Half log natural edged bowl.
How to make a natural edged bowl.
Of all the things that can be made on a lathe I think natural edged bowls have to be in the top 3 of everything I have ever made on my lathe, they are quite marvellous to look at, interesting and enjoyable to do once you understand the way they are made. Not at all difficult to do with a little practice and gaining the knowledge to know where you should be cutting. There are basically 4 types of natural edged bowls, the easiest of these to do comes from a log that has been halved lengthwise giving you a “D” shaped piece to work from, the second comes from a short piece of log left in the round, the third and most interesting comes from a piece of wood where the stem divides into two branches and a “Y” piece is created, and lastly, the forth comes from a piece of burr which by it’s very nature can be very irregular in thickness and shape. I will try to go through the method I use in all of these ways of making natural edged bowls. There are of course spindle turnings that also use the natural shape, one of which is the Mushrooms another could be a vase or a table lamp, some of these we may touch on later.
As this is the first of the natural edged bowls I am about to do, I will try to guide you through it in as much detail as I can, both in pictures and text. The first one being the half log is as I have stated above the easiest one to do. There are one or two things you need to be aware of when doing these, all will be revealed as we go through the process.
Now to get on and make the bowl
I have chosen a piece of Native Cherry for our bowl, most timbers are suitable for this type of bowl although I have to say my preference would be for Laburnum or Walnut, what ever you use the first necessity needs to be that the wood is dry, and choose a piece that’s free of cracks or shakes or can be cut back to solid material, this normally means selecting a piece that’s considerably longer than that required and cutting off the cracked ends until you reach solid material.
This is my chosen log, it’s Native Cherry and measures between 6 and 7″ in diameter, its about 2 foot (600 mm) long which should give me a suitable piece. The end at (A) had been recently cut and had no shakes in it, so that determined which part I was going to use, the end at (B) was an original cut when the tree was felled and had several shakes. One of the most important things to know and do when making these is to cut the length about 2″ (50 mm) longer than that of the diameter, the logic would be to cut to the same length as that of the diameter so that you end up with a complete sphere but that makes it very difficult to do, I would always cut it longer so that you end up with a boat shaped bowl. The diameter is about 6″ (150 mm) so the length will be about 8″(200 mm) that puts my cut at a point just below (C). Once cut I would check for shakes and if all’s well proceed to the next stage.
Our blank now cut from the larger piece and checked for shakes, none visible so I marked it out for cutting on the bandsaw. When selecting where to cut try to get the centre pith in the cut, this will give you 2 blanks to work with, they may not be the same size as the centre pith is not always in the actual middle of the log, you will see the pencil line marked on our blank where my cut will be, you will also see that the 2 parts will not be the same size. If you don’t have a bandsaw to cut the blanks they can be cut using a conventional hand saw given a little time, a twin cut saw is useful for this as it cuts on both the push and pull strokes.
The log now cut with the bandsaw, you will see they are not the same size and the one on the right needs the short piece of branch that’s sticking out removed, I will turn it round and remove it with the bandsaw. The one on the left is the piece I’m going to use.
Now you need to find the centre of the blank where the pin jaws will go to hold the blank, and of course that needs to be done on the rounded side of the blank. That’s not difficult along it’s length, simply measure and mark at the half way point, finding the centre on the rounded side is a little more complicated, for this I use the side of the bandsaw blade and a square, then measure between the two, in this case it measures 6″(150 mm) so mark at 3″ (75 mm) as can be seen above.
Measurements over and the centre clearly marked where the drill needs to go to drill the hole for the pin chuck.
This picture gives you the best view of how the centre was arrived at, just using the side of the bandsaw blade and a square then the tape measure.
Now before drilling the hole it’s quite important to get the top of the two ends of the blank as level as possible, this makes for a more balanced bowl in the end. You will see that in order to achieve this I had to put a piece of wood under the left end to get my blank level. A pillar drill is most useful for the drilling but it can be done with a hand drill on a bench and judging your angles as near as possible as you drill the hole.
Satisfied my blank is level I have a 35 mm drill bit in the drill and have started the cut, the hole needs to be about 40 mm deep in order to get a good solid hold with the pin jaws.
The hole now drilled, it’s over to the band saw again, you can cut off some of the wood on the extreme corners of the blank, be careful not to take too much, just enough to make the first cuts easier.
The chuck now fitted with the 35mm pin jaws ready to take the blank.
The tools we have used so far.
A chainsaw to cut the blank from the log, or
this could be done with a hand saw.
The bandsaw to cut the blank in half, also could be done with a hand saw.
A square & tape measure to get the centre.
The pillar drill and a 35 mm drill bit, this could also be done on the bench with a hand drill, just make sure you get the drilling angle right.
A level to determine the top edges.
The blank now with the corners cut off and ready to be mounted on to the lathe by the pin jaws.
