Many woodturners start their craft by turning spindles. In fact the majority of beginner sets of woodturning tools contain spindle turning tools and seldom a gouge for turning bowls. Yet for many people the desire to turn wood starts with seeing a beautiful bowl made of wood and wishing to attempt wood bowl turning themselves. In reality, this is a good place to start your woodturning journey.
There are at least two things to realize about turning a wooden bowl. First, it is fairly easy to turn a bowl and second that it is very difficult to turn a really nice bowl. This is one of the things that keeps turning fascinating. While the first bowl might be good and the tenth a lot better, there is the knowledge that no matter how many bowls one turns, they can always improve. The next one will be better yet.
Turning a wood bowl takes patience. Most woodturners start with green wood, that is wood that is still wet from the cutting of the tree. This is because it is difficult and expensive to get wood thick enough for a bowl and dry enough to use immediately. Drying wood is an art in its own right and drying thick wood without cracks almost magical. In other words it is cheaper and easier to start with green wood.
From a piece of green wood from a log, a very thick bowl is turned. This thick bowl is waxed on the end grain to allow for gradual, controlled drying. While this should take place without cracks, the bowl will warp. This dried bowl is replaced on the wood lathe and turned to a thin walled beauty, now of dried and stable wood.
Still other turners will build up a bowl blank from many pieces of wood. These are called segmented or pieced bowls. While the wood is dried and can be finished turned to a gorgeous bowl, it can take much longer to prepare the blank than to do the actual turning. In fact it can take days of glue drying for individual layers of the bowl and then the assembled bowl itself before the turning can commence. Once again patience is required. However, the final product is worth the wait.
The tools for turning a bowl are quite simple. Basically, one needs either an inserted tip tool such as an Oland tool or a bowl gouge. It is assumed that one already has a wood lathe and a means to sharpen the gouge. Some will claim that it necessary to have a four jaw chuck to turn a bowl but this is a fairly recent invention and people have turned wood bowls for centuries without a chuck. Since the chuck may cost as much as many beginning lathes, it is good to start without one.
The same gouge is used on the outside and the inside of the bowl. It is a good idea to begin with green wood blanks and preferably with instruction from an accomplished turner. Turning the green wood blanks allows for the cuts to be learned that will later be used in finish turning the dried blank. In addition, turning green wood is a lot of fun with long shavings and satisfying results.
At the end of the process one has a wood bowl turned on a wood lathe by ones’ own hand. Not only is it satisfying but also it encourages the next bowl and the next, each one better than the one before.