Glenn Lucas is a genuine wood bowl turning professional. And it seems when he isn’t turning bowls, he’s teaching people the skills needed to perfect the craft.
From his home in Ireland, Glenn conducts woodturning workshops. And between turning and teaching, he travels the world sharing his skills everywhere he goes, with his camera in tow to record the adventures.
If you’ve had the chance to see Glenn Lucas in person, you know how much he loves to shares his quick wit and Irish humor as well as his impeccable bowl turning knowledge.
There is a lot that can be learned from a person who has dedicated himself so thoroughly to the art of wood bowl creation.
Combining the need to create top-notch finished pieces and make a living, Glenn has developed, from necessity, many unique turning techniques, and habits.
I’ve had the good fortune to see Glenn Lucas twice in person at two different woodturning symposiums. He is always entertaining to watch, and he usually commands a large audience.
Wood Bowl Professional
When you see him, there are two things you learn pretty fast about Glenn Lucas. He has honed his wood bowl turning skills to that of a top-level master, and he is very efficient and aware of both the value of time and materials.
Making a living selling bowls can be very challenging. There is always a struggling balance between those three devilish characters: time, quality, and price.
In most places, customers will only pay so much for a beautiful bowl, even a Glenn Lucas bowl. Which means you have to figure out how you can make the best bowl, for the most reasonable price, in the quickest amount of time.
Unfortunately, most people see bowls as utilitarian items first and overlook their actual artistic values (of course, we know better). So, from a business standpoint, we can’t expect to spend an excessive amount of time turning a few fancy bowls and sell them each for thousands of dollars.
Instead, the opposite is true. To make a living selling wood bowls, you need to be able to make hundreds or thousands of bowls at a reasonable price, and perhaps do a little teaching on the side too. 😉
It’s inspirational knowing Glenn has carved out a life making wood bowls and doing what he loves.
The fact that he is so gracious and sharing of his time and knowledge makes him a real gem in the woodturning world.
OK, enough with the platitudes here are seven wood bowl turning insights I learned from Glenn Lucas, that I’d like to share with you.
1) Swirly Pinwheels
If you’ve turned a bowl, you’ve probably made a swirly pinwheel or maybe countless in the bottom of your bowls.
During a demonstration of his Viking bowl, Glenn pointed out the same forces that want to push the bowl gouge out to the left of a bowl rim cut are at play in the bottom of the bowl as well.
Essentially, when the bowl gouge tip is introduced to the wood first instead of the bevel first, the end grain will sweep or push the gouge back or out to the left.
Recall the orientation of the wood grain fibers in a traditional side-grain bowl blank? Those fibers are at play on the rim and also on the inside bottom of the bowl. Check out this article about Supported Cuts to dive more in-depth on this topic.
Because the rim and bowl bottom is nearly flat or horizontal, we are contending with straight wood fibers that alternate between side and end grain, like a neat bed of sticks all laid out side by side.
The bowl gouge easily cuts the side grain fibers, but as the bowl gouge tip transitions from side to end grain, the fibers sweep the tip away.
Glenn Lucas Solution
To overcome this issue, we need to be sure the bowl gouge is on bevel at all times. If you are getting a rim kickback or swirly marking in the bottom of the bowl, the gouge is off bevel and riding the tip instead.
At the rim, start a tiny cut and wait for an entry point, or little ledge to become well-formed before proceeding forward with your bevel supported cut.
Also, a little extra downforce on the bowl gouge with your left hand, against the tool rest will be beneficial.
If you recognize the gouge is chattering or vibrating in the bowl bottom, stop and readjust, so the tool is on bevel.
Sometimes, depending on the size and shape of the bowl, your gouge can’t ride the bevel at the bottom of the bowl. If that is the case, it’s time to break out the Micro Bevel Secret Weapon (worth reading) and make those bowl bottom cuts with smooth bevel support.
2) Maximize Material
I mentioned that Glenn Lucas has developed efficiencies, well, maximizing material is an area where efficiency is critical in bowl production.
