In this post, I will share with you exactly how to turn a bowl without a chuck. When you turn a bowl without a chuck, there are many special aspects to consider during the process. I will share, in step-by-step detail, exactly how to turn a bowl without a chuck.
Undoubtedly, a four-jaw chuck is a great tool to quickly mount and unmount a bowl blank and bowl to a wood lathe. However, it is a relatively expensive purchase and not something to rush into without consideration. If you do not have a four-jaw wood chuck, or if you have not decided which four-jaw chuck to purchase, not to worry, there are ways of turning a wood bowl without a chuck. In this article, I will share with you one way to turn a bowl without a chuck.
With this technique, the bowl will be mounted once during the entire bowl turning process. A jam chuck will be used later to turn the base of the bowl off, but mainly the bowl only needs to be mounted to a faceplate for the process of turning the exterior and interior of the bowl.
Bowl Without a Chuck Full-time?
You may be asking, why not turn a bowl without a chuck all the time? Well, there are two downsides of turning a bowl without a chuck. With every good or easy thing, there seems to be a give and take, I guess.
In this case, this process of turning a bowl without a chuck uses a faceplate with wood screws. These screws will be at the base of the blank and need to be avoided while turning. Because of this, that portion of wood will not be incorporated as part of the bowl and wasted.
The other aspect that is a bit of a trade-off while making a bowl without a chuck is your turning position. Because the bowl is not going to be flipped around during the turning process, you will need to do the flipping.
In other words, when making a bowl without a chuck, the exterior of the bowl will be turned from the headstock side, and the interior will be turned from the more traditional turning position at the tailstock side.
Either way, these are minor concessions if you are eager to turn a bowl but don’t have a four-jaw wood chuck.
Here’s what you’ll need to turn a wood bowl without a chuck (Check each item’s Amazon link for current prices);
- wood bowl blank (side grain cut at least 2”-3” thick)
- center finding tool
- wood screws (not drywall screws)
- tape measure
- compass or dividers
- electric driver/drill
- bowl gouge
- bowl calipers (optional)http://amzn.to/2Bj9NM3
- parting tool
- sandpaper (sanding disc pads)
- fine pull saw
- waste wood (thick plywood)
- foam padding/old carpet padding scrap
- tailstock live center
Time to Turn A Bowl Without A Chuck
Because a portion of the bowl blank base will be avoided and not usable due to the faceplate screws, some wood will be wasted. To avoid wasting good turning stock while turning a bowl without a chuck, consider adding a glue block.
A glue block is an extra piece of solid wood added to a bowl blank. In this case, the added material is sacrificial and will be used to attach the faceplate.
If your bowl blank is relatively thick, and you don’t mind wasting a bit of that thickness to the faceplate screws, then this step can be skipped.
In this example, we will assume the bowl blank has two flat sides, making it a short cylinder. First, we need to find the center of the blank. A center finding gauge works great. Check Amazon for the current price on this center finding gauge I use. You may also find the bowl blank center by measuring. Try the following technique.
Using a tape measure, measure across the center of the flat side of the blank, then divide the measurement in half and make a mark. Rotate the blank 90 degrees and measure again, also making a mark halfway. Now rotate the blank 45 degrees and repeat the measuring process. Flip the blank one more time and mark the center. What you’ll most likely have are four lines that have a center point visually in-between. The center mark is what we’ll use to center the faceplate.
Mounting the Faceplate
Before mounting the faceplate, slide a screw through one of the faceplate screw holes and precisely measure how far the screw extends from the bottom of the faceplate. This measurement will be important in determining where the parting cut will be made on the base of the bowl later. Write down the length the screw threads extend from the bottom of the faceplate and keep it handy.
Most faceplates have a clear opening through the center threaded middle area of the faceplate. Set the faceplate down on the blank and visually center the faceplate over the center area of the blank aligning it as close to center as possible.
If the faceplate does not have a clear opening, use your compass to mark the faceplate’s location. Adjust the compass to be slightly larger than the radius of the faceplate. Place the center point of the compass on the visual center of the blank and draw a circle. The faceplate will sit within this circle.
Hold the faceplate in position with one hand to prevent it from moving while mounting it to the wood bowl blank. Using a drill/driver, start one screw into the wood blank, but do not tighten that screw.
