5 Essentials You Need to Turn Your First Wooden Bowl

  • Overview
  • Essential 1: Technique
  • Essential 2: The Wood
  • Essential 3: The Tools
  • Essential 4: Sharpen
  • Essential 5: Inspiration

Wooden bowls are the union of nature, beauty and utility. It's no wonder they've been a favorite woodturning project for decades!

If you're ready to turn your first bowl, you're in the right place. Here you'll find resources covering the essentials-

  1. Basic bowl turning technique
  2. How to prepare a wood blank
  3. Which 3 tools you'll need
  4. How to sharpen your tools
  5. Our favorite bowl turning inspiration

I've enjoyed turning bowls at my lathe for years. Actually, the first woodturning class I took focused on bowls. I remember that first bowl. It didn't make it off the lathe (my tool caught, resulting in a large crack), but it was the start of a great woodturning journey. I've turned many wooden bowls since. Some I love, some served as firewood. But with each, my technique and confidence improves. I hope these articles and videos are helpful as you begin your bowl turning journey. With a little patience and the ability to laugh at yourself, and those little mistakes, your dining room table will be covered in beautiful wooden bowls in no time!

Wooden bowls are the union of nature, beauty and utility. It's no wonder they've been a favorite woodturning project for decades!

If you're ready to turn your first bowl, you're in the right place. Here you'll find resources covering the essentials-

  1. Basic bowl turning technique
  2. How to prepare a wood blank
  3. Which 3 tools you'll need
  4. How to sharpen your tools
  5. Our favorite bowl turning inspiration

I've enjoyed turning bowls at my lathe for years. Actually, the first woodturning class I took focused on bowls. I remember that first bowl. It didn't make it off the lathe (my tool caught, resulting in a large crack), but it was the start of a great woodturning journey. I've turned many wooden bowls since. Some I love, some served as firewood. But with each, my technique and confidence improves. I hope these articles and videos are helpful as you begin your bowl turning journey. With a little patience and the ability to laugh at yourself, and those little mistakes, your dining room table will be covered in beautiful wooden bowls in no time!

Learn the basics, from the best the most valuable bowl turning resources out there, right at your fingertips

Mike Waldt's thorough video tutorial demonstrates his method for turning wet wood. Wet wood is a plentiful and inexpensive option for many woodturners and, by following Mike's steps, produces excellent pieces.

Master turner and instructor Richard Raffan produced this helpful and all-encompassing article. The step-by-step format and plentiful illustrations breaks the bowl turning process into manageable, easy-to-follow pieces.

Ernie Conover's step-by-step guide demonstrates how to turn a wooden bowl with only a lathe and faceplate. The tutorial will allow you to start practicing your bowl turning techniques with minimal equipment.

Quick Tip: 7 Ways NOT to turn a bowl

In the midst of how-to videos and articles, Nick Cook offers a different type of insight. Find more insightful tips from Nick here.

  1. Too big. Start by mastering crucial techniques on smaller, shallow bowls.
  2. Too hard. Start with green wood, it can be found inexpensively and will provide smooth, easier cuts.
  3. Big gap at the tool rest. If the tool extends more than an inch over the tool rest it's time to stop the lathe and adjust the tool rest.
  4. Wrong direction. For face grain bowls cut uphill. On the interior of your bowl, cut downhill or from rim to center.
  5. Wrong tools. Remember to never use a roughing gouge on bowl work. A 1/2" or 5/8" bowl gouge makes great beginners' bowl gouge.
  6. Rushing into finishing. Don't worry about finishing a piece, focus on basic shape and confidence. Practice pieces are most important as you begin turning bowls.
  7. Lack of body movement. Notice how most turners move with their work. This allows them to produce fluid curves.

Prepare your wood how to salvage your own wood blanks from downed trees

Downed trees are a plentiful and often inexpensive source for woodturning blanks, however, before you turn on the saw it is important to understand the best practices for cutting and storing your own blanks.

Inspecting the Tree
As you inspect a fallen tree, make sure to distinguish between limb wood and trunk wood. Generally, trunk wood includes fewer knots and irregular growth, features that add uniqueness to your piece but tend to warp and crack.

Storing Before Cutting
Until you are ready to cut your log into blank sized chunks, store the wood in long pieces to limit the number of open ends at risk for cracking. Using a sealer, such as this
one offered at Packard Woodworks, will guard against checking. Don't worry about removing tight bark, it will actually slow moisture loss and protect against splitting.

Cutting the Log
When you are ready to cut the log into blanks, it is helpful to understand that the middle of the log is called the 'pith' and is the tree stem. This area is very unstable, tends to dry unevenly, and should not be included in your turning blanks. Following the diagram below will allow you to cut two bowl blanks from a log while avoiding the volatile pith area.

Once you've cut your blanks don't forget to mark, seal and store them in a dry area until you are ready to mount them on the lathe.
Information drawn from this helpful Wood Magazine article. And this informative video.

3 essential bowl turning tools you'll find yourself reaching for these 3 tools again and again

1. & 2. Bowl Gouge: the workhorse

Bowl gouges have deep flutes and are capable of shaping both the inside and outside of a bowl.

