Why Turn Wood Bowls Main Image

Why Make or Turn Wood Bowls?

Why turn wood bowls? When friends or family first hear about me turning wood bowls, their first response is usually, “You’re doing what?” Then they typically just stare, with a bit of an odd face and wait for me to explain.

Turning wood bowls isn’t easy to explain sometimes. The answer is really more complex than most want to hear. Typically, I’ll say something like “It’s a lot of fun, and I enjoy working with wood.”

While all of that is true, it doesn’t even scratch the surface of why I love to turn wood bowls. There are many layers and levels that make wood bowl turning a true joy and an enigma.

Let me attempt to explain.

Functionality – Turn Wood Bowls

There is the functional aspect of turning wood bowls. For centuries turning bowls and other wood turned products were needed for daily use. Unfortunately, with the advent of plastics and more durable commercial ceramics, wood turned items have almost disappeared from our daily routine.

I love history! In many ways, making wood bowls is reliving a bit of our cultural history.

Preparing a fresh salad in a wood turned bowl takes on a different level of satisfaction. The texture, feel, and even the sound of mixing greens against the curved wood grain is very pleasing. (Wow, I had no plans for lunch today. I think I’ve just talked myself into making a fantastic salad. Ha!)

The simplicity of recycling and converting a tree that was most likely headed toward demise and turning it into a functional everyday utilitarian item can’t be overlooked.

In our abundant world of material goods, we sorta take things like bowls for granted. Perhaps our primal selves, I wonder, deep down, truly appreciate the joy of making something useful from a natural resource.

Rewarding

It is impossible not to be filled with a sense of rewarding satisfaction when you take a chunk of wood, spin it around a bit, and then cradle a finished bowl in your hands. Magic happens when you turn wood bowls.

Creating wood turned bowls is so rewarding!

I’ve done a lot of woodwork in my life. I enjoy making furniture, projects, and cabinets, among other things.

However, I’ve never finished a bookcase or cabinet and thought to myself, “That was so fun I think I want to make another, and another!” No, usually it’s more like “I’m glad that’s done and finished.” The opposite is true about turning wood bowls.

Turning wood bowls never seems to grow old.

The length of time it takes to make a wood bowl is minimal compared to most traditional woodworking projects. And, once bowl gouge techniques are mastered, turning a bowl can be done in mere minutes.

The speed of the wood bowl turning process also allows for relatively fast advancement and mastery. If you turn a bowl and decide the design isn’t quite right, you can turn another immediately and try a different approach.

At the end of the day, several wood bowls can be turned and ready to display, give away, or even sell. Wood bowl turning provides a tremendous sense of accomplishment in a relatively short time.

Turn Wood Bowls Never Gets Old
Turning Wood Bowls Never Gets Old

Nature

We can’t always be out in nature as much as we like. It’s important, especially nowadays, to connect with nature whenever possible.

Having a beautiful wood turned bowl around brings the outside in and helps us connect with nature. The natural hues and flowing grain of a wood turned bowl seem to have a calming effect in most any environment.

Running my fingers over the grain of a wood turned bowl connects me to nature. I connect to that tree. Preserving nature in the form of a wood turned bowl makes it readily available even when we can’t go outside.

Turn Wood Bowls Connecting With Nature
Turning Wood Bowls Connects Us With Nature

Story

Every tree has a story. I often wonder about each tree while I’m turning a bowl. How old is it? What did it witness? What might it say if it could?

I’ve been able to turn bowls from a tree that stood near my family’s driveway. It wasn’t until after turning a few bowls I made a startling realization. This tree, now these bowls, witnessed me coming and going from my childhood home. Not occasionally, but every single time!

We may not know the story of every tree we turn into bowls, but the history and lifespan of each tree was a part of many stories. Those stories all become encapsulated in every bowl turned.

Turn Wood Bowls From My Childhood Home
Honey Locust Wood Turned Bowl From My Childhood Home

Respect

Yes, trees are a natural resource. They grow all around and seem somewhat ubiquitous with most landscapes. It is easy to take that green in our sights for granted.

Wood bowl turning is an act of appreciating. As wood bowl turners, we carefully select pieces and parts of a tree to highlight and feature.

Think of that scene from The Lion King where the future lion king cub is held up in ceremony. That! That is what we do with each and every bowl turned. Hey! Look at this!

Yes, we all get busy and frequently take many things for granted. Turning a wood bowl is when we shine all the light on the fantastic trees we are blessed to have around us.

Reclaiming, salvaging, and recycling wood that would otherwise go to waste or other uses is the ultimate way to show our respect for this outstanding natural resource. Turning a bowl from a process that would otherwise go unnoticed is true appreciation.