With one screw started, go to the opposite side of the faceplate and start the second screw. The second screw can be completely tightened and seated on the faceplate. Put another screw in and tighten, then go to the opposite side and insert another until all the holes on the faceplate have screws securing it to the wood bowl blank.
Be aware, as secure and straightforward as a faceplate can be, there are several things you don’t want to do with a faceplate.
Why The Method
The reason for only starting the first screw is to prevent the faceplate from shifting off center. If the first screw is tightened, it typically tends to rotate and twist the faceplate off center.
The purpose for tightening opposite screws is to make certain the faceplate is seated flat and flush to the surface of the wood bowl blank. If for instance, two screws were tightened together side by side, it’s possible that side of the faceplate could be seated deeper, or embedded into the bowl blank at an angle making the faceplate off balance.
Time To Turn
With the faceplate installed, the blank can now be threaded onto the lathe headstock spindle threads. The first order of business is to true up the blank. The outside edge is a great place to start and will help reduce vibration fastest when it is balanced.
Move the banjo or tool rest support and position the tool rest parallel to the outside edge of the bowl blank (illustration 1). Depending on the size of your bowl gouge, you’ll want to make sure there is a small gap of at least a quarter inch or so between the bowl blank and the tool rest. With the lathe off, rotate the bowl blank by hand and make sure it does not contact the tool rest.
The height of the tool rest needs to be at cutting center. In other words, the cutting edge of the bowl gouge needs to be on center. This means, depending on the size of your bowl gouge, the tool rest will be slightly lower than center because the thickness of the bowl gouge shank will lift the center cutting point of the gouge.
Adjust the tool rest. Set the bowl gouge on the rest and see if the cutting edge of that gouge is at the center point of the bowl blank. When it is centered, lock the tool rest.
Turn the lathe on and increase the speed slowly. If no vibration is apparent, keep the speed at a comfortable level and begin turning.
If vibration becomes noticeable when the lathe speed is increased, reduce the speed a bit until the vibration disappears. Then begin to cut.
Working from left to right with the bowl gouge pointed to the right, make light pushing cuts trimming away the outer surface of the bowl blank. The push cut is one of several bowl gouge techniques used frequently when turning any wood bowl. If the blank you started with is square or is not a clean circle, the first several passes will feel rough or bumpy until the blank is round. If your blank is square or not close to circular and you have a bandsaw, follow the same techniques for making a green wood bowl blank.
Focus your attention on keeping your left guiding hand moving smoothly across the tool rest. Don’t push the tool into the wood because this will only enhance the bumpy sensation. You are essentially shaving down high spots, and if you push the tool inward, it is diving into the low spots then getting smacked by the higher spot when it comes around. Instead, think of this process as shaving off the high places. Each smooth left to right motion is shaving off a bit more of just those top spots.
When the outer edge becomes true, the bumpy sensation will disappear, and you will be making a smooth continuous cut across the outer edge of the blank. At this point, turn the lathe off and check to see if the outer edge of the blank is smooth. If the edge is smooth all the way around, this outer edge is now trued up. If you find a flat spot or rough areas, turn a bit more and recheck.
Now it’s time to true up the face of the bowl blank. Move the banjo and tool rest to the tailstock side of the lathe and make the tool rest flush with the outside of the blank (illustration 2). The flat face will be the opening or top of the bowl.
Again, making left to right pushing cuts, move smoothly along the tool rest shaving high spots off. You may want to increase the speed of the lathe; this will help to make smoother cuts. Keep the lathe speed within a safe operating range, see Best Safety Practices For Turning A Wood Bowl, but in general, the faster the speed, the smoother the cut and less bouncing of the bowl gouge.
Shaping The Bowl
With the bowl edge and face trued up, the blank should be turning quiet and smooth. Now it’s time to start shaping and making design decisions about the bottom of the bowl.
Like almost every bowl I turn, the outside shape is turned first. It is the outside of the bowl that will determine the final appearance and characteristic of the finished bowl. Now is the time when all bowl shape and design decisions are made. As mentioned before, we will be doing this from the headstock side.
With the lathe off, reposition the banjo and tool rest to the left or headstock side of the lathe. The tool rest needs to be at an angle similar to the curve of the bottom of the bowl that is about to be created (illustration 3).
