As The Lathe Turns #6: Lessons Learned In Bowl Turning

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Blog entry by William posted 02-24-2013 12:02 AM 5570 reads 0 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 5: This Idiot Can Learn Part 6 of As The Lathe Turns series Part 7: The Bent Shaft Lathe »

Learning to turn bowls is becoming quite an adventure. It seems sometimes that the more I learn, the more I have to learn. It is a fun adventure though, so I think I’ll keep at it for a long time to come. Actually, the amount of knowledge and skill required I think is what makes turning even more interesting to me. A lot of wood working skills come easy to me. Sometimes, it seems they come too easy and there just isn’t much of a challenge to it. Therefore, something like turning, that challenges me every step of the way, holds my interest much better. It has gotten to where some other skills I rely on for working wood become a bore. They are just going through the motions. Each time I turn on that lathe though I feel a sense of excitement of what I might learn today.

I started out trying to turn bowls in end grain. I don’t know why. Looking back on it, I think it just made more sense to me. It seemed to me, round tree, round bowl. It isn’t that simple though. Through research and the help of some good friends guiding me towards some good video where I could see proper techniques, I’ve come a long way since turning the bowl in this photo.
Along the way, I learned that there is a place for end grain turning. However, after turning that end grain, I placed it on my work bench as a reminder of why you don’t turn deep bowl in green end grain wood. All that cracking wood would just never do.

This next bowl was never meant to be complete. It was just a practice piece to test some of what I’d been learning. Looking at it on my bench now though, I sort of wish I had turned a tenon on the bottom of it so it would be easier to go back and actually finish it.

It was along this same time that I started realizing the dangers of using spindle gouges for bowl turning. The gouge on top of this photo is a spindle gouge. The one on bottom is a bowl gouge. That’s a lot of different in tool size. I found out it is more than just size though. Tool weight and balance, and strength, makes the bowl gouge just handle better for the over reaching past the tool rest that you do with bowl turning.

In this photo, you see the bowl gouges I ordered. These are Benjamin’s Best gouges from Penn State Industries. You can order these gouges here if you’d like. Through my inexperience, these seem to be some great tools here, and if you research the prices of bowl gouges around the internet, they are also very reasonably priced.

My next trial in bowl turning turned into another disaster, but another lesson. I learned to start researching woods that I try to turn with. This is a hunk chopped off a cypress log. I tried turning it after mounting it with an reverse tenon. I’m not sure if that’s the proper terminology, but I turned a recess in the bottom, reversed it, and then tried mounting it on my chuck with the jaws pushing outwards into that recess. I couldn’t then understand why, not long after I started hogging the material out of the inside of the bowl, it slung off the lathe at high speed.
I done what I’ve started doing anytime I don’t understand something turning related. I stopped and got on the internet to try and learn. I learned that cypress is not a good wood to be turning bowls with anyway.

That brings me to my latest bowl, and my first successful bowl. I know it doesn’t look like much, but it is a huge accomplishment for me.
The bowl is only two inches deep. It started out as about a five inch deep bowl. I messed it up several times though, and when I did, would part off the top of the mistake and keep going. This was after all supposed to be a learning exercise. I’m afraid I won’t be using the bowl. It is still green and I turned it thin, as a finished bowl, just for practice sake. In the future, I need to leave them thicker, unfinished, to be able to turn them down to a finished state after they’ve dried. That is for the future though. For, now, I’m happy enough turning green finished bowls that I know won’t be usable just for the experience. I’ll have usable bowls soon enough that I’ll look back on these and laugh at them.


12 comments so far

View Roger's profile


20928 posts in 2803 days

#1 posted 02-24-2013 12:21 AM

I think you’ve already become a dynamite bowl-turner.

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

View DIYaholic's profile


19620 posts in 2674 days

#2 posted 02-24-2013 12:26 AM

Great description of your learning process! I was able to learn as well. Thank you!!!

Reading about your journey and the enthusiam you have for it, makes me want to get my lathe set up ASAP!!! It will have to wait though, as I’ve a few more pressing shop matters to deal with. Namely, getting it more organized, but also figuring out where the lathe will go! Plua I need to order/purchase turning tools and paraphernalia.

I’m glad you are able to get into the shop!!! Keep up the learning & rambling, as I look forward to following along & absorbing a little knowledge through osmosis!

-- Randy-- I may not be good...but I am slow! If good things come to those who wait.... Why is procrastination a bad thing?

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 3303 days

#3 posted 02-24-2013 12:32 AM

do you know the technique of putting the bowl in a bag of sawdust to help it dry…something i heard a turner say was the best thing to do…im glad your enjoying the adventure, i wish i could get into it, turning is so cool, Ive watched it plenty to know its a real art in making things, have fun learning everything…i cant wait to see what you do with some walnut of other cool woods, some maple…once you get into some walnut, then turn me a new bowl…or a platter or shallow bowl…keep at it, i know you will.

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View William's profile


9949 posts in 2842 days

#4 posted 02-24-2013 12:38 AM

Thank you Roger. I don’t know if I’d agree, but I’ll get there.

Randy, the tool purchases don’t end right away either. I’m waiting currently for a set of scrapers from PSI myself.