Art

Wood bowl turning is an art form. Well, perhaps those first few bowls were a bit less artistic, but they still are art.

Where else do we get to make or create art in today’s world? For many of us, we are disconnected from the process of creating. Creating wood turned bowls is a foundational creative artistic expression.

The trees themselves are beautiful artistic expressions, and it’s up to us to showcase that magnificent beauty through our artistic filters.

Trees Are Artistic Expressions
Turn Wood Bowls Trees Are Artistic Expressions

Lasting

When done well, turned wood bowls will last a lifetime, perhaps several lifetimes. We have the opportunity to make something, a wood bowl, that will be passed down and valued for decades to come.

Wood bowl turners get to make heirlooms! Those trees, the stories, the people involved all carry on in the heart of each turned bowl.

What have you given friends and family for gifts in the last few years? What, you can’t remember? Neither can I. However, give a wood bowl that you turned and you will NEVER forget. Nor will they!

I find myself checking up on gifted wood bowls when we visit family and friends. It’s almost as if the wood bowls are friends (and family), too.

Turn Wood Bowls Ready To Travel To New Homes And Families
Wood Bowls Ready To Travel To New Homes And Families

Handmade

In our age of instant gratification, how often do we come across anything handmade? Turning wood bowls is a fantastic example of a handmade art form.

As the wood bowl turner, you make the decisions and guide your hands, heart, and soul throughout the entire creation process. A part of every woodturner is in each bowl.

I believe we were given hands to do and make things. I love making bowls by hand!

The Process

Putting a new bowl blank on the lathe is thrilling and a bit suspenseful each and every time. What’s inside this piece of wood? How will the finished bowl look? How do I want to shape this piece?

Internal questions (some doubts when first starting out) lead to shavings. Shavings lead to form. Form leads to a vessel being cradled fresh from the lathe.

The process of making a wood turned bowl is so captivating and intriguing. Time stands still. On many occasions after turning a bowl, I have to check a second clock to confirm the time. Time indeed flies when you turn wood bowls.

Turn Wood Bowls From Timber to Vessel
Turn Wood Bowls From Timber to Vessel

Therapeutic

Flowing curly shavings flying through the air and the subtle curves of an elegant bowl is the best remedy for whatever ails you. At the lathe, and turning a bowl, nothing else in the world matters.

I’ve gone to my lathe and turned bowls initially upset about something and found the process of turning washes all my troubles away.

Well, sometimes it may take a second bowl to forget everything really. Ha!

Why Turn Wood Bowls Pinterest Image Link

Conclusion

While everything I just shared about turning wood bowls is true, there’s still something else that drives the passion to make bowls.

The connection between the turner and a finished wood turned bowl is almost primal and definitely beyond words. We can talk and explain all we want, but there really is no way to explain this connection thoroughly.

Making wood bowls is just right… internally, spiritually, and naturally, deep-down satisfyingly RIGHT.

So if you ask me why I turn wood bowls and I say, “because its fun and I like working with wood,” that’s a cop-out.

Here’s the real answer to why I turn wood bowls:  “I turn bowls because it stirs my soul, connects me with nature, people and history and makes my life richer on countless levels.”

OK, now, who wants to join me?


Here are some articles to start your adventure:
STEP-BY-STEP HOW TO TURN A WOOD BOWL
THE BOWL TURNING BEGINNING
BOWL GOUGE BASICS


Welcome and Happy Turning,
Kent

Comments

  1. Your videos and web page are an inspiration to all of us. I really liked Stephens comment above it is right on. Most placed just want to sell and not take the time to really explain each step and why.
    Thanks again for all of the time and thought you put into this.

    1. Author

      Robert,

      Thank you for your kind words!

      All the best to you!

      Happy Turning,
      Kent

  2. After plodding through years of calculus in high school and college, I still felt I didnt get it. I muddled by. All it took was the right teacher in first summer session to distill the ideas down in a way my brain wanted for me to really grasp it. This is what is happening for me thanks to your instruction.

    I’ve turned different items big and small for years. I’ve muddled by. I’ve watched plenty of youtube – that’s how I found your site. I didn’t come here with high expectations, since largely what I find is that people who are supposed to be teaching or training are really just trying to make money, and not interested in actually helping at all. But here I was, still searching for a better way to grasp this “calculus”, and even now after just a short time, I already feel like several lights have (finally) started to glow. Eureka!

    I knew that solutions were out there but as you alluded to, people don’t show you the whole picture (for a variety of reasons I’m sure). Those of us that don’t know we don’t know are left in the dark, wondering why we aren’t getting satisfactory results.