Depending on your lathe, it might take a little finagling to position the banjo and tool rest under and across the bowl blank. If this can not be accomplished from the tailstock side, try removing the bowl blank, leaving it attached to the faceplate and moving the banjo and tool rest under the headstock spindle, then remount the faceplate and bowl blank to the headstock spindle.
Making “supporting cuts,” see Understanding Wood Grain Direction and Bowl Gouge Technique for more info, in this case, from left to right, or from the faceplate towards the outside of the bowl.
Nibble down the bottom corner of the bowl slowly and in doing so the outer shape of the bowl is beginning to appear. (illustration 4) As the cuts progress, stop the lathe and reposition the banjo and tool rest to keep the ideal cutting distance between the gouge and the wood bowl blank.
Once the bottom corner of the bowl has been removed, it is time to acknowledge the screws that are holding the bowl blank in place. We need to mark the screw tip locations because we need to avoid turning into them and causing any unnecessary exciting moments.
With the lathe off, look straight down on the bowl blank and faceplate area. Holding a tape measure steady, measure from the gap where the faceplate meets the bowl blank.
Use the length of the screws, measured earlier, and make a pencil mark at that point on the blank. Resting the pencil on the tool rest, line it up with the mark just made and rotate the bowl blank by hand to draw a line all the way around the base of the bowl blank. The pencil mark indicates the end of the area where the screws are embedded in the blank.
Turn away the wood near the faceplate but not quite up to it. This cut will make a cylinder a bit bigger than the faceplate at the base of the bowl.
As you make these cuts, the pencil line created earlier will most likely be cut away. When you have made a cylinder-like shape, go back and mark the location of the screws once again.
Because we will be parting this area off later, the cylinder needs to be a bit longer than the screws (see illustration 5). Give yourself enough room to be comfortable. An extra half inch, give or take, should do the trick.
With the waste area marked and turned away and the base area of the bowl defined, make the final cuts defining the outside the bowl. If it seems limiting to make a push cut from left to right because the headstock is in the way, try doing a pull cut. A pull cut is still a left to right cut, but instead of pushing the tip forward across the wood surface, a pulling or dragging motion is used.
With a pull cut, the handle leads and the bevel cutting edge follows. A pull cut is much easier to do in situations like this, when the cutting surface area is tucked away like the base of this bowl is at the moment. Again, working from the headstock side is something unique to turning a bowl without a chuck.
When you are satisfied that the base of the bowl has enough room beyond the screw tips and the outside is shaped the way you’d like, it’s now time to sand. Take your time and sand the exterior of the bowl working through the grits to achieve the finish you desire.
Turning the Interior
Even though we are making a bowl without a chuck, the interior turning process is the same as turning a bowl held by a four-jaw chuck.
Move the banjo and the tool rest to the outside right end of the blank. Now it’s time to begin the interior turning process. (See Illustration 6.)
Be sure to adjust the tool rest height to center the cutting edge of your bowl gouge. Starting on the left side, it is time to make cuts that will define the edge or rim of the bowl. I like to make my wood bowl rims tip slightly to the inside of the bowl, but this is a personal preference. Make light, small cuts to achieve a smooth edge.
Once the rim has been cleanly cut, begin making scooping cuts from left to right slowly removing center material to make way for clean wall cuts. When enough material has been removed, turn your bowl gouge, so the bevel edge is parallel with the side wall of the bowl.
At a point slightly thicker than you’d like the final wall thickness, begin making an inward cut along the inside edge of the bowl. Continue making small cuts, stopping the lathe to feel and inspect the wall thickness until it is as thick as you’d prefer.
Remove more center wood material making left to right cuts until the depth is reduced evenly a bit farther. Again, adjust to the side wall position and work away the material to the edge of the inside wall and continue completing the wall thickness from the top down. As you progress, the tool rest will need to be repositioned and angled inside the bowl to allow the bowl gouge excellent support throughout this process. (See Illustration 7) Take your time and the bowl bottom will turn out nice and smooth, here are some additional tips on the bowl bottom.
Rim No Return
Whether making a bowl with or without a chuck, do not return to the top edge of the bowl rim once you’ve progressed farther inside the bowl. The walls of the bowl will not turn true once they are thinner along the rim. Bowl wall vibration is why we finish one section of the wall and move down from there in stages or gradual increments.
