A quarter sawn wood bowl reveals a woodturner’s attention to detail and ability to genuinely connect and integrate the very nature of the natural resource being turned. A quarter sawn wood bowl is usually well-defined, clean, and somewhat graphic due to the alignment of grain pattern.
A quarter sawn wood bowl showcases an artist’s ability to be very deliberate and focused in shaping a segment of wood into its final form. The uniform nature of a quarter sawn wood bowl strays from randomness and begins to steer towards planned and almost architectural.
When you come across a large log of a wood species that has a well-defined grain texture, quarter sawn bowls can be a real thing of beauty. If you take your time preparing and cutting the raw timber, the results can be stunning.
What Is A Quarter Sawn Wood Bowl
I had heard the term but didn’t quite know what it meant for some time. With a little investigating, the definition of quarter sawn wood became clear.
Looking at the end growth rings of a log, imagine an X that crosses through the pith of the wood. Boards cut along the lines of the X are nearly perpendicular to the growth rings and are considered quarter sawn. Think of the log being divided into quarters.
Where To Find Quarter Sawn Wood
As woodturners, we are usually looking for wood to turn into bowls. When I first began turning, I merely split logs in half and turned the two halves. These wood bowl blanks were usually from small to medium-sized logs.
After graduating to more massive logs, the process of preparing bowl blanks was about the same. However, when I would be turning the cut pith cross-section, I would need to remove more material due to cracks from the larger pith area. In some cases, I’d remove an inch or more of material before the wood looked clear.
Instead of wearing down my bowl gouge removing the checks near the pith, it became apparent the chainsaw would be a much more efficient use of time and means of saving my bowl gouge steel from excessive turning.
With larger logs, it’s best to make a double cut around the pith to be sure minimal cracks and checks do not make their way to the final bowl blank.
This process of cutting around the pith naturally leaves a slab or board in the process. Because the cuts and pith are usually centered, the growth rings are perpendicular in this slab, and it is a beautiful quarter sawn chunk of wood.
How To Cut Quarter Sawn Wood
Unlike the lumber industry, we wood bowl turners aren’t milling entire logs into planks or boards. No, we are usually looking for the best bowl blanks first. So the way we create quarter sawn bowl blanks is a little different from lumber mills.
This process usually works best with larger logs of 12 inches or more. Smaller logs simply won’t have enough material to make a true quarter sawn sub thick enough to be turned into anything of much size.
1) Balance the Bowl Blank
Rarely are logs perfectly centered. Instead, there is usually at least a slight heaviness to one side or the other. Look for the best bowl blank cuts first.
When I first started cutting blanks, I didn’t give it much thought. I’d merely ran the chainsaw down the middle and split the log. Some of the blanks were balanced, but many were not.
The problem with that approach is that it will give you unbalanced blanks. You’ll know you have an unbalanced blank when you’re on the lathe and the blank bottom is completely shaped, but there’s remains an indented section possibly still with bark attached on the other side of the bowl blank.
2) Plan The Cuts
Take a moment to visualize the cut lines across the log where the left and right sides are nearly equal to each other. If you were to draw a centerline down the middle of the bowl blank, perpendicular to the chainsaw cut, ask yourself do both sides look similar to one another. Does each half of the bowl blank mirror each other?
3) Making the Cuts
Cutting into end grain is the most taxing duty for any saw. I will cut down into the end grain usually a few inches just to define the lines and establish a cutting path.
The majority of the cuts is made with the log laying on its side and the chainsaw cutting down through the bark. This is a ripping cut. Long curly shavings will be ripped from the wood as this cut is being made. Take time to clear the area and saw from these shavings as you proceed.
When the two cuts are complete, you will have two brand new bowl blanks and a slab in the middle. The slab or quarter sawn wood is what we are focusing on in this article.
The quarter sawn slab can be split in half with the chainsaw or on the bandsaw. Either way, the pith area in the middle is best to cut away to minimize any tension release and cracking.
Keep your chainsaw sharp in order to make smooth straight cuts. It’s not hard to sharpen a chainsaw, here are all the details.
4) Making the Blanks
With the quarter sawn wood slabs skillfully dissected from the log, or perhaps produced by the process of elimination, it’s time to prepare the quarter sawn wood bowl blanks for the lathe. This process is exactly like making bowl blanks from any green wood, follow the same processes.
Use a circle template to determine and mark the largest circles that may be cut from the slab. Typically two bowls can be cut out of each side of the slab.
This means a large log can yield two large bowl blanks and a center slab that can produce four smaller quarter sawn bowl blanks.
Carefully trim the edges away from the perimeter of the bowl blanks and be watchful for spidering cracks radiating from the pith side. If cracks do appear, it might be wise to turn the bowl blank circles a bit smaller to remove the fractured grain.
5) Turn the Quarter Sawn Wood Bowl
Turning the quarter sawn wood bowl is a side grain bowl turning process. Employ all the tenon or mortise creation and attachment procedures, bowl gouge techniques, supported grain cuts, bowl bottom finishing techniques, sanding processes, and finishing tricks that apply to any other side grain turned wood bowl.
Advantages of a Quarter Sawn Wood Bowl
If you have the opportunity to score some beautifully grained timber like ash, locust or anything with well-defined grain lines, finished quarter sawn bowls can be striking. Layers of wood stacked together like sandwiched upright veneers are the telltale sign of a quarter sawn bowl.
Besides the natural beauty created by the effort of the perpendicular grain, quarter sawn bowls also have another advantage. Because the pith has been completely removed, the chance for pith relating cracking is also removed.
Wood movement in a quarter sawn wood bowl is also reduced as the piece is constructed from only one side of the log. Unlike the larger more traditional bowl blanks that are dealing with movement from multiple directions simultaneously, quarter sawn bowls have more limited movement issues.
Quarter Sawn Wood Bowl – Conclusion
The graphic appearance of a quarter sawn wood bowl made from a beautifully defined wood species elevates a wood turning into an artful deliberate creation. Thought and attention to the process, as well as knowledge of natural materials, are evident when viewing a quarter sawn wood bowl.
Unless you regularly have access to and process large logs, having access to these gems might be limited. Now, the next time you do come across an interesting grain large log, hopefully, you’ll consider sectioning out those center quarter sawn wood bowl blank slabs and making some fantastic bowls for yourself.
Let me know if this article is helpful and also let me know if you’ve already made quarter sawn wood bowls. Please leave me a comment below.