You’ve turned a beautiful bowl and sanded through all the grits for an amazing surface. Now it’s time to apply the finish and see your creation come to life.
For me, applying the finish is one of the most exciting things to do in wood bowl process. As much as I love the finishing process, I also don’t want to spend days applying coat after coat of various products.
This is a list of finishing products I use and highly recommend. Amazon links are provided to check current prices.
I have found, while recycled glass jars are great, I also like to use uniform jars with plenty of room on the lid to label the contents and easily identify the finish products inside.
My Favorite Oil Finish
This is my Tried and True method, and that’s its name too. I go to this finish more than any other finish. This Tried and True product is made from linseed oil and beeswax, all natural and food-safe.
The application process is as simple as can be and the oil penetrates the wood surface giving a water-resistant finish. Once dry, Tried and True linseed oil and beeswax is food-safe and very durable. I really like how the final luster seems to make the woodgrain glow and look amazing. One application is all that is needed. Tried and True Linseed Oil and Beeswax – One Gallon (One Quart) (One Pint)
Also, it’s a good idea to have 0000 Steel Wool on hand when using this product. After the thin coat dries for about 24 hours the final finish looks best when buffed out with 0000 steel wool before the finish cures completely.
Simple Application Finishes
Another great product from Tried and True is their Tried and True Danish Oil – One Gallon (One Quart) (One Pint) I really like using this Danish oil on thin-walled bowls and it too is food-safe. A couple coats should be applied.
Like the beeswax version above, this oil soaks into and protects the wood fibers. Only sand up to 320 grit when applying penetrating oil-based finishes. Sanding above 320 grit closes and locks the wood cells and reduces absorption.
A super simple food-safe finish is Mineral Oil. Mineral oil brings out the beauty and luster of wood and is completely non-toxic. The finish will need to be re-applied from time to time as the mineral oil finish does not last forever, but this is the quickest easiest finish to apply.
Functional bowls designed for food use can be finished with a number of food-safe finishes. Another such product, with an appropriate name, is Salad Bowl Finish. This product is similar to the two previous items and requires minimal effort to apply.
High Gloss Finishes
Obtaining a high gloss finish requires a little more work and effort, but the results can be stunning. The process of making a wood surface shine requires filling in all the pores and crevices which makes the surface more reflective.
The first step I do to seal the wood surface and fill those micro-crevices is to use Shellac. I learned from someone that makes their own Shellac and it is the best. Instead of purchasing cheap canned Shellac at the hardware store, which contains toxic metals and other components, make your own. Homemade Shellac is far superior, much more clear and relatively easy to make.
Shellac is available in different colors (blond, orange, darker garnet)and ready in flake form to mix with denatured alcolhol. Mixing your our shellac is far superior to any store bought branded version.[table id=7 /]
Just use a clean jar and mix the Shellac Flakes with Denatured Alcohol (the alcohol may be cheaper purchased from a local hardware store) in the recommended amounts. Allow enough time for the flakes to completely dissolve and apply with an inexpensive chip brush.
Shellac can be a stand-alone finish or it can be the underlying foundation for a shinier, glossier final coat. Lacquer looks great when applied over a base of shellac.
Spraying Lacquer Finish
Pre-Cat Lacquer can be mixed 80/20 with matching lacquer thinner in a simple spray gun to get very high-quality results. I purchase my lacquer and thinner from a local cabinet supply shop. My small Porter Cable air compressor is a great, space-saving solution in my shop.
Here’s what you need to build a complete spraying set-up:
- Porter Cable air compressor
- Paint spray gun
- 25-foot air hose
- Inline air regulator
- Inline moisture collector
- Air connectors
- Teflon tape
A quick high-quality pre-cat spray lacquer is available in a spray can. This lacquer is the same high-quality lacquer used by cabinet makers and fine woodworkers, but in a convenient can form. This product can not be purchased in local hardware stores and is of a much higher quality compared to off the shelf products.
Set Up your own spray system to create beautiful high-gloss finishes on your bowl. Here’s all the information you need to get it going.
Applying color to wood turned bowls is fun and easy. If you’re selling bowls or plan to, colors draw people’s attention quickly.
I have a hard time wanting to color and cover beautiful wood grain, but simpler woods like poplar and sycamore, that don’t have much interesting grain or patterns are perfect for coloring.
Water-based color pigment powder is available to make the coloring process simple, fast, and non-toxic. I use the TransFast brand of color powder dyes. Available colors include; Turquoise Blue, Blue, Lemon Yellow, Cardinal Red, Cherry Red, Medium Lime Green, Dark Green, Powder Grey, Mahogany, Dark Walnut and Black.
