Turning Wood Bowls is one of the most enjoyable creative processes I know. However, to get started we need to know the procedures and techniques to make a wood bowl.
Yes, there are plenty of videos and websites about turning wood bowls, but when I was learning there didn’t seem to be one place with all the info I needed. Instead, I had to piece-meal techniques and concepts together from various sources. And many times different sources had conflicting ideas.
If you’re just getting started you may have some basic wood bowl turning questions, see this link. You may also want to begin to understand many of the details involved in making a wood bowl. When you finish reading this article be sure to check out this page as well.
Many videos that are fun to watch gloss over steps that are important and treat them like everyone knows various techniques already. Those videos are entertaining, yes, but don’t help much if you’re unsure how to do something in particular.
I found that it was great seeing a fantastically finished bowl at the end of a video, but if I was still wondering how the base of that bowl attached to the lathe, I was confused.
In this Turning Wood Bowls – Beginners Step by Step Guide, I’m going to show you and explain every step necessary to make a wood bowl. I will also let you know when there are optional ways of doing a particular procedure.
And to be very clear, we will be making a traditional round rim bowl with a mortise chuck connection on the bottom. As you may know, there are many ways to make a wood bowl and whatever way works for you later is fine. But for now, we are keeping this bowl simple.
You may have seen other techniques used elsewhere for turning wood bowls. Perhaps you may have even started turning wood bowls and been taught processes that differ from what I’m about to share with you. This is perfectly fine. There are infinite ways to get to a final wood turned bowl. No one way is “right” or “wrong.”
For the sake of this step-by-step beginner guide, we will all be turning the same type of bowl with the same gouge techniques, etc. Later when you make a wood bowl, feel free to explore my other articles and learn additional techniques to expand your knowledge and turning skills.
Throughout this guide, I will have links taking you to other articles I’ve written with additional detailed information about specific topics. I want you to have as much usable knowledge possible to get you started turning wood bowls.
My ultimate goal is for you to share my love and joy for turning wood bowls. There is nothing more satisfying than making a beautiful bowl from a discarded chunk of timber and sharing it with others. This joy of creating something from nothing is only part of why I love turning wood bowls.
Gear To Make A Wood Bowl
Before we get started, there are a few items we will need to begin. If you are borrowing someone’s shop to try your hand at turning wood bowls, that’s fine. Check with them and see what tools they have available on hand.
The checklist below is the essential minimum tools and equipment needed to get started. If you only want to sample turning and make a wood bowl first, before making a full commitment, you don’t need anything more than this checklist.
If, on the other hand, you know you want to start your path to make a wood bowl and start equipping your shop accordingly, see my Equipment Resource Guide for a full list of gear and supplies for turning wood bowls.
Easy Wood Tools or Traditional Bowl Gouge
Easy Wood Tools and traditional woodturning gouges are a topic some people debate frequently. If you use Easy Wood Tools, that’s fine. You may follow these same steps and discard particular information about bowl gouge techniques. Or perhaps, let the bowl gouge info here inspire you to try your hand with a bowl gouge while turning wood bowls.
Take a moment and read this article that thoroughly covers the details of the bowl gouge.
Lathe For Turning Wood Bowls
The checklist below does not include a lathe. I’m assuming you own a lathe or have access to a lathe for this project. Check your local AAW woodturning chapter and see if a member will be so kind as to introduce you to turning wood bowls and perhaps let you borrow their equipment.
There are important characteristics of each lathe that you will need to know. If you are not familiar with all the lathe jargon, check out this article about Identifying the Lathe Parts for more in-depth details.
The two most significant factors you will need to know about the lathe you will be using is the swing height and the headstock spindle size.
The swing height is the distance between the headstock spindle center and the lathe bed rails. And the headstock spindle size is measured in diameter and thread count. For example, a 1” x 8 TPI (Thread Per Inch) headstock spindle is very common. The four jaw wood chuck and faceplate will need to match the lathe’s headstock spindle dimension.
