Go Bowls

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Project by TheGravedigger posted 07-12-2007 04:20 AM 4876 views 3 times favorited 25 comments Add to Favorites Watch

These bowls are used to hold stones for the game of Go. Known as Igo in Japan, Wei Chi in China, and Baduk in Korea, Go is widely considered to be the oldest board game still in common play. It is widely popular throughout the orient, with major tournaments backed by huge corporate sponsors, and a tremendous international rivalry between Japan, China, and Korea. The basics can be learned in a few minutes, but the strategic concepts can take a lifetime to master (if then!).

The bowls are shaped in the Go-Seigen style, which is characterized by a very simple form. The other predominant Japanese bowl style is Kitani, which is slightly narrower and taller with a more ornate beaded rim to the lid. I chose the Go-Seigen style because the simpler style worked better with the prominent grain of the wood. Kitani is more appropriate for a finer-grained wood such as mahogany, cherry, or maple. The lids of the bowls are used to hold captured stones , and therefore need a dished inside as well as a reasonably flat top so that they won’t rock when inverted. The trick is to provide this flat space without spoiling the lines of the bowl.

These bowls are turned from black locust, which is widely considered to be the hardest wood in North America. I don’t doubt it. Outside turning wasn’t so bad, but the hollowing was a nightmare. The payoff came in the glossy smooth surface that resulted from finishing. I rarely go this high, but final sanding was done with 800 grit, and actually improved the surface. The tung oil finish was simply a protectant, and added little extra gloss. I chose tung oil because it would be easy to refresh the look of the bowls as they wear in use.

-- Robert - Visit my woodworking blog:

25 comments so far

View Sawdust2's profile


1466 posts in 4114 days

#1 posted 07-12-2007 05:09 AM

I’m not a bowl turner but tried to turn some mesquite. It was too difficult for me to work with so I truly admire both the effort that went into these bowls and the finished product.

Playing Go is a lot easier.

-- No piece is cut too short. It was meant for a smaller project.

View Takeshi's profile


9 posts in 4000 days

#2 posted 07-12-2007 04:33 PM

Wow, the Go bowl is very familiar to me, Japanese.
and my nickname is Go in addition to , ;-)
Locust is hard and heavy so K know you had hard time with it to apply sanding up to #800. and I love the luster that the wood has itself.

-- impatient makes inpatient, work safe

View TheGravedigger's profile


963 posts in 4050 days

#3 posted 07-12-2007 08:20 PM


I don’t think Go is easier. I often find myself in a mess in a game and wonder what I did to get there. At least with woodworking mistakes become apparent quickly. However, Go and woodworking are similar in that your mistakes stare you in the face until it’s over.

However, the next time I make a pair of bowls, I’ll chose a different wood!


I know that the English word “Go” is used for more than one Japanese concept. I personally know of the game and the number 5. What does your nickname “Go” mean?

Here in the South, black locust if often used for fence posts, due to its durability and resistance to rot, and has few other uses. I was able to get a large piece (5” x 6” x 4 feet) for $10. I thought it would be fun to play with—silly me! The grain is a little coarse, but took a lovely shine. I have seen Japanese bowls with strong grain as well, but not the more expensive ones.

A future project will probably be a set of Kitani bowls in something like sycamore or curly maple. The problem is finding large enough pieces of wood for the project, as glue-lamination is of course out of the question. I HAVE done some projects in locally-produced spalted river birch, and this may be an option. I’ll have to check with my log-man.

The stones in the picture are 8mm, and the bowls should be big enough for 10mm. I’d love to have a 9.2mm set of yuki-grade slate-and-shell stones, but they are expensive as you know. Even if I could afford them, I would then have to invest in a good kaya board, which is totally out of my price range <sigh>.

For those that don’t know the game, Japanese aesthetics require that all components of a Go set be of approximately the same quality, and provide a harmonious experience. To fail to do this would be roughly akin to wearing tennis shoes with your suit.

-- Robert - Visit my woodworking blog:

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 4273 days

#4 posted 07-12-2007 08:26 PM

Gorgeous Bowls, I hope to get that good someday. Beautiful. jockmike

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View Takeshi's profile


9 posts in 4000 days

#5 posted 07-16-2007 04:54 PM

My nickname go is another pronunciation of Takeshi. Pronunciation is not go of igo but go of Go and Stop.

You may know KANJI has several kind of pronumciation, normally two, some are more.
My go means Hard, Strong, Brave, I’m a gentle man though. :-)
For turning, shot log is enough. :-) and it’s rare chance for me to get big blocks.

Kaya ! If you make Goke (Go bowl) with Kaya, I’d like to ask where you got it. :-0
Sure, it’s hard to find proper wood block , big enough, to make Goke.
My shop is in mountainous area, so I sometime find fat but short log left in forest near by.