When the middle core is removed near the wood bowl wall, that wall loses some stability and will begin to turn like an oval rather than a circle. Because of this distorted shape during turning, there is no way to turn it round, again.
If the bowl gouge is brought back up to the top edge with the center material missing, a scratching knocking sound will come from the attempted cut and tool marks will likely occur. Because of this, it is essential to finish a bit of wall at a time carefully and don’t try to go back and make adjustments.
Take your time while turning the bowl wall. Stop frequently and check the thickness of the wall. Usually, your index finger and thumb are excellent guides in determining the thickness and identifying high or low spots. If you’re not comfortable with measuring the bowl wall thickness by hand, or can’t reach the bottom of the bowl, use a set of calipers (check Amazon for price) to see the wall thickness a bit more accurately.
Take small cuts and work slowly around the bottom inside curve of the bowl, gradually removing material as you proceed. Once the bottom of the bowl is reached, this is a good time to resharpen your bowl gouge.
Make fine finishing cuts across the bowl bottom, moving as smoothly as possible along the tool rest from left to right until the bottom has one continuously smooth, slightly curved bottom surface. Take your time and pay close attention as there are many things that conspire to make a smooth interior bowl bottom.
Remember the center of the bowl travels at the slowest rate of speed, so cuts here will take longer. Go slow and let the sharp edge of the gouge do the cutting. Never push across the center bottom of a wood bowl, because this will usually result in tearing out wood fibers which will leave a nasty divot in the bottom of the bowl.
When you are satisfied with the inside of the bowl, go ahead and sand the bowl smooth to match the outside of the bowl. You may apply an oil finish to the inside and outside if you’d like and let it dry on the lathe. My favorite wood bowl oil finish makes almost any wood look gorgeous.
Parting of the Bowl
This bowl without a chuck is now in the homestretch and ready to be parted off the lathe. Before continuing, for safety’s sake, go ahead and remeasure the screw length in the base/waste area of the bowl and make a line around the wood for a good visual reference. Marking and avoiding faceplate screws is something that is unique to turning a bowl without a chuck.
Visually locate an area away from the screws but not up against the curve of the bowl. You will want to leave some foot cylinder on the bowl that will be turned into the finished foot of the bowl. (See Illustration 8.)
Turn the lathe up to medium speed, not too fast, and use the parting tool begin a cut in the area just described.
Parting Tool Particulars
Before proceeding, I need to mention a bit more about the parting tool. It is essential to raise the tool rest a bit while using the parting tool. The parting tool is in the category of peeling tools and not like the bowl gouge we’ve used up until this point. The easiest way to understand this is to watch how it cuts best.
With the tool rest raised a bit above center, rest the parting tool on the tool rest about halfway down the shaft of the parting tool. The pointed end should be up in the air and away from the turning stock at the moment.
The parting cut needs to be done only on the cylinder portion of the base, not on the curve of the bowl. With the lathe turning slower than normal, slowly lift the handle of the parting tool, making the cutting edge lower along the top edge of the curving cylinder.
The bevel of the parting tool will begin to contact and rub the cylinder without cutting at first. Continue gently lifting the handle. As the flat, sharp edge of the parting tool makes bevel contact with the rotating cylinder a thin peel of wood will begin to come from the cut; this is the peeling cut.
The parting tool, even when down in the wood, needs to be at this angle on the top edge of the wood cylinder which creates the peeling cut. Never jam the parting tool into the side of the wood as this will most likely result in a catch.
Another critical thing to be aware of is the narrow nature of the parting tool. The groove which the parting tool is creating is the same thickness as the tool. Because of this, there is a danger the wood will grab the tool and pull it into the piece.
To prevent this from happening, stop the central cut and periodically make an additional widening cut along the edge of the main cut you are creating. The additional parallel cut widens the overall groove and will prevent the tool from binding up.
Continue the parting cut as far as you are comfortable. I do not recommend parting the bowl off completely on the lathe as there is a risk of sending the bowl across the room and bad things may happen.
Instead, make the parting cut down to about a half inch or so and, with the lathe turned off, cut the remaining connection with a fine-toothed pull saw. I use a nice Japanese pull saw (check Amazon for availability), and it works great for this task.
There it is, a turned bowl without a chuck!
