How to Make Wood Bowls on the Lathe

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Have you ever wondered just how they do it? Skilled and beginner woodworkers can take a chunk or a block of wood and turn it into a wooden bowl that is unique and beautiful in the end.

Turning a wood bowl can certainly present its challenges but if you know and understand the process, you can easily bring that wood block to life on your lathe. Whether you use a wood chuck or just go old school with your lathe, faceplate, and spindle, it’s a fairly simple process.

There is a lot to know as far as turning bowls is concerned. Beginners can turn bowls but you need to know the proper process. There is a learning curve here so don’t beat yourself up if you’re just getting started.

In this guide, we will share with you how to make wooden bowls on a lathe so that you can give it a try when you’re ready!

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A Step-By-Step Guide to Making Wooden Bowls

Making a wooden bowl takes a lot of steps. There are many parts and pieces and you have to be able to get your work smooth and even. Not only must you shape the bowl but then you must also clear the interior of the bowl and then fine tune all of your work for a great result in the end.

Check out this helpful video that walks you through a beginner’s class for turning a bowl. This is a long one but you can pretty much follow it from start to finish or learn some helpful details from it as well.

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What You Need

Before you get started, you need to accumulate the appropriate gear for the task. It’s much easier to pull everything together before you get started so that you will be prepared for the tasks and not have to start and stop excessively to go and grab a tool that you forgot to get out.

Obviously, you will need a lathe. We are assuming you already have a lathe or perhaps have a plan to acquire a use a lathe since you’ve come this far.

Here are the tools that we recommend, with a basic overview of why you need them.

  • Lathe to create and turn the wood while you work
  • Bowl gouge for clearing the interior of the bowl
  • Wood tools for shaping and forming the bowl as needed
  • Appropriate safety gear such as safety glasses and face shields
  • Chisel
  • Sharpening tools (may or may not be needed)
  • A blank – block of wood to create the wood bowl from
  • Chuck jaws or faceplate (we recommend four jaw wood chucks)
  • Sander and miscellaneous sanding tools
  • Wood finish

Be sure that you are using a wood lathe that is the appropriate size for the bowls that you are making. Your swing bed or swing height and your headstock spindle are important to note here. Typically, the swing overbed will support a similar diameter, perhaps 1-2 inches smaller than the swing.

For example, if your swing is 12 inches, you can probably make a bowl comfortably up to 10 inches in diameter. Of course, your faceplate or jaw chucks will need to appropriately fit the bowl as well as the spindle dimension in order to work properly.

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How to Turn a Wood Bowl

Alright, you’ve gathered all of your supplies together and it’s time to get to work! We’re sure you are more than ready to get that bowl going so let’s get started.

This short video gives you a good overview of the process in a fast motion process.

We will break these steps into individual instructions as we go to help you follow along more easily.

1.    Center and Prepare the Blank

Grab your bowl blank and get it centered and set up on your lathe so you can get started. The best way to center the bowl is to first mark your square blank. You can use a straight edge to draw lines to the center of the blank. The lines should cross over like an “X” and this will be your center.

If you want to really set up the whole bowl, you can use a drawing compass placed at the center and draw a full circle around the blank. This will be the base of your bowl. This step can also help to ensure that you found the true center as well.

Now, you need to attach the blank to the lathe. You can help to reduce turning time but removing the excess corners of the blank before you attach the blank to the lathe. If you trim the edges, be careful not to trim too much so the bowl is still viable.

Now, you can mount the bowl blank to the faceplate to hold it secure while you work. Mount it with the bottom of the bowl facing outward to start.

Turn the lathe on slowly to be sure that the bowl blank will turn clear of the tool rest and other parts of the lathe.

2.    Work the Exterior of the Bowl

Once the bowl is mounted, you will work to smooth out the exterior of the bowl. This will be a rough start and is not meant to get your bowl to perfection. Here, focus on getting the basic shape and tuning up the edges of the bowl. This is often referred to as truing your bowl blank.

Truing the blank makes it round and smooth and will make it easier to turn as you move forward through the process.

You will also square the bowl bottom while you have the bottom facing towards you. While you have the bowl in this position, you can create a mortise if you are not going to use a four jaw chuck.

Before you flip to work on the bowl interior, be sure to lightly sand the bowl and smooth it out. Remember it doesn’t have to be perfect yet but you want to get it close.

3.    Gouge the Bowl Interior

Now, turn your bowl around and mount it so that the bottom is against the faceplate. You can now use a four jaw chuck or you can create a base mortise to mount the bowl directly to the faceplate.

The bowl interior is also known as the bowl face. This step is meant to smooth and flatten the face and hollow out the bowl itself. You will need to make light push cuts as you work on hollowing out the bowl. Start by setting up your bowl rim or edge.

Most bowls have a rim or edge that measures somewhere between 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch.

Set your tool rest parallel to the front of the bowl, if you haven’t already. Use your bowl gouge to center against the bowl and make cuts to hollow out the bowl. This will work almost like scooping out the bowl a little bit at a time. Be careful not to go too deep.

Once you’ve gouged appropriately, be sure to sand and smooth the interior of the bowl.

4.    Finishing the Bowl

When you finish hollowing out the bowl, you can sand it to perfection on the inside and add any kind of coating that you plan to use on the bowl. Now, when that is complete, turn the bowl backwards on the lathe again.

If you used a mortise, now is the time to break off the mortise. Here, you will finish and perfect the outside of the bowl and sand it down to smoothness. These are meant to be your finishing touches.

When you get the bowl sanded and smoothed and even, you can apply any type of coats, like a moisture barrier to it as well.

Conclusion

There you have it! Making a wood bowl on a lathe is a popular use and it can take a bit of time and skill. If you follow the steps, you will be well on your way to turning the perfect bowl in no time. We hope you find this guide to be a valuable resource for doing just that!

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