of things, not just wood bowls, then you will need a wider variety of tools. If you have your own woodturning shop, then you probably know exactly what I mean.
If, on the other hand, you’re just getting started, you have a limited budget, or you’re borrowing someone else’s lathe, its best to start simple.
I started with a very select group of bowl turning tools initially. Yes, of course, I have many others now. But the core wood bowl turning tools are still my go-to tools for making all my bowls.
When I first started, I met with a group every week, and I used whatever lathe was available to turn a bowl.
The facility, a well-appointed wood workshop provided by our host, had most of the tools needed to make wooden bowls.
However, the bowl gouges and various tools were always in different states of sharpness and bevel angles each week, due to random users. It is probably because of this randomness that I quickly learned all the bowl gouge basics.
It became clear: I needed to provide my own bowl woodturning tools, if for no other reason than to maintain consistency. So, what tools did I need to get?
My Bowl Gouges
The first, and a very obvious tool to get for turning wood bowls is a bowl gouge. I recommend at least two sizes: a more substantial 3/4” bowl gouge and a 1/2” bowl gouge. Check out My Bowl Gouges on My Recommended Woodturning Tools page.
Why two bowl gouges, you may be asking? Well, the first larger bowl gouge is essential for many tasks, including roughing the outside of a bowl, clearing the center material quickly and efficiently. This heavier tool is stable and steady with almost every cut imaginable.
The smaller bowl gouge can do the same tasks as the broader gouge, but not as quickly and not without wearing down sharpness faster. The smaller bowl gouge is ideal for making smooth, clean finishing cuts.
Think of the two bowl gouges as each having their personalities. The larger gouge is the brute that muscles his way into a room without much regard for anyone’s thoughts. The small bowl gouge is more delicate and refined, like a thoughtful craftsman putting the final touches on an heirloom piece.
The flute of a bowl gouge is much deeper than its sister, spindle gouge. And, by the way, never use a spindle gouge on the mass of a large bowl. The spindle gouge is not designed to handle the torque of a bowl.
And, while I’m mentioning it, NEVER use a spindle roughing gouge on a wood bowl. The spindle roughing gouge is for use only on end-to-end spindle turnings. The spindle roughing gouge will snap off at the thin portion near the handle. You may use a bowl roughing gouge to clear the mass of bowl material, but I find my larger bowl gouge does the job just fine.
So, back to the flute of the bowl gouge. The flute of a bowl gouge is either round or parabolic. Most bowl gouges are parabolic, and I’d recommend using them over the round version.
A bowl gouge is a bowl gouge… right? Not exactly. While you can purchase a bowl gouge and it will arrive with or without a specific grind, no two gouges are the same.
Many bowl gouges come unsharpened, and it is up to you to determine the particular grind to apply to the bowl gouge. The same initially purchased bowl gouges can be ground to different profiles to fill various needs while turning.
Grind types include fingernail grind, Irish grind, sweptback grind, micro-bevel grind, and everything in between. Each grind angle has advantages and disadvantages. And it seems every turner has their specific angle for each gouge. It is a good idea to have multiple bowl gouges with different grinds.
I use the sweptback grind the most because it gives me many options. Push and pull cuts are the most frequent cuts I make. I can also turn the sweptback bowl gouge over and make scraping and shear cuts for subtle refinements.
I know, I hear your question already: Didn’t you just say never use a spindle gouge on a bowl? Yes, not on the outer portions, or walls of the bowl. I have a specific task for the spindle gouge, and it does it well.
When forming a tenon or foot on the base of a bowl, that will later be held by a four-jaw chuck, I need an accurate, clean, crisp inward angle to match the chuck’s dovetail jaws.
Making a simple inward push cut with the spindle gouge accomplishes this task quickly and efficiently. I also use the spindle gouge to make a small indented tick mark on the very center of the tenon. This tick mark helps me align the tailstock live center later when I need to remove the tenon.
And just like the bowl gouge, the spindle gouge can have a number of different grind angles applied to it. For the task I need, I have an exaggerated long grind on my spindle gouge.
Spindle gouges may also be used on bowls to add details, like simple stripes or coves around the rim. Just don’t use the spindle gouge to remove large amounts of material or make shaping cuts on a bowl. That is when troubles arise.
If you’d like to learn more about the detailed differences between bowl gouges vs. spindle gouges, see this article.
If making a tenon by eye is not easy to do with a spindle gouge, there is another option. A parting tool can be reground and repurposed as a dedicated dovetail angle scraper. A custom ground parting/tenon tool allows quick, easy and consistent tenon cuts each time.
You can make a custom tenon tool or purchase one direct now. There are specific scrapers designed just for making dovetail tenon and mortise angles. The tenon scraper can be used instead of attempting to cut the dovetail angle by eye with a spindle gouge.