Gear Checklist to Make a Wood Bowl
Full Face Shield
Spindle Gouge (optional)
Skew Chisel (optional)
Sharpening Station (optional)
Easy Wood Turning Tools (alternative turning tool option)
Wood Bowl Blank
Pull Saw (if no bandsaw)
Faceplate (usually comes with the lathe)
Impact Driver with Screw Driver Bit
Four-Jaw Wood Chuck (with approx. 2.5” jaws)
Angled Drill Sander (optional)
Power Sanding Pad (optional)
Sanding Disks (optional)
Sandpaper (if not using above items)
0000 Steel Wool (optional)
Protecting Your Face and Eyes
Safety always comes first. You’ve heard it a thousand times at least, but that’s the case here, too. We need to protect ourselves while we make a wood bowl.
The safety glasses and full face shield might seem redundant. Let me assure you they are not redundant. I know first hand that the face shield will absorb the bulk of a direct impact, but your eyes still need additional protection.
I’ve taken a full-sized bowl directly to the center of my face and can tell you it’s an eye-opening experience. I can say with certainty that my upper lip and probably teeth would have had some major work done if I hadn’t been wearing my full face shield.
The purpose for sharing this story is not to frighten, but make you aware of the possibilities. I have turned hundreds of bowls with only that one incident. However, I have had other debris, such as bark, bounce off my face shield, too. Just wear it, please!
If you are like me and require additional up close magnification to see clearly, there are safety glasses with built-in readers. See the link above. It is nice to be protected and still see what you’re doing. Go figure. Ha!
For more details about safety while turning wood bowls, see this article wood bowl turning safety.
There are some habits you will want to establish when turning wood bowls at the lathe. These routines will become ingrained overtime, and that is a good thing. Always follow the instructions and safety recommendations for your particular lathe.
The first best practice, and this may seem obvious, is to always stop the lathe before making any adjustments to the tool rest, banjo, or tailstock.
Secondly, when beginning to turn, always place your bowl gouge on the tool rest first. Do not allow the bowl gouge to touch the spinning bowl blank before being properly seated. This will almost always result in a catch.
Whenever possible bring the tailstock live center up to the bowl blank and use it to support and balance the rotating piece. Locking the tailstock and using it to hold the bowl exterior makes for more stable bowl turning.
There are several other best practices to employ while you make a wood bowl. Read this article for additional best wood bowl turning safety practices.
Step By Step Wood Bowl Turning Guide
With the gear list checked off and safety covered, it’s time to turn a bowl! Each step below is listed in chronological order from bowl blank and progressing to a final bowl. Follow each step, and you are on your way to making a beautiful wood bowl… perhaps your first!
I’ve created a linked table of contents to help you quickly access each step in this guide. Click to jump to a particular step.
Table of Contents
Step 1 – Centering the Bowl Blank
Step 2 – Preparing Bowl Blank
Step 3 – Faceplate to Bowl Blank
Step 4 – Mounting Bowl Blank
Step 5 – Truing Bowl Blank
Step 6 – Understanding Push Cuts
Step 7 – Square the Bowl Bottom
Step 8 – Measuring for Mortise
Step 9 – Cutting the Mortise
Step 10 – Mortise Dovetail
Step 11 – Turning The Bowl Exterior
Step 12 – Reversing the Bowl Blank
Step 13 – Truing the Bowl Face
Step 14 – Shape the Rim
Step 15 – Clear the Bowl Interior
Step 16 – Sanding the Bowl
Step 17 – Apply Wood Finish to Your Bowl
Step 18 – Finish the Bowl Bottom
We need to find the center of the bowl blank to get started. If you have a square bowl blank from the list above, use a straight edge and draw two pencil lines each from opposite corners of the blank.
The x in the middle of the bowl should be very close, if not the exact center of the bowl. Use the compass to find out. Place the pointed leg of the compass on the center point and expand the compass to reach one of the short sides of the blank. Now draw a circle all the way around the bowl blank.
If the circle stays in and on the blank and comes right up to each short edge, this task is complete. If the circle extends over the edge of one or more of the edges, contract the compass to the shortest side and redraw a new circle.
Also, if the bowl blank is larger than the swing (distance from the headstock to the bed rails) of your lathe, you will need to draw a smaller circle and make the blank fit your particular lathe.
We want to attach the bowl blank to the lathe needing as little rough turning as possible. The best way to reduce this rough turning time is to remove the excess corners from our bowl blank.
