Quarter Sawn Wood Bowl – How To Make

Quarter Sawn Wood Bowl
Quarter Sawn Wood Bowl How To Make

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.

Quarter Sawn Wood Bowl Log Location
Quarter Sawn Wood Bowl Log Location

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?

Quarter Sawn Wood Bowl Blank Mirror Cuts
Quarter Sawn Wood Bowl Blank Mirror Cuts

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.

Quarter Sawn Wood Bowl Log Cuts
Quarter Sawn Wood Bowl Log Cuts

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.

Quarters sawn wood bowl processed log

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.

Big Logs Yield Many Wood Bowl Blanks
Big Logs Yield Many Wood 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.

Quarter Sawn Bowl Blank Cut Bandsaw
Quarter Sawn Wood Bowl Blank Cut Bandsaw

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.

Wood is at the heart of all our bowls. Be sure to read these articles also:

As Always, Happy Turning,

23 Responses

  1. Hello Kent, it is always an absolute pleasure watching your videos. You simply things in a way that even a beginner can understand. Thank you.

    I have been turning for about 9 months. Worked with wood professionally for over 45 years. My question to you is as a amateur wood turner has to do with the pith. I turn some really nice vessels and find warpage because of the pith. Not sure what to do. Cut it out or work around it.????

    Wood turning is like a second nature to me. Very easy to do but finding problems that most people look the other way. I can’t stand tool marks. Wont sell anything with them on it. Watching your different videos I have learned how to turn with very little sanding at all.. Still can’t get your micro bevel grind down like I want it.

    Long story short , of the thousands of videos I have
    watched, your heads up the best. You make wood turning simple.

    Thank you from one professional to another. (Professional Custom Cabinet Builder and Millwork)

    Tim Baldwin

    1. Tim,

      Thank you for writing and sharing!

      I’m so glad the videos and content are helping you.

      As for the pith, it really depends on the species. I have left the pith in with elm, sycamore, and other bowls and had no trouble. However, with many tree species too much pressure is released at the pith and cracking occurs. The best way to find out is to experiment.

      All the best to you and Happy Turning!

    2. Thank you, Kent, extremely useful. There has just been a big storm here in The UK, and there is a lot of timber around for the grabbing. I’ve also just bought a biggish bandsaw, and belong to a group called men’s shed, where I know someone with a chainsaw. So I have the opportunity to prepare some different blanks, as you desncribe. The most useful for me was about balancing a blank, and quarter sawing. Thanks again, I recommend your articles widely on Facebook.

      1. Glenn,
        Thank you for writing and sharing! And thank you for your support!
        Be sure to check out my Tree To Bowl – Understanding Green Wood course also http://www.TurnAWoodBowl.com/green Many helpful tips for preparing and preserving the wood in order to prevent cracking.

        All the best to you and Happy Turning!

  2. I wish I’d read this article before I cut 6 oak logs in half. Will remember for future.
    Great informative article as always.

    1. No worries. Now you have the knwledge. More trees will come your way.
      Happy Turning!

  3. Thanks for the information.
    I have a freshly felled 32″ diameter red oak. I’d like to use the method of harvesting quarter sawn material from it.
    What thickness planks do you recommend cutting out of the logs? I’d like to get bowls as big as I can make. My current lathe has a 16″ swing.
    FYI I just joined your facebook group 🙂

    1. Mike,
      It all depends on how deep you want to make the bowls. Slabs cut out at about 5-6″ will make great sized 16″ diameter bowls. You will have plenty of material to work with at that size. The quartersawn areas should be at least as wide as any pith cracks, but they can be cut wider if desired.
      Happy Turning,

  4. Kent, thanks for all of the cristal clear information on your website. As I look back on my 20 some years of turning, beginning with a four evening sessions at Woodcraft which got me started, I wish that I had had the advantage of your teaching. You are a very gifted instructor, to say the least, and you have caused a healthy, gradual change in my turning techniques, all for the better. I am very grateful. Keep up the good work! Jim

    1. Jim,

      Thank you so much for all your kind words! I’m thrilled you are seeing positive progress in your turnings!

      All the best to you!