    So thanks Kent. Please keep up the clear, thorough , and high-quality content while continuing to leave out the “extras” intended primarily to sell more above all else.

    Thank you also for providing this platform of communication and learning to share thoughts and perspectives with fellow members. It’s one of the best and worst features of youtube and it is great to hear the wisdom everyone has to share.

    Thanks to all of your comments, I’m inspired to make something new on the lathe after 18 months away from it.

    Thank you all.

    -Stephen
    Southern WV

    1. Author

      Stephen,

      Wow!

      Thank you for so clearly articulating your experience!

      It warms my heart to know I’ve connected in a way that is inspiring you to get back in the game and turn again.

      Please let me know if there is anything specific I can help you with.

      In the meantime, I hope to keep flipping on more light switches for you! 😉

      All the best to you!

      Happy Turning,
      Kent

  3. All you wrote is true. There is something primal and enduring about turning a block of wood into a useful utensil or piece of art. for me it started as a young man who wanted to hunt in Texas. I bought a rifle with a beautifully grained wood stock. I compare it today to all the composite stocks on other firearms. There is just something about the feel, look and quality of wood. The same thing happens every time I put a blank on the lathe. I wonder, as you do, what is in there. Is there a beautiful grain pattern, is there spalting that makes it stand out, what will be the result when sanded and the finish applied. Now, I have to get to the workshop because this article reminds me that i have a blank that is asking to be turned.

    1. Author

      Jerry,

      I’m just smiling.

      It’s nice to see you get it and understand the magic of wood bowl turning as I do.

      Happy Turning,
      Kent

  4. I was at my wife’s class reunion. The lady’s dad turned pens and gave us all a pen. I thought what a nice gift. Found a used lathe and tools {kinda a tool horse}. Started on pens and stoppers and never looked back. Looking to upgrade with a bigger swing . I have sold a few but most are giveaways. Did a few bowls still have number one! I like to make twig vases and other vases, rings, antler things, pine cone pens, peach seed pens. We are fortunate to spend a couple of warm months in Florida escaping the SNOW AND COLD in Nebraska. We go to Panama City Beach. The senior center has a WONDERFUL wood shop! Mostly carving and turning with great volunteers to help along the way. It is mostly segmented work. My third year I was lucky enough to win a best of show bowl at the county fair! This last winter I glued together seven bowls and turned them at home after we got back. The lathe time is very difficult to get . Five lathes and sixty people. Can’t wait to go again. Have to see how the world works out at 78 years old! i am still amazed at my work. One of my motivators is this my High School Industrial Arts teacher. He told me to try to find something else to do! Keep turnin’!

    1. Author

      Jerry,

      It’s so nice to hear your story and realize how we are all drawn to woodturning in similar passionate ways. I hope you are able to get more time on the lathe soon.

      All the best to you and take care!

      Happy Turning,
      Kent

  5. Kent, I love your enthusiasm and your willingness to share. I am a retired secondary school woodworking and art instructor. Turning on the lathe was always a lesson that was easy to sell to my students. They love the drama of the flying wood chips and the ribbons of shavings. I think the immediate results is a very appealing part of bowl making. as well. Personally, I do get an overwhelming sense of satisfaction from completing a rocking chair or other furniture design adventure. However, the immediate results of a turned object really feels good and is a necessary indulgence from time to time.

    1. Author

      Hello Douglas,

      Thanks for sharing. And its fun to hear how will all love to work with wood in one way or another.

      All the best to you.

      Take care,
      Kent

  6. Thank you Kent for another inspiring and easily readable article.
    As always I am unable to close the lap top until I have read it all.
    My reasons for turning are quite simple. “It is relatively quick and very relaxing to get the finished product to the end” (much like your written articles)
    Every time I see a tree removal starting to take place on my morning walks around the city of Kamloops, I introduce myself and ask the owner or the tree removal person if they would be so kind as to leave 2 pieces of wood for me when the job is done. This usually starts a question and answer session, and about a month later I return to the address and either give them a bowl, a wine glass, or a centrepiece made from their tree.
    The second piece of wood is mine to either give to someone else or to sell.
    Thank you again for brightening my day with your articles and information.

    1. Author

      Hello Colin,

      Thanks for sharing your story.

      Perhaps I should adopt your two log technique. I usually ask for the whole tree. LOL Two logs are so much more manageable than entire trees. 😉

      All the best to you. Take care!