Hand tools required are as follows,
Parting tool, 3/8″(10 mm) Bowl gouge, 1/4″ (6 mm)Bowl gouge,
1/4″ (6 mm) Spindle gouge, Skew chisel,
Pair of dividers.
Our blank now on the pin jaws and ready to be worked, make sure you tighten the jaws so that there is no chance of slippage.
I have brought the tool rest into position, you will see that the rest is a little below the centre, (marked in pencil) this is to allow for the thickness of the tool I’m going to use first which is the 3/8″(10 mm) bowl gouge.
For even more security on the blank the tailstock could also be used, again you will see that the tool rest is a little below the centre to allow for the thickness of the tool. For all beginners this would be my recommended method.
Using the 3/8″ (10 mm) bowl gouge start to take the first cuts working from the smaller diameter to the larger diameter, (A to B).
Your speed will depend on how uneven the blank is, but should be between 700 rpm to 1000 rpm.
At this stage the area of the recess for the chuck jaws has been marked out, (centre Ring) also the area of the foot for the bowl has been marked, (outer ring). You will see that the outer turning has progressed to about half way up the bowl so far.
The recess area has now been cut using first a parting tool to go in inboard of the inner ring to a depth of about 4 mm, then a 1/4″ (6 mm) bowl gouge is used to remove the rest of the wood in the middle to the same depth cutting towards the centre, then a bevel needs to be created on the vertical edge to match that of the jaws, this can be done using your skew chisel. You will also see I have taken more off the outside with the 3/8″ (10 mm) bowl gouge, I’m now about 3/4 of the way along the outside.
I continued the cuts on the outside until I reached the top, (point B), again only cutting from the small to the large diameter or from (A to B), now the lower profile of the bowl needs to be shaped at position (A) between the foot and the side of the bowl.
The lower profile has now been done using the 3/8″ (10 mm) bowl gouge, again going from the small diameter to larger diameter, I have also blended this area with the rest of the outside, now a final cut with a 1/4″ (6 mm) spindle gouge over all of the outside will give me a good finish that will require only a modest amount of sanding.
The outside after my final cuts, the outside is now ready to be sanded. For this I would use mainly the Powerlock system of sanding.
The powerlock system.
The recess can be sanded using a cut down version of a 2″ (50 mm) holder and discs, (item C) or if the recess is big enough (item B), these go into the chuck of a hand drill and ran at the top speed, the lathe too should be running and the two going in opposite directions, the area of the disc being used would be between 9 and 1 o’clock and on the wood 9 o’clock to the middle. Three grits would be used, starting with a 120g then onto a 180g and finishing with a 240g. Now for the rest of the sanding, the 3″ holder and discs (item A) should be used, do the foot first, again from about 9 o’clock inwards and using the same part of the disc and again all 3 grades. The sides of the bowl can now be done using the same 3″ system, start at the bottom and work your way up the sides, use the discs at about 9 o’clock on both the discs and the wood, as you come up the sides try to keep the revolving wood touching the flat of the disc on the left hand side, you will be feeling the irregular shape whilst doing this, don’t be tempted to use the edge of the discs and keep the pressure even, you need to be in charge at this stage, again use all 3 grades and finish off with a wad of steel wool (0000). Now stop the lathe and check for any sanding marks, due to the nature of this type of bowl it can be difficult to get a first class finish first time and some hand sanding may be required with the lathe stationary, if so use a very fine sanding cloth and sand with the grain, I would use a piece of 240g J.Flex sanding cloth. Now we are ready to seal and polish.
Sealing and polishing, I use Mylands sanding sealer mixed with Mylands cellulose thinners, the sealer needs to be thinned to about 60-40, the 60 being the sealer and the 40 being the thinners, it needs to be this thin to penetrate the wood. Apply it with a soft paint brush and be liberal with it, you want to cover all of the turned surfaces as quickly and evenly as possible because it dries at a very rapid rate, ideally you will have all of the surfaces coated before it starts to dry, at this stage use a paper towel to rub the sealer into the wood, do this all over and quickly, once it’s all been rubbed in it should be dry within a very few seconds but check to see that it is with the points of your fingers, all of this is done with the lathe stationary. On most timbers this will have caused the grain to rise, (it will feel a little rough) this can be flattened by using a wad of steel wool (0000) grade, turn on the lathe and flatten all the sealed surfaces with the wire wool, a gentle pressure is required and that should leave a nice smooth finish, checking with your fingers as you go. Now for the polish or top coat, again I would use a Mylands product, this time it’s their Melamine Lacquer, this too needs to be thinned and at a similar rate of 60-40 the 60 being the Lacquer and the 40 being the thinners. This time it’s applied with a pad of kitchen towel to the stationary item, do the base first, tip some Lacquer onto your pad and rub it into the recess first followed by the foot, you will only see that it will look a little wet on the areas you have coated otherwise it’s difficult to know where you have already coated. As for the sides the same process applies, this time you need to pick an area on your bowl where you know you have started and work round the bowl until you reach the starting point again, once all the surfaces have been coated it should dry in less than a minute, but again check by touching it with your fingers to make sure it’s dry, at this stage it should look a little dull. Now take a fresh clean wad of paper towel and make it into a pad, switch on the lathe and burnish the whole of the outside, start at the base and apply a little pressure on the area being burnished, you should see the dullness start to disappear, continue this over the whole surface until you are happy it all looks the same. The outside is now complete, we can remove it from the lathe and change the jaws on the chuck.