A round nose scraper is a great tool to add to a basic wood bowl toolset. The naturally curved edge can be useful when dealing with tight inside bowl corners.
Also, a flat straight scraper is helpful for refining the outside of bowls. If you’re only going with one scraper, I use and recommend a more substantial round nose scraper because it gives more control and does not vibrate as much as a smaller version does.
With a little knowledge and practice, a round nose scraper can be an incredibly useful tool for bowl making. Read this article all about the round nose scraper and make sure you’re getting the most out of yours.
To sum up, if you only need tools to turn a wood bowl and have access to all the other necessary equipment, there are only a few wood bowl turning tools required.
The Minimalist Wood Bowl Turning Tools List (Check prices. Amazon links provided)
- Roughing Bowl Gouge (roughing)
- Finishing Bowl Gouge (finishing)
- Spindle Detail Gouge (tenon and detail)
- Round Nose Scraper (inside curve detail)
Well Equipped Woodturning Workshop
The 80/20 rule applies to wood bowl turning for sure. Twenty percent of the wood bowl turning tools needed to make a wood bowl are active 80 percent of the time. That would be the concise list mentioned above.
If you don’t have the luxury of turning at someone else’s shop and borrowing the majority of the necessary tools and equipment, additional woodturning tools and gear will be needed.
Tools and equipment for turning wood bowls fit in four subgroups;
- Lathe Attachment Equipment
- Wood Bowl Turning Tools
- Equipment to Sharpen Bowl Turning Tools
- Wood Bowl Finishing Equipment
1. Lathe Wood Bowl Blank Attachment Equipment
Naturally, a wood bowl blank must be attached to the lathe to turn. There are several ways to accomplish this task.
A wood bowl blank can be attached initially end to end with a live center and a tenon formed on one end. Then the piece can be turned over and connected to a four jaw chuck.
An entire bowl can be made with just a faceplate if a four jaw chuck isn’t currently available. While it takes a different set of steps, the resulting bowl is the same either way.
I typically produce larger bowls by attaching them to a faceplate first. After forming a tenon and shaping the outside of the bowl, I connect the bowl base with a four-jaw chuck.
Here is a list of equipment used in the process of attaching a wood bowl to a lathe.(Check prices. Amazon links provided)
- Drive (Dead) Center (headstock side)
- Live Center (tailstock side)
- Four Jaw Chuck
- Dividers (mark tenon)
- Spindle Gouge (form tenon)
- Calipers (size tenon and bowl)
- Good Quality Wood Screws (mounting faceplate)
2. Wood Bowl Turning Tools
Wood bowl turning tools for shaping the bowl blank and forming the final bowl is essential to making wood bowls. As mentioned above, the bowl gouges and spindle gouge are workhorses in my workflow.
Some additional wood bowl turning tools I use to make bowls include: round nose scrapers, flat nose scrapers, and parting tools.
All the wood bowl turning tools are all made from either High-Speed Steel (HSS) or Cryo Steel. High-speed steel and Cryo steel are essential and necessary to keep and maintain a sharp cutting edge.
This complete list of wood bowl turning tools includes the following (Check prices. Amazon links provided):
- 3/4” bowl gouge (swept back grind)
- 5/8” bowl gouge (standard grind)
- 5/8” bowl gouge (micro bevel grind)
- 1/2” bowl gouge (swept back grind)
- 1/2” bowl gouge (standard grind)
- Spindle gouge (for tenon and details)
- Tenon scraper (specifically for tenon shaping)
- Flat nose scraper
- 1 1/2” round nose scraper
- 3/4” round nose scraper
- 1/2” round nose scraper
- Thin Parting tool
- Standard Parting tool
3. Equipment to Sharpen Bowl Turning Tools
Once all the wood bowl turning tools are in hand, they need to be sharp. Consistent sharpening requires a good sharpening station. The station doesn’t need to be complicated, but it does need to be accurate.
A slow speed grinder is the hub of my sharpening station. Two CBN sharpening wheels are attached to the grinder. One wheel is a 180 grit CBN sharpening wheel, and the other is an 80 grit CBN for shaping wheel.
I use the CBN wheels rather than the white aluminum oxide, because they are more precise and require no maintenance. If you decide to use the aluminum oxide wheels, they will need to be leveled with a dressing stick periodically.
I use the Oneway sharpening system, which consists of rails and guides that attach to the grinder to maintain consistent experiences each time to sharpen wood bowl turning tools.
Along with the Oneway System, I use the Oneway Wolverine jigs to get the perfect sharpening angle each time I come to the grinder.