      Happy Turning,
      Kent

  7. Hi, I find your explanations, thoughts, and enthusiasm helpful in my continuing to turn bowls from the trees around my area, giving back to the owners who had them cut down for one reason or another. I recently upgraded to a Harvey lathe which is a pleasure to operate. But as I finish any bowl, I wrestle with the finish on the inside trying to make sure it is food safe. Can you offer one of your blogs on what is right and wrong with the vast amount of materials on the market?
    Thanks

    1. Mr. Weakley you are without a shadow of a doubt a Godsend to people like myself who are brand new to the wonderful world of woodturning. I am moved by your deep desire to share your knowledge and experience with us lesser mortals. It is not my intention to bombard you with questions, suffice to say I will continue to read your articles and try to learn from them. Meanwhile, I send you and family greetings and best wishes from the gem of the Oceans the Emerald Isle.

      Freddie Kearney

      1. Author

        Freddie,

        This is perhaps the nicest comment I’ve ever received. Thank you so much!

        I’m thrilled to be able to assist you along your journey and help you enjoy making wooden bowls.

        Please, let me know if you have any questions and I’ll be glad to help.

        All the best to you in the Emerald Isle, my friend!

        Happy Turning,
        Kent

  8. The act of creating a legacy piece gifted to Your children and hopefully handed down. Nice to think they will have something you created after you’re gone.

    Also do you have a piece on creating those neat feet on your honey locus bowl?
    I want to try that soon!

    1. Author

      Hello Clive,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Yes, it is nice to think about making turnings that can and will outlast us.

      I believe I will be doing a mini-instruction course of making feet on a wood bowl. Stay tuned.

      Happy Turning,
      Kent

    2. Been turning pens for about 20 years . Just started turning bowls. I find it quite satisfying and the possibilities are endless. Dumped my old mini lathe and got a Jet 1221. Being just shy of 82, I hope that I can keep turning for at least 10 more years. That is a lot of bowls. Thanks for your good article!
      Dennis Weber

      1. Author

        Dennis,

        You’re welcome! Thanks for writing.

        You have a lot more bowls in you. Enjoy each one and keep up the good work!

        Happy Turning,
        Kent

  9. Kent,

    I discovered your website about six months ago, and continue to marvel at the way you teach. However, I’ve been disappointed in your lack of two way communication about your obvious teaching ability. This ability demands that you touch the people you reach about a subject as personal as turning. Collectively, we are a special breed, and desire/need a mentor that cares about what they do at the level you ascribe.

    I also know it takes a lot of thought, and the decision to communicate with your pupils, is extremely time consuming, which can and will take you away from that which you so much enjoy -turning, and the first half of teaching, which is communicating how you do what you do. Now you have taken the final step, allowing us to communicate with you, and in turn, you with us. Huge decision!

    I also, spent a weekend with David E. in N.C. a while ago- while I consider him a master at what he does, I felt somewhat empty after that trip, and realized (even though he’s been teaching for years) why. He needs at this stage in his life, to only teach at s masters level. Your site has continued to reach me in a way no other person, or site has.

    I’m so happy that you have started down the time consuming road of opening up two way communication with your pupils, as I am one of them. Your talent and ability far exceeds, any i’ve come across in over three years of part time turning.

    I’m retired now, after a long career as a owner and CEO of a company that helped client colleges nationally recruit students foe over thirty years. I just turned 79 years young, and i’m ready for my next adventure, and I’m so happy to have found a “partner” that has the same inner peace many turners have while they turn, and in your case, a mentor to boot!

    Keep it up, you have finally found your niche, two way communication between you and your pupils. After thirty years of working with higher ed institutions, I know the difference between the good, the bad, and the terrible…you are at the top of my list-welcome aboard!

    I apologize for the length of my note, but I felt obligated to respond with as much excitement as yours about why are doing what you do, and knowing how much you’ll be giving up by having conversations with your students. Kent, you will be paid back a thousand fold …nothing is more important, or satisfying than mentoring students, and responding in a meaningful way to each that really desire answers, and grow because of your answers.

    I don’t know how much time I have left on earth, but I know I‘ve found a man that has a very special talent. Teacher!- I will look forward to listing, observing, communicating with you as long as you will find two way communication satisfying. Last, I know you’ll never be able to satisfy all…but those you do, will thank you from the depths of their soul.

    Bill Dougherty

    1. Author

      Bill,

      Wow! Thank you for such a well-spoken and well-thought-out comment.

      I’m thrilled that you see and share my thrill of turning and sharing this craft.

      I have toyed with the idea of teaching one-on-one but currently, I don’t have an appropriate facility.

      Perhaps I will be doing some public demonstrations at symposiums in the future. I have been invited to the 2021 Florida Symposium and I’m currently preparing my itinerary for that event.