If you have a bandsaw, follow all the appropriate safety procedures and use the compass circle as your guide to turn away the excess material, then proceed to step three. Here is a guide to Bandsaw Basics
If you don’t have a bandsaw, not to worry, you can trim away a majority of the excess material with a hand pull saw. Instead of trying to follow the curve, which a pull saw is not capable of doing, we will lop off the large corners. This will leave an octagonally shaped bowl blank.
For the sake of this step by step guide about turning wood bowls, I will use the handsaw option.
There are a number of ways to mount a bowl blank to the lathe. Check out this article about three ways to attach a bowl blank to the lathe, if you’re interested. For our project, we will use a faceplate.
The faceplate is probably the most secure way I know to mount bowl blanks. I have never… I’m not going to complete that sentence. I don’t want to jinx myself. Let me just say faceplates do a great job holding the bowl blank, but there are some things you never want to do with a faceplate.
Most lathes come with a faceplate. Make sure the flat surface of the faceplate is smooth and free from any blemishes. Also, make sure the area around the marked center of the bowl blank is smooth and free of debris.
Using appropriate faceplate screws is critical. Never use drywall screws as they are not designed to handle the torque of a lathe. Use only high-quality wood or sheet metal screws.
The diameter of the screws should fit snug without much play in the faceplate holes. The length of the screws should allow between five to seven threads remaining under the faceplate and attaching into the blank.
Center the faceplate over the center mark of the bowl blank. This doesn’t need to be super precise, just eyeballing the center over the x-mark made earlier will work fine.
Using the drill equipped with a driver head to match the screws you are using, start one screw, but don’t fully tighten the screw. Go to the opposite side of the faceplate and insert and tighten the second screw. Work your way around the faceplate moving back and forth on opposite sides to assure a relatively level connection. Finally tighten the first screw completely.
With the faceplate firmly attached to the bowl blank, we can now move to the lathe.
The following step is done with the lathe off. Loosen and slide the tool rest, banjo, and tailstock out of the way, if necessary.
Hold the bowl blank in your right hand and, with your left hand, turn the headstock hand wheel. Thread the faceplate onto the headstock spindle until it seats firmly and securely to the base of the headstock spindle post.
Still, with the lathe off, move the banjo and tool rest in toward the bowl blank. If you have enough room under the bowl blank, place the banjo at a 90-degree angle to the lathe and in line with the bowl blank. If this isn’t possible, position the banjo to the side of the bowl blank.
Now position the tool rest so it is parallel to the outside edge of the bowl blank. Move the tool rest close, but not too close. By hand, rotate the bowl blank and make sure nothing touches the tool rest. Then move the tool rest in until it is about a half inch from the part of the bowl blank that sticks out the most.
With your safety gear on and the lathe set to a slow speed, turn on the lathe. The bowl blank should be turning free and clear of the tool rest.
Bring the tailstock live center up and lock the tailstock base.
Advance the tailstock live center until it contacts the rotating bowl blank. By setting the tailstock with the lathe on, the true center is assured. Tighten and lock the tailstock.
The objective of this step is to make the exterior of the bowl blank cylinder smooth and completely round. Once the blank is trued and perfectly round it will turn more smoothly and be easier to work with as we proceed.
You will need to use a sharp bowl gouge for the following steps. If you do not have a sharpening system yet, an option is to find a woodturner or turning club that can help with this step. If you are turning with an Easy Wood Tool, this step is not needed.
I use the Oneway Sharpening System with a slow speed grinder. I’ve detailed all the equipment needed to sharpen a bowl gouge in my Sharpening Equipment Resource Guide.
The tool rest is now parallel to the side of the blank, and we will use the tool rest as our visual guide for making smooth straight cuts. Place the bowl gouge on the tool rest and adjust the tool rest height, so the cutting edge of the gouge is at the center of the bowl blank.
Position your body to the left of the bowl blank. If your lathe has a movable control box, move it to the left with you. You always want the controls within reach and when possible close, so you don’t have to reach across the turning bowl path to turn off the lathe.
Turn the lathe on and slowly increase the lathe speed. Bring the lathe to the point where a small amount of vibration is noticeable and then back the lathe speed down a touch. If your lathe has an RPM readout, do not exceed 800 RPMs.