To make this next idea clear, we need to recall how roughed out bowl blanks dry.
When we turn a roughed bowl blank, we make the wall thickness approximately ten percent of the total bowl diameter. So a 10” bowl will have roughed walls about an inch wide.
Most green or wet wood will distort during the drying process. Usually, the end grain ends will push out, and the side grain walls will pull inward, making an oval shape.
Because we make the wall so thick, later after turning away the dry and now distorted outside and inside, we still have enough material remaining to form and shape a true circular bowl shape.
So we know the end grain will push out and the sides pull in forming an oval shape. We also know that to return that oval to a circle shape we will turn away those protruding end grain sections, right?
The end grain is the beauty of this tip.
Are you seeing it yet? OK, probably not. Keep reading
End Grain Bonus
Because we know the end grain will push outward, we can save that material and not make the first roughed bowl blank as wide at the end grain point.
Furthermore, because we are cutting the ends of the roughed bowl blanks short, we can get more bowl blanks from a particular piece of timber.
Glenn uses luxurious slabs of beech timber, and he draws out circles for bowl blanks allowing the circles to overlap a bit along the end grain.
I know, I know, I hear you. Yes, you don’t use huge slabs from milled trees to make your bowls. That’s OK, neither do I.
We can still benefit from this technique.
If you currently cut logs longer than needed so you can trim off any cracks or checks on the ends, you can potentially get two bowl blanks out of a log you previously thought was only suitable for one bowl blank.
Give this concept some thought when you’re making blanks next and realize the amount of material that can be saved just by pulling two circles together.
And, as always, how much the bowl shape moves will depend on the tree species, moisture content, how long ago it was felled, climate, etc. So, experiment and see if you can utilize this material saving trick.
3) Clean Cores
Here’s a simple, practical tip to prevent possible moisture or drying problems with roughed bowls that have been cored from a larger blank.
Coring is a fantastic way to maximize material, minimize waste, and produce more in a shorter period.
When you use a coring system, like the Oneway Coring System, the final end of the coring cut usually ends up as a tear-out when the smaller bowl breaks away from, the larger shell. This is normal and really not easy to avoid.
The real problem is if we leave the little torn off numb in the bottom of the rough bowl. Because that nub is torn, wood fibers are raw, open, and ready to absorb or expel moisture faster than the rest of the roughed bowl.
So, to prevent that torn off coring nub from being an issue, take a moment after the cored bowl is removed to turn the nub away with a bowl gouge and leave a smooth surface.
Are you interested in coring out bowl blanks and maximizing your material? I have an article about using the Oneway Coring System, and another article all about setting up The Oneway Coring System Guide.
Coring bowls is not that hard, and once you’ve cored one bowl, you have the skills to do a thousand, if you want.
4) Coring Knife Sharpening Trick
So this is the tip that made me laugh. I had to laugh because it is so simple, super appropriate, and blatantly obvious, once you think about it.
This was indeed one of those smack yourself on the forehead and say out loud moments, “why didn’t I think of that?” 😉
The coring knife blade used with the Oneway Coring System is a small delicate instrument.
Two bevel surfaces need to be honed flat for the cutting tip to make it cut properly. Also, the Oneway Coring Cutter needs to be removed from the coring arm and sharpened relatively often.
For some time, I hand-honed the two cutting surfaces of the cutter with a diamond honing card.
Unfortunately, the human body, with all its joints and possible movements, does not make perfectly flat motion very efficiently. So after awhile the surfaces were more rounded than flat.
The best way to sharpen the cutting tip is to use the Oneway Cutter Tip Sharpening Jig to hold and position the cutter on the sharpening wheel.
Included with the jig, is an angle gauge for the grinder platform. It is really very easy to sharpen with the jig as a holder and an angle guide.
There is only one problem.
If you take more than a second or two to press the cutting tip up to the spinning wheel even gently, it won’t be long until the tip disappears into nothing more than metal dust.
So the obvious, smack yourself in the forehead tip Glenn offered was to use the jig and the grinding wheel setup but don’t turn the grinder on.