There are two standard bowl gouge flute shapes: "u" and "v". "U" shaped bowl gouges are designed for reaching deep into the bottom of a bowl, and are also referred to as "bottom feeders." A traditional "V" shaped bowl gouges is versatile and can be used for roughing and finishing the inside and outside of your bowl.

For your first few bowls, a 'v' shape gouge at 50 degrees, as shown above, is optimal. As you move into deeper peices, a 'u' shape gouge will become very useful.

  • Deep flute
  • Shapes the inside and outside of a bowl
  • A 'bottom feeder' bowl gouge is designed for finishing the inside of a bowl

Which size? We suggest 1/2" and 5/8". This will allow you to turn all sizes of projects, from small (1/2") to medium and large (5/8").

3. Scraper: the finisher

Scrapers are used to remove cutter marks left by your bowl gouge.

For this reason, new bowl turners often find scrapers very useful. Rather than cutting, a woodturning scraper "scrapes" using a burr. This burr must be kept very sharp to be effective. The tool meets the wood just below the centerline of the blank. When using a scraper, it is held at a downward angle - the tool is lower than the handle. Generally, holding the tool at about a 30º angle from the tool rest is effective.

A round nose scraper (also referred to as a bowl scraper) removes marks on the inside of a bowl, while a square nose scraper is used on the outside of a bowl, as well as boxes and other flat surfaces. When choosing a bowl scraper, a larger size provides extra sturdiness.

  • Designed to remove cutter marks
  • They scrape, using a burr, rather than cutting

Which size? We've found that 1" is the most versatile.

How to sharpen bowl gouges like a pro your best bowl turning begins at the grinder...

Step 1: Set Wolverine Jig Arm

Using the raptor set up tool, set the wolverine jig arm to the appropriate angle. Ensure that the raptor tool touches the wheel at two points and is resting firmly in the wolverine jig.

Step 2: Set Varigrind Jig

Next, fasten your tool into the varigrind jig. The tool should protrude 2" from the jig, and your varigrind should be set at a 23º angle. For a relief angle, allow the tool to protrude 2-1/2" from the jig.

Step 3: Grind!

Place the varigrind in the wolverine jig arm and rotate the tool back and forth to restore the edge.

Your best woodturning begins at the grinder. Razor sharp tools are not only safer - they create smoother cuts and an easier learning curve. And as with any skill - every sharpening master began as a rookie. Use the videos to the right, and the steps above to hone (pun intended!) your skills.

For sharpening your high speed steel tools we suggest a slow running grinder, Raptor Set Up tools, the Wolverine Jig and the Oneway Varigrind. While these jigs and tools are not required, they will help ensure that you end up with the same grind geometry every time.

Get inspired the bowl turning photos that are always on our mind

(Not) your average weekend woodturning...

Productive day in the shop?

Mike Mahoney has serious shop goals!

Before you upgrade your lathe, consider a John Deere.

Can you ever have too many wood chips? Photo by Dale Bonertz

Overview

Wooden bowls are the union of nature, beauty and utility. It's no wonder they've been a favorite woodturning project for decades!

If you're ready to turn your first bowl, you're in the right place. Here you'll find resources covering the essentials-

  1. Basic bowl turning technique
  2. How to prepare a wood blank
  3. Which 3 tools you'll need
  4. How to sharpen your tools
  5. Our favorite bowl turning inspiration

I've enjoyed turning bowls at my lathe for years. Actually, the first woodturning class I took focused on bowls. I remember that first bowl. It didn't make it off the lathe (my tool caught, resulting in a large crack), but it was the start of a great woodturning journey. I've turned many wooden bowls since. Some I love, some served as firewood. But with each, my technique and confidence improves. I hope these articles and videos are helpful as you begin your bowl turning journey. With a little patience and the ability to laugh at yourself, and those little mistakes, your dining room table will be covered in beautiful wooden bowls in no time!

Essential 1: The Technique

Learn the basics, from the best the most valuable bowl turning resources out there, right at your fingertips

Mike Waldt's thorough video tutorial demonstrates his method for turning wet wood. Wet wood is a plentiful and inexpensive option for many woodturners and, by following Mike's steps, produces excellent pieces.

Master turner and instructor Richard Raffan produced this helpful and all-encompassing article. The step-by-step format and plentiful illustrations breaks the bowl turning process into manageable, easy-to-follow pieces.

Ernie Conover's step-by-step guide demonstrates how to turn a wooden bowl with only a lathe and faceplate. The tutorial will allow you to start practicing your bowl turning techniques with minimal equipment.

Quick Tip: 7 Ways NOT to turn a bowl

In the midst of how-to videos and articles, Nick Cook offers a different type of insight. Find more insightful tips from Nick here.

