How to make a shallow plate /bowl.
This is the plate we are about to make, it’s made from a piece of Elm and measures about 230 mm in diameter by about 40 mm thick.
When starting to make plates or bowls, do not start with a large piece of wood initially and tear into it like a person possessed, it will be much better if you select a piece of wood about 200-240 mm in diameter by about 35-40 mm thick, I will try to explain why this should be. By keeping it fairly small means you will get more practice in all the areas that matter, i.e. the profile or shape, dealing with the chuck recess, the final cuts and ofcourse the finishing. Another thing to avoid in the early days are deep bowls, the deeper it gets the harder it also gets, and lastly, definately no inverted tops until you have gained some more experience. Keep them shallow and open, this will mean that the bevel on your gouge will always be in contact with the wood with the minimum of difficulty.
The first picture shows the tools and equipment required to actually make a bowl, they are a faceplate, an expanding collet chuck, a 1/4″ bowl gouge, a 3/8″ bowl gouge, parting tool, skew chisel and a 1/2″ spindle gouge. In addition I would use a power drill with some Powerlock sanding discs and ofcourse you will need some sanding sealer, some lacquer or finishing oil, sanding cloths (various grits) and some wire wool.
Now to make the plate/bowl.
First select your blank, in this case it’s an Elm blank measuring 240 mm in diameter by 40 mm thick, the centre of the blank is clearly marked by the pencil marks taken from the compass centre used when drawing the circle on the blank prior to cutting it on the bandsaw. If you are purchasing blanks that are already cut they should have these marks on them when purchased.
Select a suitable faceplate, here I have used a 100mm diameter faceplate. Using your compass and the centre marks on the blank proceed to mark out the diameter of the faceplate on the blank as shown.
Now fix your faceplate to the blank by means of 4 screws, they don’t need to be very long, 20 mm will do, size 8-10 is adequate, but do make sure they are all tight.
Our blank now on the lathe, and the tool rest positioned ready to skim the base, use a 3/8″ bowl gouge rolled well over and cut as near as possible to the centre line, this cut is best done from the centre outwards but remember to keep the bevel rubbing. Now turn your rest round to cut the side of your blank, same tool used and cut from right to left again keeping the bevel rubbing, keep cutting until the edge is even all round.
Now with your disc being true, base and sides, start by laying out the foot and the chuck recess if required. I like to make the foot about 50% of the width of the blank. Use a parting tool to mark where the foot will extend to, this cut should be about 4 mm deep, lay out the size of your chuck recess with a compass, then cut away the area to a depth of about 4 mm using a parting tool and 1/4″ bowl gouge the inside edge of the recess should be cut at an angle to match that on your chuck jaws, for this I would use a tool shaped like a skew chisel, but used like a scraper, i.e. level with the centre line.
Next dress the bottom of the foot making it ever so slightly concave, by doing this your bowl will always stay stable as it’s going to be sitting on the outer edge of the foot. A small bowl gouge or spindle gouge could be used for this cutting towards the centre.
The next stage is to form the outside shape, for this use a 3/8″ bowl gouge, cutting with the grain i.e. from the small diameter to the large diameter or if you prefer from the base to the lip of the bowl. The gouge should be rolled over so that the flute is pointing to about 10 o’clock and the bevel kept rubbing at all times. The last area to work on the outside is the upstand on the foot, although only 4 mm deep it will require to be cleaned up, I would use a 1/2″ spindle gouge for this rolled right over to 9 o’clock and cutting from right to left.
The outside now almost complete, take your chuck and do a trial fit before you start the finishing process, there is nothing more annoying than to finish the outside, take it off the lathe and the faceplate, put the chuck onto the lathe offer up your bowl only to find it does not fit. Any error at the trial fit stage can quickly be put right, so take the time to do a trial fit, believe me you will at some stage thank yourself that you did. You are now ready to sand the outside of your bowl, for this I would use the following, a power drill, 2 sizes of Powerlock holders and some Powerlock discs, the holders are 2″ & 3″ and the disc are 120, 180 & 240 grit, as shown below.
Start by sanding the chuck recess area first, use a 2″ holder with a 120 grit disc, the lathe should be running at approx 1000-1500 rpm, the drill will be running at approx 2400 rpm, the bowl will be running anti clockwise with the drill running clockwise, using this knowledge place the disc on the area to be sanded so that they are running in opposite directions, I would sand in the area of the recess equal to that of approx 11 o’clock, using the area of the disc also equal to that of 11 o’clock. Tilt the disc slightly inwards towards the top of the disc, don’t press to hard and work towards the middle, repeat with the other 2 grades of discs 180 & 240 grit. You will require a small piece of J-Flex or similar sanding cloth to sand the inside edge of the chuck recess, do this before changing to the larger disc to sand the rest of the bowl, a piece of 240 grit should be sufficient.