It’s important to note that turning wood bowls is done at slower speeds than other turnings, especially spindle work. Because of the larger diameter, bowls, in general, should not be turned faster than 1,000 RPMs. Learn all about lathe speed, read this article next.
If you cut off the corners by hand, there are points of wood sticking out a bit still. Between these points there is nothing, this is called “turning air.” A portion of these initial cuts will be voids between wood material. Because of these voids and “turning air,” these first cuts can be a bit bumpy.
With the bowl gouge pointing to the right, away from you, place the gouge on the tool rest without touching the spinning timber. Now you have the bowl gouge anchored on the tool rest.
The next important thing to do is line up the bowl gouge bevel and make it parallel to the side of the bowl blank. The bowl gouge bevel is what controls the accuracy and quality of each cut. The term “riding the bevel” is a ubiquitous term used while turning wood bowls. Here is an article that goes into detail and more completely explains riding the bevel.
With the bevel pointing away and parallel to the turning bowl blank, make a light pass along the top edge of the tool rest. You may or may not cut any wood on this first pass, and that is fine. Return to the left side, move the bowl gouge inward just a touch, and make another pass.
You should start to hear the clicking of the protruding wood portions being cut as you progress. If you turned your bowl blank on a bandsaw, you will only need to make a few passes before the side of the blank is perfectly round.
Keep progressing with each pass removing a small amount of wood until the entire side of the bowl blank is smooth and 90 degrees to the bowl blank surface.
The best way to make smooth straight cuts is to use your body and not your hands or arms.
Position your left hand behind the tool rest with your thumb over the top of the gouge, and your other fingers act as a guide when you move forward. The left hand only guides the tool in position on the tool rest; it should never be steering or pushing into the wood.
Your right hand, back on the wood handle of the bowl gouge, is keeping the bevel parallel to the desired cutting path, in this case, parallel with the bowl blank side. When you make a wood bowl, your right hand is the driving force behind all turning cuts.
Think of the right hand and the bowl gouge handle as the till on a boat. You steer and create the course with your right hand, not your left.
In the case of straight lines, there is little steering or movement needed with the right hand. Because of this, you can tuck your right arm into your side for added stability.
At the beginning of each cut position your left guide hand, use your right hand to adjust and make the gouge bevel parallel to the intended cut, then lock that position.
Try not to move your hands or arms once they are in position when making a straight cut. Instead of pushing forward with your arms, lean. Yes, lean and shift your body weight forward across the cutting path. Keep your hands and arms locked and steady and gently lean your body as the gouge glides across the tool rest.
That is the essence of a push cut. If you want to learn more about other bowl gouge cutting techniques, including the push cut, click here to read the full article.
Now that you’ve had some practice making straight pushing gouge cuts, we will try some more.
Turn the lathe off and position the banjo and tool rest at the right side of the bowl blank. If the tailstock is too difficult to maneuver around, you may remove it.
Make the banjo parallel under the right edge of the bowl blank and position the tool rest parallel with the blank bottom from the left side to the center area.
Using the same techniques from step five, we will now smooth the surface of the bowl bottom. There is a good chance the bottom is already pretty smooth, but we will make a few light passes to true up the surface.
Again, position the left hand to guide and the right hand to line up the away-pointing gouge with the bevel parallel with the bowl blank bottom. Make several light passes until the blank is completely flat and smooth.
It’s time to make preparations for when we will later flip the bowl over and work on the bowl interior. This is where the four jaw wood chuck comes into play. To learn all about the four jaw wood chuck, see this article.
Take the wood chuck and contract or close the jaws completely. We will be making a mortise joint that the chuck will later grip. Because the jaws need to expand inside this joint, we will use the starting measurement of the closed jaws.
Measure the distance across the outside of the closed jaws and add a small amount, perhaps an eighth of an inch to that measurement. Now using the tape measure or compass, transfer that measurement to the center bottom of the bowl blank.
Using a pencil supported on the tool rest, rotate the bowl blank by hand and make a circle to indicate the location of the bowl’s mortise. Remeasure the marked circle to confirm it is wide enough to accept the four jaw chuck.
The mortise is an indented or recessed area in the bottom of the bowl. Here is a detailed article all about making a mortise.
