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The process of making a bowl.

Step 1: The Wood

The process of making a bowl starts with selection of the wood.


Several species of wood may be used in the bowls. Most are made from Maple, Myrtle, Ash or Elm - but exotic woods such as Bubinga and Rosewood, and other native species like Sycamore and Oak are also used. Every effort is made to avoid using wood from endangered species.


Certain characteristics of wood are valued - including spalting, burl some grain patterns and figuring, also called tigering.

Spalting is actually the first sign of rotting of the wood, the result of a fungus invading the wood and leaving dark streaking that often creates very lovely patterns. Be assured that the fungus on all the wood used has been killed during the drying process and presents no danger to the user of the bowl. The effects of spalting can range from thin lines to wood that has become quite soft - this is called punky wood. While punky wood presents significant problems to the turner, it can also result in some very unique surface and color variations.

Burl wood is from an area of the tree that was distressed by physical damage such as impact by an object (perhaps another tree falling against it) or from disease such as a fungus that invaded the tree.

The grain of some woods can be very pronounced and care is taken to assure that the patterns are used for the best visual effect in the finished bowl. Well defined circles, swirls and curves can flow and enhance the shape of the bowl, or even demand to determine that shape. Other woods, with less prominent display of patterns, can use the softness of the grain to advantage in less dominant shapes.

Figuring - also called tigering - is a feature that makes the wood seem to reflect light from below the surface, the degree of reflection seeming to change as the wood is moved. In the best tigered woods, the effect is very 3-dimensional and can ever appear to shimmer under the right lighting conditions.

Step 2: Turning the bowl

Preparation of the wood:

The blank is checked for any flaws that would make it impossible - or dangerous - to turn at high speed on the lathe.

The blank is cut into a circle of the size needed, centered and mounted on the faceplate or chuck.

Turned first at low speed, the blank is trued to a perfect circle, then the footing recess and the basic shape of the bowl is cut.

Scrapers are used to bring the bowl to it's final outside shape, the surface is sanded and polished smooth - ready for the outside finish - which is usually done prior to turning the inside of the bowl because the solid blank is better able to withstand the high pressures of the sanding and the friction finish than when the walls are turned thin.

The inside of the bowl is then turned out, again with scrapers, to get the thin walls and bottom desired. The inside is finished just as the outside was - but often the lower friction results in a softer finish than on the outside.

A note on the tools I use: While most turners use a combination of gouges, and an occasional scraper to get the final surface on the wood. I choose to use scrapers almost exclusively. This is a personal preference, and I think that the final results justify the tools I use. This in no way is a disagreement with the traditional methods, simply a personal choice. As with any craft or art, it's not the tools that determine the result it is the skill of the artisan.

Step 3: Finishing

I use one of two finishes on most of my work, both are 100% food safe.

One is Walnut oil, which yields a soft glowing finish with a somewhat nutty scent that fades over time. This is used primarily on surfaces that are textured, or on bowls on which I do not want a shiny surface. It is a durable finish and can easily be refurbished by simply applying more walnut oil.

The other primary finish is a shellac based friction polish that is easy to apply, forms a very hard surface, and can even resist liquids for short periods. In fact, it is used by turners for wine goblets turned from wood! The primary advantage of this finish is that it is easy to apply - just a small amount on the surface of the wood, then turn on the lathe and rub it to a high gloss using only the same cloth used to apply it - and as much pressure against the surface as you can. In fact, if it doesn't heat up from the friction, you are not pressing hard enough - and yes, I have burned my fingers at times!

At least three coats of finish are applied both inside and outside of the bowl, then it is removed from the chuck.

After examination to be sure that there are no flaws, the bowl is signed and numbered, and is almost ready for the gallery.

Step 3: Final preparations

Photos of the bowl are taken, it is cataloged into the inventory and then put in storage for a few weeks to allow the finish to cure completely.

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