Wood Bowl Turning: 13 Tips

Wood bowl turning is a valuable skill that can take time to cultivate into a beautiful art. There is something special about taking a blank square of wood and turning it into a useful or decorative creation to last for years to come. In order to master the art of wood bowl turning, careful attention must be paid to the shape, grain, and movement of the blank that will become a bowl.  

Choosing Wood

1. Kiln dried blanks can be purchased. However species selection and the sizes available for a much higher price. Kiln dried blanks are also not available with the option of face or end grain.

2. Either face grain or end grain sections can be chosen to turn. Face grain is preferable because it allows easier access to remove the unstable, pithy area during turning. In either case, use a cold wax emulsion sealer on the ends of freshly cut logs to prevent discoloration or checking before the wood is used.


3. Though many options for mounting are available, mounting between centers and using a 1.5” drive spur (in conjunction with the tail stock) allows for more options for repositioning if necessary during initial turning or on exterior profile work.

4. For safety, when using a chuck to hold the bowl blank make sure the interior recesses of the bowl are free from rot, insect damage, or cracks.

5. It is advisable to begin turning the bowl from the bottom, also known as the tailstock, and work upward to the rim of the bowl.


6. Most all bowls are turned twice: first when green, next after drying for finishing. Depending on the species and thickness of the bowl's walls, drying could take up to several months.

7. When turning the green wood the first time, rough out the thickness of walls to 10 percent of the diameter of the entire bowl. For example, if the bowl is to be 10 inches across, the walls should be 1 inch thick when roughed out and set to dry.

8. The interior of a green wood bowl should be of uniform thickness to minimize stress and checking discoloration during the drying process.

9. Figure 8 calipers are available to measure the wall thickness of bowls for uniformity.

10. Use the friction chuck mounting method when finish turning the bowl after it has dried. To use friction chuck mounting, invert the bowl over the chuck and securely held in place by the tail stock's ram.

11. Practicing as much as possible on waste wood before beginning a project can dramatically reduce costs, gain talent, and minimize the environmental impact of wood use. 


12. After green bowls have been rough-turned, they should be placed in a closed paper bag to dry or the exterior may be coated in a cold wax emulsion and allowed to air dry.

13. When bowls have been finish turned after drying, you should hand sand the exterior in fine grit sand paper using large sweeping strokes to blend out any residual sanding marks.