We will begin cutting the mortise using a parting tool. In this instance, we will be using the parting tool more as a scraper than usual.
Position the tool rest parallel to bowl bottom about a half inch away and adjust the height, so the cutting edge of the parting tool is on the center line.
With the lathe on and up to speed (not more than about 800 RPMs) position the parting tool on the tool rest first. Slowly insert the parting tool at the inside of the mortise measurement.
The depth of each cut should be just slightly more than half the height of the four jaw chuck jaws. If necessary, turn the lathe off and confirm that the jaw only goes into the newly formed space approximately half way. The four jaw chuck grip will not function properly if the mortise is made too deep.
With the depth established, continue using the parting tool to remove the material inside the mortise area. Make the inside bottom of the mortise as smooth and level as possible.
The mortise only works well if there is an undercut dovetail angle to pair up with the four jaw chuck dovetailed jaws. With a properly cut dovetail, the four jaw chuck will hold incredibly secure.
There are a number of ways to make this undercut dovetail angle. As a beginner just starting out, I suggest using a scraping method. The skew chisel angle works well for scraping away this undercut area.
With the lathe, off, position the tool rest so that the skew chisel cutting edge, laying flat on its side, is at the centerline point of the bowl.
Turn the lathe on and make slow passes removing minimal amounts of material at a time. The angle is complete when the bottom portion of the mortise cylinder wall is undercut at about a 10-degree angle.
To check your work and the fit of the mortise, turn off the lathe and insert the chuck into the mortise. Expand the chuck jaws until they grip the mortise sides.
Does the four jaw chuck dovetail side match well with the mortise? If so, you are done with this step. If there is a bit of tweaking to do, remove the chuck and continue shaping the mortise until all fits well.
Pat yourself on the back, you’re doing great. You now have a well-squared bowl blank with a prepared mortise!
On this step, we will be shaping the bowl exterior. This is where all the creativity and craftsmanship come into play. I have an entire article just about turning the wood bowl exterior… check it out.
For our purposes, we will make a simple and elegant curved bottom bowl. Just know that later, when you go pro turning wood bowls, this is the stage where all the magic happens. The wood bowl exterior dictates the overall look and feel of any bowl.
Remember how up until this point we’ve been positioning the tool rest parallel to the bowl surfaces? In this case, we will position the tool rest to be parallel with the shape that will be created, not a current existing surface.
Move the tool rest to the front, right, outside edge of the bowl blank and angle it to match the shape of the bowl bottom to come.
Working from right to left, we will make push cuts to clear away waste material and reveal the beautiful bowl underneath. Position yourself about in the middle of the tool rest and get your left guide hand and right steering hand in place.
The position of the bowl gouge needs to be pointing away from you, and the flute should be tilted away as well, at about the 10 o’clock position. Never have the flute facing upward or around the 12 o’clock position or you will probably get a nice catch or two. To learn what create catches while you make a wood bowl, read this article.
Initially, we will only remove small bits with each pass, and those passes can be relatively straight at first. As we get farther down and approach the curve of the bowl exterior, we will need to make the cuts more curved.
All of these cuts are made the same way, by leaning and shifting your body weight forward along the cutting path. Keep your hands and arms snug and don’t move them much.
The only exception to this is your right hand. Your right hand, running the till, will steer the bevel and cutting edge in a nice arc through the cuts.
Make slow, straight cuts until you are comfortable. Stop the lathe occasionally to reposition the tool rest closer to the turning bowl blank. You will lose bowl gouge control if the gouge tip extends too far over the tool rest.
The bowl exterior curve should extend from the mortise opening to the top outer rim. It’s important to leave material beside the mortise opening to handle the pressure of the four jaw chuck later. If the sides around the mortise opening become too thin, the pressure from the chuck can easily break through.
With each pass begin adding a little arc by steering the gouge cutting tip with your right hand. If the gouge comes off the bowl, reposition yourself and continue the cut.
When you get close to making the final passes of the outside of the bowl, it is a good idea to resharpen your finishing bowl gouge. This will make the final surface that much smoother.
Want to know all the details about making finishing cuts? Add the article to your reading list.
