turning red oak

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Forum topic by ttomg posted 02-02-2013 05:29 PM 6510 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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7 posts in 2605 days

02-02-2013 05:29 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question

I am relatively new to bowl turning (two bowls at Woodcraft classes). About 6-8 months ago I salvaged some red oak blocks when a neighbor cut down his tree. I sealed the ends and they have been sitting under a tarp in the backyard (greatly irritating my wife I might add). I hope to have a chuck soon so I would like to start rough turning some of that wood into bowl blanks.

But I have heard red oak splits easily. Is it OK for a newbie to turn red oak or is that asking for trouble?

This is a great community with very knowledgable people so thank you in advance for any comments.

6 replies so far

View MonteCristo's profile


2099 posts in 2155 days

#1 posted 02-02-2013 08:21 PM

I haven’t turned much red oak but I can’t see that it should be particularly troublesome, at least not from a safety/splitting stand point. Red oak is often cited for its affinity with being splintery (at least I always hear that cross-cutting red oak plywood is the acid test for a cross-cut blade). It may be that it does not turn as nicely as, say maple, which is often cited as a nice wood to turn. Worst case is likely that there will be some annoying tear out, but that is pretty common in bowl turning because most blanks contain a combination of long grain, end grain and everything in between.

Your blanks should be made as round and balanced as possible before you put them on the lathe. A bandsaw is immensely useful to a bowl turner. Also, if they are not well balanced, keep the speed down to start with.

-- Dwight - "Free legal advice available - contact Dewey, Cheetam & Howe""

View Wildwood's profile


2300 posts in 2101 days

#2 posted 02-03-2013 12:07 PM

Never had problems turning red oak bowls. Turned couple of spalted red oak bowls without problem too. Just keep you tools sharp.

-- Bill

View John Voloudakis's profile

John Voloudakis

12 posts in 1905 days

#3 posted 02-04-2013 05:54 AM

I recently scored a whole red oak tree, have roughed a large number of bowls ranging from 6” to 16”, and finish turned several green. I’ve had little trouble, and no splitting at all. The only thing to note is that the tannins in the oak will turn steel black on contact, and subsequently your hands if you touch it. A coat of paste wax on your lathe bed and tools will help tremendously with this. If your hands do end up black, lemon juice takes it off pretty quick.

The finished product comes out pretty. Oak generally shows some nice rays in addition to the typical grain of the wood, as shown in this small green-turned red oak bowl…

Good luck,


View ttomg's profile


7 posts in 2605 days

#4 posted 02-04-2013 12:00 PM

That bowl looks great.

So you finish turned them while wet? Or roughed them out and let them dry? I was thinking I would rough them out, wrap in newspaper or put in brown bag, then finish turn when I have more time in a few weeks/months. Hopefully they won’t crack while drying.

Thanks for your previous post, and again – great looking bowl.


View John Voloudakis's profile

John Voloudakis

12 posts in 1905 days

#5 posted 02-04-2013 02:51 PM

Tom, I do both… in either case, the bag is a good idea.

For the ones I finish wet, I turn them from log to final shape in one pass, then sand (you may need to use a wet/dry paper if the wood is soaking wet), turning the lathe slowly and moving the paper frequently to avoid heat buildup which could cause cracks. I then weigh, put in a double paper bag, and put in a cool place to dry. Once per week or so I weigh the piece again. When it has stopped losing weight, it can come out of the bag. Then apply finish and you are done.

For the ones I want to be perfectly round, similar method… rough out, leaving the walls about 10% of the diameter of the piece. The key to avoiding cracking is to get the walls even all the way down, so the piece dries evenly. Once you’ve finished, weigh, double bag, and wait. Once the piece has stopped losing weight, you can put it back on the lathe, true up the tenon (make sure you started off with a larger tenon than you need so you have room to true it), remount in your chuck, and turn to finish.

Note that the paper bag method works well for me year-round here in MA. Some other local turners add some of the wet shavings to the bag with the roughed out bowls, but I find that just causes mold to grow… I’ll do it with species like apple that are very prone to cracking, but otherwise don’t bother. Some folks will seal the end grain of their roughed bowls, or the entire bowl. Some wrap the outside in plastic. See what works in your environment, or talk to local turners to see what they’ve had success with.


View JollyGreen67's profile


1663 posts in 2729 days

#6 posted 02-06-2013 05:15 PM

Red Oak is a piece of cake to turn.

-- When I was a kid I wanted to be older . . . . . this CRAP is not what I expected !

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