Woodturning Blog: Articles, Tips & Ideas

The Basics of Bowl Design

by Paul Carter | September 23, 2016 | 0 Comments

How to wood lathe turn a bowl and basic bowl design.

There is nothing quite like transforming a discarded log into a work of art. Approaching the lathe with a design in mind is an important step in the bowl turning process.

An article entitled Basic Bowl Design by Scottish turner Peter Smith shared some interesting pointers on how to design an aesthetically pleasing bowl.

Smith begins by describing two key features of every bowl: lift and heft.

  • Lift is the visual shape of the bowl and how it rises from its supporting surface. It is comprised of the curvatures of the bowl, the foot, and the rim and the width versus height ratio.
  • Heft is the feel of the bowl. It is comprised of the thinness and distribution of weight between the walls and the foot. 
When turning a bowl, keep these two factors in mind. For inspiration, referring to timeless pieces will give you a good idea of bowl designs that will never grow old. Smith references an antique Chinese bowl with delicate, proportioned curves. Simply googling antique pottery and glasswork will provide a rich portfolio of inspiration to any bowl turner.

Regardless of the design you choose, Smith points out that the wall of the bowl should be curved without any flat areas. Holding up a ruler to the profile of the bowl will quickly tell you if your bowl has any flat areas. The ruler should only touch the bowl at one very small point. 

As far as the foot of your bowl goes, Smith warns that there is no perfect formula. Too small, and the utility of the piece is compromised, too large and the bowl appears clunky. However, a foot about a 1/4 the diameter of the bowl is a good starting point.

Cutting a few bowls in half is a great way to get a sense of how your bowl turning can be improved and will give you a different perspective on the shape and design of bowls. 

Overall, when it comes to bowl turning practice is key. Not every piece will feel or look just right, but every bowl is a step in the right direction. So go ahead, grab that log and start turning!

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