I typically use two bowl gouges. Here are my bowl gouges. I use the larger 3/4” gouge to quickly remove waste material from both the outside and inside of a bowl, and I use the small 1/2” gouge for the fine detail finishing cuts. If you’d like to only use one bowl gouge for the whole process, I recommend using the 1/2″ bowl gouge.
When the outside of the bowl is curved from just outside the mortise opening to the top outer rim, this step is complete.
All the hard work is now complete. Only the bowl interior remains, and that’s coming up soon. Now we need to flip the bowl blank over and get it ready for the next steps.
Most lathes have a headstock spindle lock. Go ahead and lock the headstock and remove the bowl blank by firmly gripping and rotating towards you to remove the bowl.
It’s a good idea to get in the habit of unlocking the headstock immediately after use. That way, when you later flip the lathe on it doesn’t squeal with excitement.
Remove the faceplate screws and store the faceplate. The faceplate’s job is complete.
Thread the four jaw chuck on the headstock spindle and make sure it seats up against the base of the headstock spindle post.
Position the bowl with your right hand over the closed jaws of the four jaw chuck. With your left hand use the chuck tool and expand the chuck jaws until the jaws make contact with the inside walls of the cut mortise.
Apply firm pressure at the center of the outside of the bowl blank with your right hand. Tighten the jaws of the chuck completely, rotating from one side of the chuck to the other to make the fit evenly snug. Do not over tighten the blank too much.
With the tool rest out of the way, turn the lathe on slow and see if the bowl blank turns true. There should be no wobble in the bottom or curved sides. The face may wobble a bit, but we will be addressing that next.
If there is a bit of a wobble in the bowl’s rotation, loosen the chuck and slightly rotate the bowl blank on the chuck, so it seats in a slightly different area of the chuck. Retighten the chuck and check until the bowl blank turns smoothly.
Just like in step seven, we will now smooth and flatten the face of the bowl blank.
Position the tool rest parallel to the front outside edge up to the bowl’s center. Make the tool rest height, so the bowl gouge is on the bowl centerline.
Keeping your hands and arms steady, gently shift your weight and make light push cuts over the bowl face until the bowl blank is smooth and true. Line the bevel edge up with the eventual straight line being cut by adjusting your right hand.
Also, turn the flute over at a 90-degree angle or in the 3 o’clock position when making these forward-moving push cuts.
After a few passes, the bowl should now be true and turn very smoothly.
Even though the lathe may turn the bowl faster, for safety, try not to exceed 1,000 RPMs with any bowl. The larger the bowl, the slower the lathe speed needs to be.
Now is the time in the process of turning wood bowls when I like to shape the bowl’s rim.
The rim can be turned any way you’d like. I prefer to have the rim slightly sloped into the bowl, just a bit.
If you prefer having a nice square 90-degree rim, you can skip forward to step 15 and begin clearing out the interior. The last step has already formed a nice flush top rim edge.
To make an inward sloping angle for the bowl rim, start with the wood bowl gouge on its side at 90-degrees or 3 o’clock. This is important. Any other angle can result in the gouge skipping across the bowl’s surface.
With the gouge on it’s 3 o’clock side, now line the bevel up to where the cut will be. This means the tip of the gouge and the bevel should be pointing at an inward angle.
With the lathe running, bring the very edge of the cutting tip up to the outer bowl corner and wait. Wait for a small fine groove to form. That groove is the open door for the bevel to ride along. If you proceed too fast, the gouge may skip or grab the wood.
Make small passes until the bowl’s rim is shaped the way you prefer. Make the bowl rim at least a half-inch wide. We will be making this bowl about 1/2” to 3/4” thick throughout, so the rim needs to be wide enough to accommodate that final wall thickness.
Now that we have established the bowl rim, we can begin clearing the material from the inside of the bowl.
Still, with the tool rest parallel to the front of the bowl and the height set to the tool center, we will make small arcing passes to remove material.
Rotate the bowl gouge flute to the right, somewhere around 2 and 3 o’clock. Position your left hand to keep the gouge on the tool rest. Your left hand’s role now is to maintain the bowl gouge on the center pivoting point of each cut.
Using your right steering hand, make arcing passes from left to right, scooping out small bits of wood at a time. Don’t overdo it and dig in too deep or you might get a catch.