Grizz, this is a fun adventure. I’m learning more and more each time I turn on the lathe. Actually, I’ve been down lately and everything has been slow, including my posting. I have more I’ve done lately. I’ll be typing up another entry tonight.
For now though, I have pizza that isn’t going to eat itself. So I’ll have to delay typing that entry for a few minutes.


View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2689 days

#5 posted 02-24-2013 02:46 AM

From marble machine wizard to bowl turner. I know you’re having fun and that’s the whole point. I love the way that grain ran across that last bowl. Why is it not useful? Looks perfect to me.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View William's profile


9949 posts in 2842 days

#6 posted 02-24-2013 03:22 AM

I say it’s not useful because I’m sure it’ll change shape and possibly crack while drying. At the moment, it is sitting on my bench, wet as a dish towel. That bowl spit water all over me while turning it. I do think I will turn some out of that same wood though. I’ll leave them thicker though so that after they dry I can turn them to final shape and use them in my kitchen.


View Bearpie's profile


2601 posts in 3017 days

#7 posted 02-24-2013 03:38 AM

Actually, William it will split faster the thicker you leave the walls! I would try to turn it under 1/4” that usually minimizes the splitting of cracking! It will warp a bit but that gives it character! I would rather have a warped bowl than a split one. I also see that you need to sharpen your tool more often. Just a light touch on the grinder is all you need. A good tip is to sharpen your tool just before you are done with the bowl, that way you have a sharp tool for your final cut and it will leave your bowl smoother. This comes with experience such as knowing when to put a new blade on your scroll saw! You are on your way to having fun, fun, fun!

-- Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

View William's profile


9949 posts in 2842 days

#8 posted 02-24-2013 03:51 AM

Thanks Bearpie.
I did sharpen the tool just before finishing. I don’t think that is the problem, but I know what it is. I’m still on a steep learning curve on the sharpening skills too. Something I have figured out is that sharpening lathe tools pretty much requires one to forget a lot of what you know about sharpening other type tools. You see, I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m saying I need to learn more about sharpening. I’ll get there though.
That’s good to know about thicker bowls cracking more. I’m leaving this one on the bench. I also have the one up there with the bark on it, and the end grain one with all the cracks on it. Until I start piling up too many, I’m leaving anything green I turn up there so I can observe how they react as they dry. You see, this is something else I need to learn, how the wood acts between completely wet and completely dry. Again, it’s just more and more I must learn. It is fun to do so though.


View William's profile


9949 posts in 2842 days

#9 posted 02-24-2013 03:57 AM

I have a question about sanding green wood.
Is there a process for doing it? Or do you just have to wait for the wood to dry?
I tried sanding some of my tool marks out of this bowl. The sandpaper loaded up almost instantly though.


View JL7's profile


8662 posts in 2964 days

#10 posted 02-24-2013 06:14 AM

Here’s that persistence thing working again…..that final bowl looks great. Lots of learning here..I agree, I tend to want to build more challenging things and keep pushing my own limits….I’m sure we’ll be seeing some other cool stuff off those lathes in the near future….

-- Jeff .... Minnesota, USA

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3333 days

#11 posted 02-24-2013 10:45 AM

You did good William. Your bowl has a pleasing shape to it. It is what we call ‘rough turned’ and now you have to let it dry for around 3 months in a dark cool dry place. It’s good to leave it in the wet shavings for a couple of days first. I like to dry mine in paper feed sacks. The paper allows transfer of moisture but still keeps the drying slow. Sanding isn’t necessary since you will be finish turning it later anyway. In the old days turners in Norway and Sweden traveled around from farm to farm near towns and villages. They would get free wood for turning new stuff for the farmer. The rest would be sold by the turner’s family members around in the area while he worked. Freshly turned pieces were often stuffed into grain storage to slow down the drying process.

Just a note about endgrain turning. This is not something to fear when turned wet. The advantage to that kind of turning is that you can complete it in one go providing you leave the walls and bottom an even thickness. You can measure the depth to bottom easy enough, but you need calipers to determine the wall thickness. If you are turning a piece with the pith centered (a small log) you might have to use some glue to soak into the pith so it won’t drop out. Thin super glue works well for this. Otherwise there are no particular problems with this type turning, except you need sharp gouges or other appropriate tools to make clean cuts. So I hope you won’t wait too long before you give this type of turning a go again. I always choose an extra long piece and use as many long screws as possible with a steel faceplate mounted on the bottom for these turnings. The long screws are necessary since they don’t hold as well in endgrain. There are many other ways to mount them too, but this is a good safe way.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View William's profile


9949 posts in 2842 days

#12 posted 02-24-2013 01:57 PM

Thank you Stefang for all your helful advice through these adventures so far.

The finished green bowl I don’t think will be turned any more. You see, the sides are about the thickness I wanted for the bowl. The bottom is a different story. I kept messing up on the bottom. I wasn’t keeping steady enough cut. I know now it’s because I was making a push shearing cut when I should have been making am extremely light pull scraping cut. Anyway, before I figure this out, I’d gotten the bottom down to about one sixteenth of an inch. That’s pretty thin, so I don’t think I’ll be doing anything else with it. I will be turning more like it though.

I will be doing more end grain turning in the future. The bowls are just the thing I’m trying to get good at right now. There are so many things though, including the end grain turning, that I wish to eventually learn to be better at.


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