-- impatient makes inpatient, work safe

View mot's profile


4911 posts in 4063 days

#6 posted 07-16-2007 07:34 PM

Wow! Great bowls, Grave! The finish and the grain just pops. The lids add a wonderful dimension. I like the form with the gentle curve accented by the top. Really nice turning!

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

View TheGravedigger's profile


963 posts in 4050 days

#7 posted 07-16-2007 11:45 PM

Takeshi: Kanji is a very confusing script! I have even seen Japanese tracing a character in their palm to help the other person understand which word they mean. Then you add hiragana and katakana to the mix… I’ll stick with Western letters! As for your nickname, I think “Go” is very appropriate for a workman. I once heard Odate Toshio say that the worst insult for a Japanese workman was to call him “slow”. In this case, “Go” is much better than “Stop”!

As for kaya, I was referring to the goban (go board to us Gaijin). I don’t recall seeing kaya goke in my research. I wouldn’t think that would be appropriate with a kaya goban. Most bowls seem to be of a contrasting wood. I have seen beautiful ones made of karin, chesnut, and others. I would love a Japanese kaya goban, but they’re not cheap!

Mot: The shape is a classic Japanese form for go bowls. As you have noticed, the hardest part is to get the lid to harmonize with the shape of the bowl. The subtle shadow at the bottom of the lid is important, as is the idea of the flat top that doesn’t detract from the overall oval form. Also, the dished inside of the lid must be large enough to hold a reasonable number of stones while still giving a harmonious shape. I studied as many different examples on-line as I could before I attempted the project. Also, I didn’t have enough spare wood to allow for a mistake!

A close look will reveal that the two bowls are not identical. A perfectly matched pair is beyond my skill level. Even with a contour gauge, I still wound up with two slightly different cross-sections. This resulted in openings that were different enough that one lid will not fit the other bowl. Still, a harmonious form was more important than a mirror image.

-- Robert - Visit my woodworking blog:

View mike's profile


46 posts in 4336 days

#8 posted 07-17-2007 01:59 AM


Great bowls and the finish looks flawless. Now that I’ve finished – almost – my garden project entry I plan to get back to turning and several lidded vessels are on my to do list. But enough about me – keep turning.


-- Mike, Maryland,

View Karson's profile


35125 posts in 4427 days

#9 posted 07-17-2007 05:26 AM

Great set of Bowls Robert.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4203 days

#10 posted 07-17-2007 11:36 AM

Robert, beautiful work, and a very interesting story to accompany your art. You have obviously put quite some study into this. Your details regarding the subtleties of the game, and language are evident in your turnings.

As one who only dabbles at turning, I respect your considerable skill.

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

View Takeshi's profile


9 posts in 4000 days

#11 posted 07-17-2007 03:02 PM

Sure, I mistake. Kaya is Goban. My woodworking friend’s elder brother is a traditional goban-shi (Goban manufacturer) He make all Goban with Kaya. Recently, Japanese demestic Kaya is very rare in market, so some use Chinese kaya instead of. The following URL is his website. Sorry it is Japanese site, but you understand what the pics mean.

As for Goke, I like mulberry made one. I love the aged dark brown of mulberry.

Ah, No one try to exchange the lid of goke. :-) but it’s important to make effort to form exactly same shape of Goke. I’m a novice turner and it’s hard for me to make even knobs for drawer to form almost same shape.

-- impatient makes inpatient, work safe

View Takeshi's profile


9 posts in 4000 days

#12 posted 07-17-2007 03:06 PM

oops, I forgot to wirte URL

-- impatient makes inpatient, work safe

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dennis mitchell

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#13 posted 07-17-2007 03:18 PM


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#14 posted 07-17-2007 03:29 PM

View TheGravedigger's profile


963 posts in 4050 days

#15 posted 07-18-2007 12:32 AM

Takeshi: I had encountered the first web page before, but not the second. It’s remarkable how the feet are made! The carving skill is wonderful!

The goban at the first page are beautiful. The one at the bottom looks to be tenmasa kaya. Very rare!

I have seen some sites selling “kaya” for very low prices. This puzzled me until I read about the Chinese kaya and shin-kaya products. However, there’s nothing like real Japanese Hyuga-kaya! Maybe some day I can afford at least a table board.

I think other members would be interested in the way the lines are formed. Most people don’t know that they are traditionally made with a sword blade dipped in ink. In the link below, there is a picture of a goban-shi making the lines freehand with a katana blade (no jigs). I wonder how many years you have to practice before they let you try that on an expensive goban?

You’re right – mulberry makes beautiful goke. I saw some excellent examples in my research. Making something like goke makes you realize how hard it is to make a matched pair of simple, graceful shapes. That’s one thing I admire the most about Japanese art – elegant simplicity.

-- Robert - Visit my woodworking blog:

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