      Happy Turning,

  5. Once again a helpful and educational article. This has rapidly become my go to site for all my bowl turning questions. I got my first lathe at the end of July, and turned my very first bowl August 1st. Since then I have averaged 2 or 3 new bowls a week using such varied woods as Osage orange, black walnut, mahogany, ash, plywood, OSB, etc… My current favorite is either peach or spalted maple. I would love to share with you some photos of my work. I recently received a slab of red oak 40 inches in diameter and 15 inches thick. I have six quarter sawn slabs ready to turn so far, and I’m heading out to do that now. Ty so much for all your hard work

    1. Rick,
      Thanks for writing and I’m so glad you are hooked on turning bowls. It’s a blast and I can tell you’re having fun. To share your work, go to our Facebook group page where you can display your pieces and get over 1,000 fellow bowl turners feedback. Simply go to Facebook and in the Facebook search window at the top search “Turn A Wood Bowl,” sign up to join the group and you’re all set. Hope to see you there.
      Happy Turning,

  6. I bought my husband a wood lathe for Christmas. We are both learning the basics. Your articles are quite informative, detailed, and easy to understand. I’m sure we will be reading more and more this winter. It’s very exciting to add a new tool to our workshop.

    1. Kelly,

      Thank you for writing and I’m glad you are here learning with all of us.

      I’m afraid you left an “s” off of the word tool.

      The lathe is just the first “tool.” There will be many more to add. LOL

      Enjoy and Happy Turning,

  7. Just finished your article and absolutely enjoyed your explanations and follow-up procedures regarding log prep to finish cut. I question whether this is with dry or green stock and method to handle green wood. I’m on the ICWW where Hurricane made landfall (Sept 15, 2018) and left me a Hickory on the house, The stump is about 30″ diameter and I have about 15 chunks 24 plus inches long. Please advise; should I cut the logs as you indicate, ie, two slabs and two center cuts less pith or leave logs intact? My desire is to save this beauty from checking. Advice appreciated, Thanks Fishman

    1. Bruce,
      I too got a hickory tree from a hurricane a couple years ago. Hickory is beautifully light and pale when first felled and will darken and spalt over time. If you want a clean fresh look, yes, cut out slabs now, seal the end with anchor seal and store them in a dry place with little air movement. Rough turn the bowls asap and again seal the end grain with anchor seal. Later, when they are completely dry turn them for the second time and you’re set. If you’d like to try a little spalting, place a few logs or slabs outside exposed to the elements with the end grain in good contact with the dirt and wait about 6 to 9 months. Enjoy the hickory!!!

  8. Hey Kent,

    I really enjoyed the YouTube video. I left a comment there, overjoyed that I could meet you “in person.” I’m in western Montana and hardwood trees are fairly scarce. You can bet that I’ll be more selective about how I process the logs now after watching the video. Might I suggest a follow up video of how you treat your logs and blanks if your unable to turn them that day? I’d love to see your take on end grain sealing, storage and what not. I hope you continue the YouTube presence, too. Like you, I have made one video and posted it. However, it’s so much work and editing is not my strong suit. I still need to refine a website and yours has certainly given me inspiration. Again, lots of work and I am not savvy with the tasks required. Perhaps I can email you more about my questions?

    Please keep the great work up!

    1. Thanks, Scott! Much appreciated. I always find it interesting to learn what trees other turners have available to them. Any chance you have some fine grain yellow cedar around you. I saw some of that turned once and it was amazing. I’m guessing you have plenty of conifers. If those are large in diameter, the quarter sawn areas can be fantastic and linear for this type of turning. I’m planning on doing many more video. Yes, it takes some time, but they are worth the effort. Thanks again.

  9. Very informative. Thank you, from a beginner. I have logs saved up, but scared to use them yet. I’ve turned a dozen small segmented bowls. Lots of fun. I’m getting ready to go big, or go home. The bowls you show are beauties. Thanks, Jay

    1. Thanks for the compliments, Jay. Now, It’s time to dig into those logs. Think of each bowl as a learning lesson and let your skills progress with each turning. Enjoy!

  10. Good job. I learned much from your video and comments. Thank you for helping a beginner.

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Kent Weakley-Turn A Wood Bowl-About
Hi, I’m Kent

Hi! I’m Kent, a husband, dad, papa, graphic designer, photographer, artist, traveler, birder, dark chocolate lover and I’m addicted to turning wood bowls! Learn more about me, see the online courses I made for you, and join our group on Facebook. Ready for your wood bowl adventure? Click here to Get Started

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