Now to clean up the foot of this wood bowl and it will be 100 percent finished.
Turning the Final Foot with a Jam Chuck
We will need a jam chuck to complete the foot of the bowl. If there is enough material remaining attached to the faceplate and no screws are visible, you may be able to use that wood as the jam chuck. Simply turn the outer edge to round them and smooth the face a bit if needed and you’re set. (See Illustration 9.)
If the remaining material is too small or not secure, find a piece of scrap wood. Remove the faceplate from the lathe and unscrew the remaining waste material. Attach the new scrap wood and take your time turning it into a large solid cylinder. Round off the outer corners so it will seat well on the inside of the bowl. (See Illustration 9.)
Jam Chuck Sandwich
To remove the tenon from the bowl bottom, the tailstock will be needed. Bring it into position near the center of the lathe. Position the banjo and tailstock in the middle, but loose and out of the way for the moment.
Take the foam padding or scrap carpet padding and place a piece large enough to cover the right end of the jam chuck and position the bowl upside down over the padded jam chuck.
Pull the tailstock close, lock the base and adjust the live center to hold the center of the bowl bottom firmly against the jam chuck.
Want more details about making a custom jam chuck? Read this next.
Rotate the bowl by hand to see if it looks centered; adjust accordingly. Turn the lathe on and again confirm it is relatively centered. It’s not a problem if it is a bit off center.
With the lathe off, position the tool rest around to the right side of lathe, up to the live center on the tailstock, but without touching the live center. (See Illustration 10.)
Confirm that the tailstock is locked down to the lathe bed and the live center is snug against the bowl bottom. Make light cuts to remove some of the outside of the foot, making it smaller if you’d like.
Once the foot is the size desired, work on the center inside of the foot. (See Illustration 11.) The primary objective here is to make the foot concave so it will sit flat on the rim of the foot and not wobble.
Nibble the Nub
Make small scooping cuts from left to right to shape the inside of the foot. Once the bowl base is achieved remove as much material up to the area that is being held by the live center as possible.
Go slow making small cuts until only a tiny cone connects the tailstock to the bowl base. Turn the lathe off, loosen the tailstock and remove the bowl from the lathe.
The small nub left where the live center held the bowl can be sanded off. I use an electric drill and, depending on the foot size, a two- or three-inch velcro sanding pad to sand off the nub. Eighty or 120-grit sandpaper usually will do the trick quickly. Finish sanding the bottom, sign and date the bowl and apply any final finish desired.
Congratulations – a bowl without a chuck! You just made a bowl using minimal tools and without the assistance of a four-jaw chuck. Making a bowl without a chuck is an accomplishment! Whether you did this out of necessity or just for the fun of it, this is a great way to turn a chunk of wood into a beautiful bowl without a chuck.
Add these articles to your reading list:
• JAM CHUCK – WOOD LATHE MAGIC TRICK
• FOUR JAW CHUCK – HOW TO USE BOWL CHUCK WOOD LATHE
• 5 WORST TENON SHAPE WOOD BOWL (FOOT, SPIGOT, ATTACH)
Thanks and Happy Turning,
Thanks for all the info. I will be starting my first practice bowl during the Thanksgiving Holidays.
Thank you for writing and you are welcome! I’m glad to help out.
Good luck with your first practice bowl. Be patient and know that after a dozen or so bowls you’ll really start to get the hang of it. Persist and you will be making the bowls you imagine before you know it!
That sounds like a great plan to get away from the family for a bit also. LOL!
Happy Turning and Happy Thanksgiving,
Yes excellent information for ole senior just starting in wood turning in his golden years…
Enjoy turning. It is very addictive! And I have plenty more info to come so check back and please share my site. Thank you!
Great website Kent! This was a well scripted and thorough article and I learned quite a bit. Keep it up!
Thanks Nick! Plenty more to come!
very helpful. I am new to turning and tried to follow all of the advice above, but in turning my first bowl out of western cedar, the end grain part of the side of the bowl broke off when it got to about 1/4 inch thick Did I do something wrong or is it common for wood like this to break? the side wall was pretty weak when I looked at the rest.
Thanks for writing.
Without seeing your piece, I’m not sure, but cedar is notoriously brittle and can crack or shear apart very easily.
Chaulk it up to experience and make another.