Simply rotate the sharpening wheel by hand slowly, and the tip will be sharp without removing and wasting more of the cutting surface than necessary.
“Duh!” Seems pretty obvious now doesn’t it?
5) Special Twice Jam Chuck
When roughed bowls blanks are dry and ready to be final turned they are distorted and irregular shaped.
As we discussed above, the end grain area usually pushes outward, and it also pushes upward too.
So if you lay that dry roughed bowl upside down on its rim, it will rock side to side. This is a problem is we mount it to the lathe against a flat-surfaced jam chuck.
Instead of using a flat jam chuck surface, Glenn uses a custom jam chuck designed with two side sections, like rails and a recessed center area.
The indented center area receives the protruding end grain sections and the padded side rails firmly secure the side-grain sides of the roughed bowl.
Not only does this modified jam chuck plate make the twice turning process safer, but it also helps to align and center the bowl at the same time.
6) Design Details
Even bowl wall thickness can be a struggle at first for new turners, but over time, eventually, even wall thickness becomes routine.
I think it’s common for beginners to make bowls with evenly thick walls, and then slowly those walls become thinner. But usually, the walls are about the same thickness from top to bottom.
Glenn Lucas uses a variation of thick and thin walls to create a sense of mass and make his larger salad bowls look substantial but also not too heavy.
Blending a more full rim with a thinner remaining sidewall, the bowl appears significant but feels graceful and relatively light.
Functionally, this thicker rim technique makes the bowl more durable. The rim of a bowl probably takes the most abuse of any area and can easily break if dropped or worse. Adding more mass to the rim reinforces the bowl structure.
Try this simple design approach of leaving a bit more material at the top of the bowl in the rim and making the remainder of the bowl about half as thick and see what you think.
7) Bowl Gouge Rotation
When you watch Glenn Lucas turn a bowl, you’ll realize he uses several different bowl gouges for particular reasons.
Why different bowl gouges?
Yes, it is possible to turn an entire bowl with one gouge, but if you have multiple gouges sharpened with different bevel angles, you will have a more versatile array of tools at the ready.
If you are asking yourself, “what is the right (or correct) bowl gouge bevel angle” go immediately to this article, Bowl Gouge Bevel Angle and read the whole thing. It’s that important to understand.
Glenn uses a swept-back winged gouge with a bevel around 55° to rough and shape the majority of the bowl. When he gets to the finishing cuts, he switches to a smaller bowl gouge with an approximate 45° bevel angle.
He explains the smaller gouges make cleaner smoother finishing cuts. So step down a full size, perhaps from a 1/2” main gouge to a 3/8” finishing gouge.
Also, Glenn points out the benefit of that short, worn down bowl gouge you might have tucked away collecting dust. Because who can you really throw away a gouge, even if it’s just a stub? Am I right? Ha!
The shorter the bowl gouge is, the less it will potentially vibrate. So, instead of looking at that old short bowl gouge as a thing of the past, repurpose it as your new finishing gouge and just use it for those last cuts.
Glenn Lucas Wrap Up
Glenn Lucas is a master wood bowl turner. Spend some time with him, and you will quickly see your skills improve, perhaps just by osmosis.
Seriously, Glenn is very inspirational with both his skill level but also in his controlled efficiencies as a turner.
If you get an opportunity to see him demonstrate in person, don’t pass it up. And if you’re up for an adventure, visit him in person at his home where he gives workshops regularly.
As a matter of fact, Glenn is currently offering “bonds” to help fund the expansion of his new workshop and learning center in Ireland.
In exchange for purchasing a bond, you will receive a platter turned by Glenn and credit to attend a future workshop in the new facility.
Bonds? What a clever concept. More evidence that woodturners are the best problem solvers.
Check out Glenn Lucas’ website and have a look for yourself. I’m giving the bond idea some serious consideration myself. Sounds like a great opportunity and a visit to Ireland as a bonus too.
As Always, Happy Turning,