In addition to the sharpening station, handheld sharpening hones are essential to return a shape edge to a given tool easily. Sharpening hones are a great alternative rather than returning to the grinder each time, which removes more steel from the tool.
Sharpening tools and equipment essential for turning wooden bowls include (Check prices. Amazon links provided):
- Slow Speed Grinder
- CBN Shaping Wheel 80 grit
- CBN Sharpening Wheel 180 grit
- White Aluminum Oxide Shaping Wheel 60 grit (optional)
- White Aluminum Oxide Sharpening Wheel 120 grit (optional)
- Grinding Wheel Dressing Stick (optional)
- Oneway Wolverine Grinding Jig
- Wolverine Vari-Grind Attachment
- Sharpening Stone Hone
4. Wood Bowl Finishing Equipment
And last but not least, we need to address the tools and equipment necessary to finish a wood bowl. Once the bowl blank has been turned, shaped, and completed, the finishing process is all that remains.
Typically, sanding takes place once the bowl has is turned. I use an angled electric drill with a 3” velcro sanding pad to sand my bowls. If the piece uses green wood, I have the best success with higher quality mesh sanding disks, which do not clog easily from the wet material. If I’m sanding a dry bowl or one with natural edges, I use a standard sanding disk.
The sanding process requires progressing through the various grits resulting in a smooth final surface. I use the 50 percent rule, which means I use grits that are 50 percent larger than the previous. So, I start with 120 grit, then proceed to 180, 240 and 320.
A simple, high-quality Danish oil can be applied. The results of seeing oil applied to the newly sanded bowl are usually stunning. Several coats of Danish oil and drying periods are recommended and will provide a good finish.
However, I prefer a special finish that works great for any bowl and is food-safe and durable. The finish I use most is a combination of beeswax and linseed oil. It leaves a subtle luster finish that soaks into the wood well and creates a beautiful long-lasting, food-safe finish. Follow the simple directions, and one coat creates a fantastic finish. Read my article about My Favorite Food Safe Wood Bowl Finish.
- Angled Electric Drill
- Three Inch Sanding Pad Attachment
- Mesh Sanding Disk 3” 120 grit
- Mesh Sanding Disk 3” 180 grit
- Mesh Sanding Disk 3” 220 grit
- Mesh Sanding Disk 3” 320 grit
- Standard Sanding Disk 3” 120 grit
- Standard Sanding Disk 3” 180 grit
- Standard Sanding Disk 3” 220 grit
- Standard Sanding Disk 3” 320 grit
- Danish Oil
- Tried and True Finishing (Quart) (Gallon)
There you have it, whether you’re trying to determine the minimal wood bowl turning tools needed to turn a bowl, or equipping a full bowl woodturning workshop, the tools listed here are critical components for bowl turning production.
Of course, this is a minimal listing, and there are numerous other options and additional wood bowl turning tools that can be incorporated into the wood bowl making process. But for the most part, the items discussed in this post will provide a solid foundation for any wood bowl turner.
Let me know what wood bowl turning tools you’d add to the list as your essential wood bowl turning tools or gear in the comments below.
For details of the equipment mentioned in this article see my Recommended Equipment Guide.
Check out these other wood bowl turning tool articles:
• BOWL GOUGE BASICS – BEGINNER GUIDE (PARTS, USE, SIZES, GRINDS)
• BOWL GOUGE VS SPINDLE GOUGE DIFFERENCE EXPLAINED
• BOWL GOUGE SHARPENING ANGLES – SURPRISE ANSWER
• 3 SURPRISING ROUND NOSE SCRAPER HACKS – FIX INSIDE CURVES
And as always, Happy Turning!
I am part of the shed association in aldridge near Birmingham England we have started to turn bowls & pens as a group who have various disabilities & some of the members are unable to grip some of the turning tools particularly bowl turning are there any mechanical attachment that could assist our members particularly roughing out the inside of bowls.
Any information & were they can be obtained from would be most appreciated.
Vice Chair Aldridge Shed
Thanks for writing. I’m thrilled to hear you are making woodturning available to those who are more physically challenged.
Your situation is very unique. While I have not personally seen tools specialized for this situation, some ideas do come to mind. Trent Bosch makes a stabilizing arm designed for creating hollow forms. This articulating arm has fluid motion and maintains the cutting tool at the center line of the turning object. Here is a link to Trent’s site.
There are similar products available elsewhere but I have experience with this one and believe it might work for your needs. The only downside is it might be tricky to position the bowl gouge bevel along the cut. It is really designed for scraping. Scraping the bowl interior might be the best option in your case. The more I think about it, a “captured” traditional bowl gouge could catch and bind up the stabilizer.
Hm? Perhaps other readers have an idea what might work. If you do, please chime in.