  1. Too big. Start by mastering crucial techniques on smaller, shallow bowls.
  2. Too hard. Start with green wood, it can be found inexpensively and will provide smooth, easier cuts.
  3. Big gap at the tool rest. If the tool extends more than an inch over the tool rest it's time to stop the lathe and adjust the tool rest.
  4. Wrong direction. For face grain bowls cut uphill. On the interior of your bowl, cut downhill or from rim to center.
  5. Wrong tools. Remember to never use a roughing gouge on bowl work. A 1/2" or 5/8" bowl gouge makes great beginners' bowl gouge.
  6. Rushing into finishing. Don't worry about finishing a piece, focus on basic shape and confidence. Practice pieces are most important as you begin turning bowls.
  7. Lack of body movement. Notice how most turners move with their work. This allows them to produce fluid curves.

Essential 2: The Wood

Prepare your wood how to salvage your own wood blanks from downed trees

Downed trees are a plentiful and often inexpensive source for woodturning blanks, however, before you turn on the saw it is important to understand the best practices for cutting and storing your own blanks.

Inspecting the Tree
As you inspect a fallen tree, make sure to distinguish between limb wood and trunk wood. Generally, trunk wood includes fewer knots and irregular growth, features that add uniqueness to your piece but tend to warp and crack.

Storing Before Cutting
Until you are ready to cut your log into blank sized chunks, store the wood in long pieces to limit the number of open ends at risk for cracking. Using a sealer, such as this
one offered at Packard Woodworks, will guard against checking. Don't worry about removing tight bark, it will actually slow moisture loss and protect against splitting.

Cutting the Log
When you are ready to cut the log into blanks, it is helpful to understand that the middle of the log is called the 'pith' and is the tree stem. This area is very unstable, tends to dry unevenly, and should not be included in your turning blanks. Following the diagram below will allow you to cut two bowl blanks from a log while avoiding the volatile pith area.

Once you've cut your blanks don't forget to mark, seal and store them in a dry area until you are ready to mount them on the lathe.
Information drawn from this helpful Wood Magazine article. And this informative video.

Essential 3: The Tools

3 essential bowl turning tools you'll find yourself reaching for these 3 tools again and again

1. & 2. Bowl Gouge: the workhorse

Bowl gouges have deep flutes and are capable of shaping both the inside and outside of a bowl.

There are two standard bowl gouge flute shapes: "u" and "v". "U" shaped bowl gouges are designed for reaching deep into the bottom of a bowl, and are also referred to as "bottom feeders." A traditional "V" shaped bowl gouges is versatile and can be used for roughing and finishing the inside and outside of your bowl.

For your first few bowls, a 'v' shape gouge at 50 degrees, as shown above, is optimal. As you move into deeper peices, a 'u' shape gouge will become very useful.

  • Deep flute
  • Shapes the inside and outside of a bowl
  • A 'bottom feeder' bowl gouge is designed for finishing the inside of a bowl

Which size? We suggest 1/2" and 5/8". This will allow you to turn all sizes of projects, from small (1/2") to medium and large (5/8").

3. Scraper: the finisher

Scrapers are used to remove cutter marks left by your bowl gouge.

For this reason, new bowl turners often find scrapers very useful. Rather than cutting, a woodturning scraper "scrapes" using a burr. This burr must be kept very sharp to be effective. The tool meets the wood just below the centerline of the blank. When using a scraper, it is held at a downward angle - the tool is lower than the handle. Generally, holding the tool at about a 30º angle from the tool rest is effective.

A round nose scraper (also referred to as a bowl scraper) removes marks on the inside of a bowl, while a square nose scraper is used on the outside of a bowl, as well as boxes and other flat surfaces. When choosing a bowl scraper, a larger size provides extra sturdiness.

  • Designed to remove cutter marks
  • They scrape, using a burr, rather than cutting

Which size? We've found that 1" is the most versatile.

Essential 4: Sharpening

How to sharpen bowl gouges like a pro your best bowl turning begins at the grinder...

Step 1: Set Wolverine Jig Arm

Using the raptor set up tool, set the wolverine jig arm to the appropriate angle. Ensure that the raptor tool touches the wheel at two points and is resting firmly in the wolverine jig.

Step 2: Set Varigrind Jig

Next, fasten your tool into the varigrind jig. The tool should protrude 2" from the jig, and your varigrind should be set at a 23º angle. For a relief angle, allow the tool to protrude 2-1/2" from the jig.

Step 3: Grind!

Place the varigrind in the wolverine jig arm and rotate the tool back and forth to restore the edge.

Your best woodturning begins at the grinder. Razor sharp tools are not only safer - they create smoother cuts and an easier learning curve. And as with any skill - every sharpening master began as a rookie. Use the videos to the right, and the steps above to hone (pun intended!) your skills.

For sharpening your high speed steel tools we suggest a slow running grinder, Raptor Set Up tools, the Wolverine Jig and the Oneway Varigrind. While these jigs and tools are not required, they will help ensure that you end up with the same grind geometry every time.

Essential 5: Inspiration

Get inspired the bowl turning photos that are always on our mind

(Not) your average weekend woodturning...

Productive day in the shop?

Mike Mahoney has serious shop goals!

Before you upgrade your lathe, consider a John Deere.

Can you ever have too many wood chips? Photo by Dale Bonertz

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