The chuck now fitted with the dovetail jaws to suit the recess on the bowl.
The bowl blank now on the dovetail jaws and secured firmly.
The tool rest now in position, you will see it’s slightly below centre, this is to allow for the thickness of the tool, in this case a 3/8″ bowl gouge. We are now ready to start to work the inside, but first check to see that the bowl turns without touching the rest, do this by hand.
The first few cuts have been made with the 3/8″ bowl gouge working from the left to the centre and slightly inwards towards the hole where the pin chuck went at the same time, this is what it will look like at this stage.
This is how it will look after a further few cuts have been made, I have now reached the bottom of the pin chuck hole, again all the cuts have been from the left to the centre, use the bevel of the tool resting on the wood to make these cuts.
After further cuts have been made I am approaching the most critical part, trying to get the width of the bark even all round the bowl. This will require frequent stops to check for the width of the bark. At this stage the bottom of the inside of the bowl will still require quite a lot of work, but get the bark area right first.
The outside rim now even all round, you can now concentrate on removing the last of the material in the middle without touching the area where the bark is. Do take depth checks often just to make sure you do not go through the bottom, try to leave at least 4-6 mm of material in the bottom and also remember to make allowance for the depth of the chuck recess
This is how my bowl looked as I reached the final depth, you will see that there are several tool marks visible, all that remains is for me to change my gouge to a 1/4″(6 mm) bowl gouge that has been recently sharpened and for me to take one final very fine cut over the whole of the inside removing all the tool marks making it ready for the sanding to begin.
The final cut has been done and It’s now ready to be sanded. The Powerlock system will be used again and will to a large degree follow the same procedure as was done on the outside using both the 2″ (50 mm) & 3″ (75 mm) holders and discs, one difference will be when we come to sand the wings of the bowl (the area above where the wood is solid all round) needs to be treated differently. Start with the 3″ holder and a 120g disc, with the lathe running at it’s normal speed, now using the disc in the hand drill and the drill on full speed start at the centre and work horizontally towards 3 o’clock on the bowl, use the top right quadrant of the disc and work outwards until you reach the point where the wood is no longer solid all round, you will feel it in addition to seeing it happening. Once you are happy with the finish in this area with the 120g disc, repeat with the 180g and then with a 240g disc. Now for the wings, (the areas above where the wood is solid all round), change the holder to a cut down version of the 2″ holder, and put a full size 2″ disc on, don’t put a new disc on as they can be a bit aggressive, better to use a well worn 120g or a just used 180g, my preference is a just used 180g disc. With the lathe stationary and the shaft locked (if possible) use the drill to sand the wings, the flexibility afforded by the cut down holder and a full size disc means that the sanding becomes a fairly simple process to do, don’t press the disc to hard on any of the areas being sanded, let it just about float over the surface only just making contact. You may need to unlock the shaft and rotate the bowl a little to get the best access before locking it off again to complete the sanding. Both wings need to be treated in the same way, and a finishing disc of 240g well used should be used on both wings also. Once you are happy with the finish on the wings, put the 3″ holder and a 240g disc back into the drill, switch on the lathe and sand the whole of the inside lightly, start at the middle and work towards 3 o’clock with the disc at full speed, come up past the point where the wood is no longer solid blending in the two areas, use the top right quadrant of the disc and have it just touching the wood and no more, don’t over sand the wings areas with both running, this can result in a rounding over of the leading edges and we want to keep the bark area crisp and constant. After sanding with the disc stop the lathe and check for any sanding marks on the wings, if there are they can easily be removed with a pad of 240g Jflex sanding cloth (or similar) and done manually with the lathe stationary, a final rub with 0000g steel wool and the lathe running should complete the sanding process.
The bowl after the sanding has been completed, now it’s ready to be sealed and polished.
The sealing and polishing proceedure for the inside is the same as that for the outside with one slight difference, Once you have sealed and polished all the cut surface on the inside of the bowl, coat the natural edge bark with at least two coats of sanding sealer, do this with a brush and carefully and don’t let it spill over onto the polished surfaces of either the inside or the outside and allow to dry between coats for at least 5 minutes, this will keep the bark from peeling at a later date.
The bowl now sealed and polished and the bark coated with two coats of sealer, don’t do anything further to the bark areas after it’s dry, your bowl is now finished.
Three images of our finished bowl.
The wood is Cherry.