Clear out a small trough along the top edge inside the rim by scooping out several passes. When the trough or space opens up near the rim, we can then start cutting the inside bowl wall to the final thickness.
For now, leave the center of the bowl solid. The material in the middle of the bowl anchors the bowl’s weight and keeps it turning smoothly.
Stand to the right side of the bowl on the lathe and position yourself above the bowl’s edge. Look down on the bowl and position your bowl gouge bevel so that it is inside the bowl where the next cut will be made, approximately 1/2” to 3/4” away from the exterior wall to establish the bowl’s wall thickness.
Most importantly, make sure the bowl gouge bevel is parallel to the outside bowl wall.
The goal is to match the bowl interior to the shape of the bowl exterior. By matching the inside to the outside, the walls ideally will be parallel and have a uniform wall thickness.
To begin cutting the inside wall, take the bowl gouge and lay it over at a 90-degree angle or 3 o’clock and slowly begin a push cut that will match the bowl’s interior to the exterior shape.
Stop just before the bowl gouge reaches the bottom of the formed trough. If you hit the bottom of the trough, that will most likely be too much wood for the gouge to remove at once and cause a catch. If you haven’t already, check out this article about how catches happen and ways to avoid them.
Once the inside edge is about a half-inch deep, smooth and parallel with the exterior wall, begin removing the center area to about the same depth.
This is all waste material in the center of the bowl and a great time to practice. Make larger sweeping curve cuts from left to right steering with your right hand and pivoting on your left guide hand.
Remember, don’t push or drive the bowl gouge with your left hand. Your body is the driver, by leaning or shifting forward and only your right-hand steers.
Work your way inward by removing an area along the side wall, making incremental finish cuts on the inside wall, and then clearing the center of the bowl bit by bit until you reach the bowl bottom. Repeat this process until you reach the bowl bottom.
Use your fingers, with the lathe off, to pinch the wall thickness and determine if more material needs to be removed in a given area.
With your right steering hand, drive the cutting edge of the bowl gouge to match the exterior bowl curve, along the bowl inside. Each cut moves from left to right and stops at the bowl center.
Be careful not to remove too much bottom material. We want the bowl sides and bottom to be the same thickness as the side wall. Stop frequently and feel the bowl thickness.
Getting the wall thickness right on your wood turned bowl is important. See this article next to learn all the details.
When the inside of the bowl evenly matches the bowl exterior in shape, and the wall thickness is even throughout, sharpen your bowl gouge and make one (or possibly a couple) finishing passes to smooth the inside wall.
Be sure to ride the bevel which means keep the bevel parallel and flush with the intended cut surface. If the bevel tip digs in, the cut will dive into the side wall. If the bevel edge points out away from the cut, the gouge will pop up and come out of the cut. See the article about Riding the Bevel for more details.
Finishing the inside of a wood bowl is probably the most exciting point in although the process as you make a wood bowl because you’re so close to being done. However, it is important to pay attention to all the details when completing the inside bowl bottom. I have a detailed article explicitly addressing issues to be aware of while turning a wood bowl interior, click here to read that article.
Sanding a wood turned bowl is an art form all by itself. Don’t worry; we won’t spend forever sanding your bowl.
Before you go any further, put on your respirator. Dust particles in the air are many times more dangerous than anything hitting you in the face. Dust in the lungs is a cumulative thing, and only prevention will stop it.
As a matter of fact, if I’m turning a piece of wood that is particularly dry and makes more dust than curly shavings, I will wear my respirator while turning.
Also, at the sharpening station, it is a good idea to wear your respirator as the metal dust from the sharpening process is also very nasty for us to inhale.
Enough about safety. I’m sure you do all these things already. Well done!
While sanding my wood bowls, I use a power drill with a 3” foam pad mandrel to sand my bowls. The technique I use has two components:
First, I use a 50 percent up sanding grit procedure. This means I will progress through sanding grits in incremental increases of 50 percent of the current sanding grit. For example, I will start with 80 grit and proceed to 120, 180, 220, 320, 400 and 600.
The other process I use when turning wood bowls and sanding them for a final finish is stopping and working with the grain. First I will sand with the lathe at a slow speed. Then, using the same grit, I will stop the lathe and use the edge of the sanding pad to clean up scratch marks.