      When I hear your enthusiasm and energy to learn and be engaged in learning woodturning I want to dive in headfirst and get going. It’s funny how our “collective special breed” also can have a general outward appearance of not being too impressed by much. Again, your energy is a breath of fresh air. Thank you.

      Also, to help share many of the ideas and techniques, I will be starting to post more videos to YouTube. I’ve been waiting to make these videos until the website has a good base of foundational articles.

      Bill, I’m glad you’re enjoying the process of turning and thank you again for all the kind words!

      I’m thrilled to be your partner along this exciting learning journey!

      Happy Turning,
      Kent

  10. Hey Kent,

    I love it that you are so passionate about being close to nature and I see that you are an amazing wood turner. You have a way with words that a reader can no way stop reading until they finish it. Might not be well acquainted with how Wood turning works but I’m sure I’ll learn real soon from your site.

    1. Author

      Aakanksha,

      Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad to have had the chance to share with you.

      Enjoy! And perhaps you will be turning wood sometime soon!

      Thanks,
      Kent

  11. Hi,
    I just found this site and I am very happy about it. You seem genuinely enthusiastic about helping people get into turning and your work is beautiful, btw. I used to do this in high school waaay back but only until recently did I see an old vintage lathe for sale did I get the bug to try it again. Unfortunately the lathe I bought is not working right so I am looking for some advice as to which lathe to look for. Did I miss a section on your site which gives advice on what machine would be a good one? I wood (would, haha) like to eventually do larger bowls with it. Any suggestions?
    Thanks,
    Roman

    1. Author

      Hello Roman,

      Thank you for writing and I appreciate the compliments.

      You are correct, I have not done an article about various lathes for wood bowl turning. I do have a review for the Jet 1221vs and the Robust Sweet 16 lathes.

      You have me thinking now about how to structure such an article. What is your budget? Because, of course, that plays a large factor. And do you want to do other types of turning beside bowls?

      Thanks again, and stay tuned. I think you’ve planted the seed for a new article.

      Happy Turning,
      Kent

      1. Hi Kent! Great site. I can see myself spending hours here.

        However, I am having difficulty viewing pages such as https://turnawoodbowl.com/category/basics/ on my Mac. I have tried Safari, Chrome and Firefox. I can get to articles by other paths. but the category pages just come up blank.

        1. Author

          Norm,

          Thank you for the heads up! The issue should be resolved now.

          Dig in and learn away!

          Let me know if there are any topics or issues you’d like to see covered in more detail.

          Happy Turning,
          Kent

  12. Kent ,
    Im from Germany and my Englisch May be Not so Well , but i have to say thank you for this Website .
    Every free time i got the Last 3-4 days i spend reading your Articles and I’m loving it , there are so much useful informations.
    I’m in woodturning for almost a year now and I got a little lathe in my garage.
    I startet who’s spindelturning and little boxes and about 2 or 3 months ago I turned my first bowl and was exited like a toddler over the (more or less ) successful peace of wood I managed to turn , I hope you read this and
    I really like the way you write your articles go on !

    1. Author

      Daniel,

      Thank you so much for your kind words.

      It thrills me to know I can be of help to you in Germany. Yes, turning wood bowls makes me feel like a toddler too! LOL I guess that’s part of the fun of turning so many bowls.

      Stay in touch and enjoy yourself at the lathe!

      Happy turning,
      Kent

  13. Kent,
    THANK YOU for creating a wonderful web site full of great information. I’ve been turning for 10 years and still learn something new on a regular basis. Your site is a great resource for all levels of turners.
    David

    1. Author

      David,

      Thank you for the comment and the kind words. I love being able to help as many wood bowl turners as possible.

      Let me ask you, what is a particular issue that you feel you need to learn more about or understand better?

      I’m always looking to provide information that directly answers your questions.

      Thank you and Happy Turning,
      Kent

  14. You described the feeling and inspiration felt by an old man that is new to turning. A reason to rise tomorrow.

    1. Author

      Thank you, Frank.

      Yes, bowl turning is a great inspiration indeed!

      Happy Turning…and rising!!!

    1. Author

      You are welcome. I hope you get started and learn the thrill of wood bowling turning!

  15. The photo of the woods and creek is my back yard so to speak.. Trying to find a field book on trees for identification – Bark – Flower – Nut – Leaf.. so I can pick and choose what I find along the creek after a storm.

    1. Author

      Well if your backyard is the Smoky Mountain National Park, where I made that photo, you have a pretty nice selection of amazing timber all around you!

      1. No not the Smokey’s… Obed Wild and Scenic River and The Great South Fork not as many tourist.. and the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area with the Obed River. Many log jams after a hard storm.

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