Now with a 3″ holder and a 120 grit disc start to sand the outside of the bowl, use the top of the disc again slightly tilted forward and sand the foot first, holding the disc at about 9 o’clock on the bowl and work in towards the centre, next to sand is the small upstand of the foot, again at 9 o’clock on the bowl and the disc. Now for the main body of the bowl, start at the top edge of the bowl again at 9 o’clock and using the top left quadrant of the disc work your way down to the foot, you will not be able to get all the way from this side as the foot upstand will get in the way, so move your sanding disc over to a position just above 3 o’clock on the bowl and start from the foot upstand working back up the bowl until you reach the area already sanded. Stop the lathe and check frequently how your sanding process is working, there may be areas where the grain has been raised, this can often be removed very easily by applying some sanding sealer to just the affected area and sanding again, the effect the sealer has on these areas is to raise the grain making it easier to sand a second time. As you are sanding any small defects will show up as light or even white lines, these can be dealt with in the same way as raised grain. Now you need to repeat the process with 180 grit and 240 grit discs, as you go finer in grit the greater the chance of defects appearing, you may on some occasions have to revert back to a previous grit to deal with a troublesome area, you will also see that as you go finer in grit the darker your work will appear, having completed your 3 grades of sanding on your bowl, stop the lathe and give it one final inspection, if there are any sanding marks still visible, deal with them now, they will not go away, a small piece of very fine J-Flex (well worn) should do the job, sand any affected areas by hand with the grain and the lathe stationary, now with a wad of steel wool (0000) start the lathe and rub the steel wool all over the outside including the chuck recess, don’t rub too hard, just enough to achieve the final finish, wipe with a paper towel to remove any traces of dust including the chuck recess where here I would use a soft brush.
Your bowl is now ready to be sealed and polished.
The sealer we will be using is Mylands Cellulose Sanding Sealer, this needs to be diluted with cellulose thinners at the rate of about 60% sealer to 40% thinners, it should be similar to the consistency of skimmed milk. Apply to the stationary article with a brush and be fairly quick and liberal with it, what you are trying to do is coat the entire surface before any of it starts to dry, and this sealer dries at a very rapid rate, now wipe off the excess with a wad of paper kitchen towel, again working fairly quickly to avoid any area drying before the excess has been removed. It will be dry in a matter of seconds, switch on the lathe and flatten the raised grain with a wad of steel wool (0000) rubbing all over the sealed areas, do not press too hard. Now comes the lacquer (used as a top coat), again a Mylands product, Melamine Lacquer, this too needs to be diluted with the same thinners and at a similar rate. This is also applied to the stationary article, this time using a paper towel, put some lacquer on your towel and start to rub it in, coating all areas as evenly as possible, you may need to select an area where you start, say a knot or a colour variation and work away from that until you ultimately come back to it, the reason for this is that no noticeable change will take place during the application of the lacquer, hence you need to know where you have been. The lacquer like the sealer will be dry in a matter of seconds, but do make sure it is indeed dry before burnishing, a simple hand touch over the article will determine if it’s dry or not. At this stage it will appear a little dull or even bordering on satin or matt in appearance. With the lacquer dry we can now switch on the lathe and burnish using a clean new paper towel, again rub all areas keeping an even pressure, you are looking for the dullness to change to a soft glow, this will happen as you do it, if it’s not happening try pressing just a little bit harder, but do not over do it as it’s possible to go through the lacquer with too much pressure, better to start light and increase the pressure until you see the change happen, once you see the change happening try to maintain that pressure over the rest of the bowl. The outside is now complete, take the bowl off the lathe and remove the faceplate.
Having put the chuck onto the lathe, our bowl blank is offered up to be secured in place for the turning of the inside. The tool rest has also been put in place ready for the turning to start.
You will see that the tool rest is some way below the centre of the bowl, this is to allow for the thickness of the gouge and the angle it needs to be presented at to achieve the best cut. You will also see that the gouge has been rolled over to have the flute pointing to about 2 o’clock, now with the bevel rubbing on the wood start your first cut going towards the centre of the bowl. A principle of bowl turning to remember is always work from the small diameter to the large diameter on the outside, and from the large diameter to the small on the inside, that way you will always be working with the grain of the wood. I would normally use more than one gouge on the inside of the bowl, the main gouge would be a 3/8″ bowl gouge followed by a 1/4″ bowl gouge for the final cuts.
This picture shows that a series of cuts have been made towards the centre, but a cone of wood still remains, the reason for working like this is that a larger diameter bowl can move as you remove material from the inside. This is all to do with releasing the stress that’s built up inside a piece of wood, the cone in the middle helps to keep the outer part stable until you reach your final cut, making it easier to do, once you have reached that point you will now have to remove the centre cone, do this without touching the area already cut. The smaller bowls will not require this approach, you can in effect cut all the way to the centre with each cut.
Here the thickness of the sides is being checked with a double ended callipers prior to removing the centre cone. Once you are happy with the thickness being as near constant as you can make it continue to remove the centre cone, remembering to keep the profile constant and the thickness the same, you will also need to be aware of the overall thickness in relation to the area where the chuck recess is, making sure you do not penetrate it, I like to leave about 5 mm over the chuck recess area, this amount will ensure a good sanding base is maintained and the bowl should not distort due to it being too thin.
The inside now that it’s been completed is ready to be sanded, repeat the sanding process as was described for the outside, but this time using only the 3″ holder and discs. The area I would use the sander on is the top quadrant on the right hand side and in the area of between 2 and 3 o’clock on the bowl, starting in the middle and working out to the lip of the bowl, the part of the disc that should be in contact with the bowl should be from about 12 o’clock to about 3 o’clock and angle the drill slightly upwards from the middle, this will ensure the bowl and the disc are travelling in opposite directions, and that’s what you are looking to achieve.
Our bowl now that the sanding process is complete.
It’s now ready to seal and polish.
Repeat the sealing and polishing process as described above for the outside.
The bowl having had one coat of sealer and one coat of melamine, ready to be removed from the lathe.
The completed bowl.
The wood is Elm.