Scratch marks form when the sandpaper cuts against the grain. Since this is a side-grain mounted blank, half of the bowl is end grain, and the other half is side grain. I use the edge of the sanding pads and align it with the grain to remove scratches as I work around the bowl.
When I’m confident most of the scratches are out, I will proceed to the next sanding grit up. With the lathe on, I sanding universally. With the lathe off I sand locally in the areas that need attention.
I typically work up to 320 grit sandpaper. I’ve found that 320 grit is ideal for my favorite food-safe wood finish, which we will apply next.
If you’d rather not invest in a power sanding set-up yet, you can use traditional sandpaper and sand the bowl with the lathe on slow. Use a small piece and lightly hold the paper to the bottom portion of the rotating bowl. Never wrap the paper around your finger.
Of course, you may hand sand the bowl with the lathe stopped until you are happy with the final smooth results. Personally, I don’t have the patience to hand sand, but I admire those that do. 🙂
In case you’re new to the world of wood bowl turning and possibly woodworking in general, there seem to be infinite ways to finish a wood surface. I’m going to share one way I’ve discovered that works very well for me.
I enjoy turning, and that’s what I prefer doing instead of sanding and finishing. Of course, I want my wood bowls to look great; I just don’t want to spend a ton of times fussing over finish work.
When I explored ways to finish a wood turned bowl, I went through a variety of oils that work well, but they needed coat after coat to be applied, and they weren’t very water-resistant.
Because I want to make bowls that are usable with food, I want to use a food-safe finish. Be careful when you read product names like “Salad Bowl Finish,” they are not all created equal. Be sure to read this article to sort out what finishes are really food safe.
Then I came across Tried and True Original. This is a polymerized linseed oil and beeswax blend. I wrote a whole article just about this finishing product, that’s how much I like it. Take a minute and read this article to learn more about this finish.
To keep from accidentally spilling finish from the original can, I transfer a smaller amount to a recycled wide-mouth jar. I use a small square of cotton fabric from an old t-shirt as the applicator.
This finish should not be applied thick. A thin layer is all that is needed. Pull the cloth out of the finish and squeegee off the excess finish with your other hand.
Workaround the entire bowl, exterior and interior applying a thin coat. Let this coat sit for an hour and use a paper towel to wipe off any areas where the finish might be a bit thicker. Then let the bowl sit for 24 hours.
After 24 hours, use 0000 steel wool and buff the surface of the bowl. I put the piece back on the lathe and do this buffing at a slow RPM with the lathe running. A low-luster sheen will develop, and the wood grain and bowl will sing with beauty.
Your bowl is now 99 percent complete. All that is left is to sign the bottom and let everyone know you make this creation.
Traditionally, it is nice to sign your name and include the type of wood and date. A little drawing or logo mark you like to use can be added there too.
The best way to be sure your signature is permanent is to burn it in. I use a wood burner and a pen tip to do my signatures. There are many good quality permanent ink pens on the market as well that will do the job. Try to leave the signature area free from oil finish until you sign and let the ink dry.
If you wanted to get a bit more fancy, at the end of step nine, you could add a couple of ringed lines in the mortise cavity by gently touching the corner of the parting tool to the bowl bottom inside the mortise. Some turners will turn two rings with a space between and use that area to write the wood type and date.
No matter how simple or ornate your bowl is, everyone, especially other turners, will have one initial question when they see your bowl: “What kinda wood is that?” I’m not sure why, but we humans seem to be obsessed with knowing how to label and categorize things. LOL
Congratulations! You now know how to make a wooden bowl!
Once again, please realize the steps and techniques I shared here are only one way to learn how to make a wood bowl. You will encounter many other techniques and points of view as you continue to learn more about how to make a wood bowl. Incorporate what works best for you. There is no “one way” to turn a wood bowl.
The secret to improving when turning wood bowls is repetition. This is true of almost everything, and repetition is vital to excelling at turning wood bowls. Make a wood bowl and then another. With each new wood bowl, question what you might do differently to change or improve the next one.
I hope this step by step guide has helped you see that turning wood bowls is not too complicated and hopefully a gratifying and rewarding process.
Please leave a comment below; I’d love to hear about your experience.
Thank you and as always,