April 22, 2022

Bowl Turning 101

Choosing a Wooden bowl lathe

There are two main issues to consider when purchasing a lathe you can use for bowl-turning. The best bowl turning lathe for you will depend on the size and power you choose. Choosing incorrectly will lead to the consumer having a frustrating experience while turning the bowl. An incorrect decision will result in an oversized or undersized lathe for the type of bowls you wish to turn. 

Size of lathe

Buying a bowl-turning lathe is considered a lifetime investment, and therefore you must take extreme care. The size of the lathe you choose will remain with you for ever; therefore, it’s best to be size conscious. It is often advisable to buy a larger bowl-turning lathe than a smaller one. The smaller alternative lathes will serve the purpose effectively, but they are not an excellent option for bowl turning.

A free-standing lathe will be less heavy and won’t provide the required stability to produce high-quality bowls. The bulk required to handle heavy wood is often achieved by buying a larger lathe. Installing something that offers the consumer a 20-inch swing will allow them to handle bowls with a width of up to 20 inches. This number practically translates to 17 or 18 inches bowls. This reduction results from the corners that need to be knocked off during sanding. If you are on a budget, getting a lathe with AT LEAST 16 inches of swing is advisable. 

The weight of the lathe

The stability of your bowl-turning is heavily affected by the weight of your lathe. A lightweight lathe will result in painful vibrations coming from the machine. This directly translates to discomfort for the user. The minimum weight on a lathe you should look for is around 500 pounds. This option is for modest users, but ideally, 800 – 1000 pounds will set you up for life. This weight level will help prevent the lathe from “walking” while in use. Many consumers work past this by bolting their lathe. This process adds some stability and can counter the lightweight. You can also consider adding weight to the lower shelves.

Power of the lathe

The main question for beginners is how powerful? A powerful lathe will always be best. Ideally, it is good to aim for a lathe with a motor in the 1.5 – 2hp range for bowl-turning. Professionals will often recommend nothing less than 2hp. If the funds are available and you want to invest long-term into your craft, consider choosing a 3hp motor.

Wood lathe bowl making basics

Cost of starting turning wood bowls?

There is a high cost of buying the tools to start turning wood bowls. You will need to purchase tons of tools and gear. These tools and machines can cost thousands of dollars. It is a thoroughly enjoyable craft that can still be enjoyed on a frugal budget. Alternatives will include finding a local turning club or an associate with a lathe. You can start bowl turning from as little as $100 if you go with a cheap second-hand lathe.

freshly turned wood bowl on a table

Type of lathe  

Most standard lathes can handle bowl-turning. It is advisable to choose one between 1.5hp – and 2hp. This power level, combined with a weight of between 800 – and 1000 pounds, will provide a stable bowl-turning experience for the user. Check that the swing has a minimum size of 20 inches. Choose a bowl lathe with specific benefits for your expertise, such as one with no bed rails. This feature will allow you to have full access to the bowl-turning.

Tools needed for turning a wooden bowl

More tools will indeed offer better versatility, but they are not necessary. When buying hand tools, you will likely only need a single bowl gouge to create a wood-turned bowl. A 5/8″ gouge should be appropriate. A four-jaw chuck will also be an excellent investment to allow you to use multiple devices.

Making a wooden bowl on a lathe

  1. You will need to turn an empty bowl round on the bandsaw.
  2. Use a faceplate and ensure that it is centred to the blank.
  3. Securely mount the lathe and the blank together.
  4. You can then flatten the blank side and bottom.
  5. Form a tenon on the bowl bottom.
  6. Shape the exterior of the bowl.
  7. Sand the bowl exterior.
  8. Remove the blank from the lathe.
  9. Remove the faceplate.
  10. Attach the bowl tenon to a chuck
  11. Shape the bowl rim.
  12. Remove the interior of the bowl.
  13. Sand the bowl interior.
  14. Remove the bowl from the chuck.
  15. Mount the bowl reversed on a jam chuck.
  16. Turn away the tenon.
  17. Shape the foot.
  18. Remove the bowl from the jam chuck.
  19. Sand the tenon nub away.
  20. Sign the bowl.
  21. Apply finish to the completed bowl.

Finishing wooden bowls

Wood bowl finishes

These options are all food and wash safe finishes for wooden bowls.

  1. Pure tung oil. 
  2. Raw linseed oil. 
  3. Mineral oil. 
  4. Walnut oil. 
  5. Beeswax. 
  6. Carnauba wax. 
  7. Shellac.

What is the best finish for wooden bowls?

The top option to consider using to finish a wooden bowl is a combination of mineral oil and beeswax. This option is advantageous because it offers adequate protection against moisture and scratches. The mixture makes the bowl safe to consume food from and easy to wash. The maintenance of this product requires consistent reapplication to afford decent moisture protection. The finish smells naturally fragrant and can be pretty fun to apply.  

Bowl turning techniques

The appropriate technique for woodturning a bowl is to combine a headstock rear spindle. These two tools will help secure the piece of wood while you work. The wood is meant to be placed between these two objects and allowed to rotate along the length of the amount of wood. Many beginner consumers use this method which is called spindle turning. It is effective at manufacturing wooden bowls and ornate table legs. It can be helpful to make small objects like ornate pens or bottle stoppers.

Bowl turning classes

There are many sites online that offer virtual bowl-turning classes. These can be helpful guides for beginners and are available at no cost to the consumer. You can also find tutorial videos on Youtube.

Bowl turning chuck

A four-jaw chuck is one of the elite tools you can choose to help you to enjoy the wood bowl turning process. 

Bowl turning blanks

Bowl turning blanks are often sold in sets and come preserved in wax to prevent them from drying. These are the best option for beginners. 

Leave a Reply