Milk paint is probably one of the most interesting ways to add color and character to a bowl. Milk paint finish drys fast and looks contemporary and decades-old all at the same time.
After each coat drys, colors can be layered and then gently scuffed off to reveal overlapping and underlying effects. I love using milk paints especially on woods that aren’t too interesting by themselves. I use 3M Scotchbrite 6444 Pads to create the scuffed off milk paint layer effect. I’ve found that sandpaper and steel wool is too aggressive and will quickly reveal raw wood instead.
I only use the Old Fashioned brand of powdered paint. It comes highly recommended for outperforming all other types of milk paint. Milk paint comes in a number of different colors. A little goes a long way and I use the one-pint size when I make my purchases. Available milk paint colors include: Barn Red, Tavern Green, Snow White, Federal Blue, Pitch Black, Oyster White, Slate Blue, Light Cream, Salem Red, Driftwood, Soldier Blue, Marigold Yellow, Pumpkin, Lexington Green, Sea Green, Mustard, Salmon
Best of all, my favorite Tried and True Linseed Oil and Beeswax finish from above works beautifully as a finish over the dried milk paint as well. Use a different cloth applicator when applying the oil finish to different colors. I have found that a little amount of milk paint color will come off on the applicator and you want to make sure not to transfer that to the finish of other bowls.
CA or Cyanoacrylate Adhesive
CA can be used for many purposes. While fixing wood bowl cracks, CA is critical to the process. CA can also be applied thin and used as a sealer. I recommend this Super Thin CA glue for both small finishing application and for the process of repairing wood bowl cracks. CA Accelerator is great to spray on the work area, drying the glue instantly.
Medium CA is thicker and more gel-like which works well for filling voids and adhering material, like turquoise nuggets in place.
I also use a cheap spray can lacquer to “mask” the crack areas prior to fixing with CA. The purpose of the lacquer is to prevent the CA from bleeding into the wood surrounding a crack. Once the crack is filled and glued, the area can be sanded. The lacquer will sand off leaving clean wood underneath, ready for a final finish of your choice. NOTE – I do not use this can lacquer as a finish on my bowls.
Epoxy is ideal for filling larger cracks or seams usually blended with a filler or color additive like turquoise. Made from a two-part mixing process, epoxy is quick drying and extremely durable when dry.
Clearing wood cracks and making them ready to be filled is an important step. I use these dental pick tools to clear away any loose material and also to widen a crack to make it ready to be filled.
Another very useful item to have on hand while filling wood cracks is wide masking tape. This tape can be used to make a temporary mixing surface and it can dam up the back of a fully open crack making it ready for filling.
Gaffer’s Tape is a great resource to have on hand as well. Not only can it be used to hold pieces together on the lathe, but gaffer’s tape can also be used to seal and dam holes or cracks so they can easily be filled with epoxy.
Turquoise Inlay Materials
Real turquoise is a beautiful material to use to fill cracks in a wood bowl. Here are several different color options of genuine turquoise to use when filling cracks or making custom inlays in your wood bowls. Fine powder turquoise and turquoise nuggets are perfect fillers.
Turquoise Alternative Fills
Alternatives to turquoise can be a great way to quickly add that beautiful color to a small crack or they can also be mixed together with fast-setting epoxy to make a colorful slurry to fill areas fast. Natural Crush Natural Malachite Stone, “Bora Bora Blue” Mica Powder Pigment, and “Turquoise Diamond Effect” Mica Powder Pigment all make great alternatives to natural turquoise.
There are also fun options like glow in the dark materials as well. Sky Blue Glow-in-the-Dark Powder and Glow in The Dark Pigment Powder, Phosphorescent Pigment can be super fun to play with as filler additives. These can also be mixed in the slurry with the other turquoise colors above.
In my ebonizing article I cover several ways to ebonize wood bowls. Check it out here.
One ebonizing technique includes Speedball India Ink.
The iron acetate ebonizing technique requires a few items, including 0000 steel wool and cleaning vinegar.
Bleaching wood bowls is a unique look that can be achieved pretty easily. Be sure to read this article about bleaching wood.
The main product I use is this two-part wood bleach product by Zinsser.
It’s one of the most important steps in making a wood bowl, that is signing and labeling your creation. People want to know who made a wood bowl and they also want to know what type of wood and when it was made. Currently, I use a woodburning tool with the fine pen tip to sign my name to the bottom of my bowls. The quality, permanence, and look of the wood burnt signature are fantastic.
When I first started turning wood bowls, I used a high-quality permanent ink pen, that doesn’t bleed, to sign the bottoms of my wood bowls. One of the big things to remember when using an ink pen to sign your bowls is to sign on bare wood. Be sure to leave the signature area unfinished until it’s signed, or sign the bowl before doing your finish process.