Stepbystep To Turning A Bowl


We've received dozens of requests for lathe projects and we've had a lot of discussions about what kind of project to do. We finally decided to turn a bowl (faceplate turning) because it's the one project that can be accomplished start-to-finish on a lathe, and stands alone when it's done.

Turning this fruit bowl requires several basic turning techniques. Yet, it doesn't require years of experience or any really special tools or equipment.

The bowl is designed with a shallow slope on the walls so you can turn it without a lot of the problems associated with deep-sided bowls. Also, the unusually wide rim creates an appearance of very thick walls . . . eliminating the need for absolutely uniform wall thickness. (The walls can be any thiekness you like without affecting the final appearance of the bowl.)

And finally, the base (also turned on the faceplate) is fastened to the bowl with a round (turned) tenon. This is a practice often used in turned projects that have a pedestal or base.

cutting vs. scraping. Before getting to the details on this bowl, I'd like to mention that most of the work is done with a cutting (rather than scraping) action. Although scraping the bowl would have been much easier (there's really not much skill required in using a scraper), it would have taken much longer to turn, and the final finish would have been poor at best.

The speed with which a bowl can be turned by cutting, and the finish that can be obtained are really enough reasons to learn the techniques required to cut with a gouge. But the real thrill is in seeing all those shavings on the top of the bench that are the result of cutting.

Now that I've recommended a cutting action, I should admit that I used a combination of cutting and scraping on this bowl. By using scrapers for finishing work, you can actually improve the finish left by the gouge. And there are times (as in cutting the underside of the rim) that scraping is either the only way possible to make a cut, or it may just be safer.

the tools. i used only five tools to turn the fruit bowl. (See page 22 for a detailed explanation of the tools used.) A W' shallow spindle gouge (that's been re-ground) does the majority of the turning. A domed scraper is used after the gouge for cleaning up end grain problems. A W light scraper is used to form the underside of the rim. A W skew is used to cut the bead in the pedestal. And finally, a parting tool is used to cut the round tennon.

the bowl blank. To turn this bowl you'll need a blank 12" square by 3Y>" thick. The first step is to cut 7 pieces out of 8/4 (1%" -thick) lumber. Each piece is 3W" wide by 12" long. All 7 pieces are laminated (face to face) to form the 12"-square blank. (The bowl in the photo is glued a little differently because I was using small scraps from around the shop.)

After the blank is glued-up, it's planed smooth on the face that will be attached to the faceplate. Finally, to make the initial truing-up safer, I cut the bowl blank to a IV/2" diameter circle on a band saw.

Once the block has been band-sawrn, attach a 6" diameter plywood disk (the same size as the faceplate) to the block and let the assembly dry for 12 hours.

shop note. Because i used hard maple, the bowl blank was extremely heavy. So I glued the plywood disk directly to the bowl blank without the usual paper insert. I felt by doing this, I would achieve a stronger bond without having to worry about the paper separating while I was turning.

When the glue is completely dry, the faceplate is mounted to the plywood disk with #14 woodscrews. Then the faceplate is attached to the head stock of the lathe.


I used a V2" spindle gouge to turn the bowl blank true with the center. Any gouge will work for truing the blank, but I find the small Vz" gouge works well.

Position the short tool rest so that it's the same height as the center point of the bowl blank, and adjust it so that it's parallel to the edge of the block and about V* to Va" away from the widest point. (It's best to rotate the lathe by hand to be sure the tool rest clears the bowl blank on all sides.)

Because of the large size of this bowl, and the fact that it hasn't been trued with the center yet, you'll want to set the speed of the lathe as slow as possible. Until the bowl blank's outside edge has been trued, it's also a good idea to bring the tail stock up to the blank to steady it, see Fig. 1.

To true-up the blank, start the cut with the handle of the gouge very low, and slowly raise it until the cutting edge just begins to cut, see Fig. 1, Then slide the gouge across the edge, with the "U" facing straight up for the entire pass.

Until there is a surface for the gouge's bevel to rest on, the cutting action will seem a little rough. But as the bowl blank begins to be trued up, this rough chatter should calm da™ considerably. (Be sure to make very light cuts at first... a heavy cut may chip out a large piece of the blank j truing the plywood disk. To help keep the entire assembly rotating smoothly, it's a good idea to true the plywood disk after truing the bowl blank.

It may be easier to do this after some of the w:aste around the base of the bowl is removed, but it should he done before any finish work is attempted. Use the parting tool to make the actual cut, and remove as little material as possible.

truing the face of the bowl. After the perimeter of the bowl has been trued, the next step is to true the face. Move the tail stock out of the way and position the long tool rest W away from the face of the bowl blank so it's just below the center point of the blank.

Since there's very little wood to remove, I used a domed scraper to true the face of the bowl blank. Keep the edge of the scraper pointed downward at all times and make only light passes.

LAYOUT. The last step before the bowl is actually turned, is to lay out guide marks for the rim. Outline the rim by marking a pencil line on the face, from the outside edge. Then mark a line on the perimeter (edge) of the bowl from the face.

As for the shape of the bowl, I found it helpful to have several templates made up, some of which are only portions of the profile. (The tinted area on page 21 is a full -size profile ofthe bowl. It can be traced on poster board for the templates.)


The first step in turning the bowl is to cut away some of the excess material around the outside of the bowl so the W scraper can be used to cut the coved lip. After the lip is cut, work can continue on the outside profile, using the lip for orientation.

REMOVING WASTE. I used the Vx" gouge to remove the excess material on the out

ISet the tool rest >// away from the widest point, take very light cuts with the '/?" gouge. Then proceed across the edge, keeping the "U" facing wp.

side of the bowl. Because so much more materia) needs to be removed from the area around the base of the bowl than near the lip, it's best to begin with short cuts starting about 1" from the left edge, moving the gouge from right to left.

Start each successive pass slightly to the right (closer to the lip). By doing this, you'll be removing more material from the base of the bowl than from around the lip, without having to take any heavy cuts.

When using the gouge, start the cut by addressing the wood with the "U" facing straight up, and the handle held low enough to keep the cutting edge away from the blank. Then slowly lift the handle until the gouge is cutting. As soon as the gouge starts to cut, slowly swing the handle in a counter-clockwise arc, while gently rolling the "U" ofthe gouge towards the left.

The cutting edge of the gouge should move in a shallow arc — which is a result of the handle moving in a much larger arc. To better describe the handle's movement, think ofthe movement of the handle's butt in relationship to a clock face, see Fig, 2. The butt of the handle begins the cut in the 6:00 position, and will somewhat follow the perimeter of the clock face in a counterclockwise rotation (towards your body) until it's in the 3:00 position at the end of the cut.

As the handle is raised through this arc, it may be necessary to let the tool slide sideways (to the left) to make the full cut. The actual shape of the arc will vary to some extent as the bowi profile changes, but it will followr basically the same path.

As the gouge proceeds across the perimeter ofthe bowl, it must also be rolled on its side slightly as the handle is lifted, if the "U" of the gouge isn't rolled over to the left as it's advanced, you could get a nasty dig-in when the trailing edge of the gouge comes in contact with the wood.

MOSLEMS. The results of this cutting action should be thin shavings and a nice finish on the bowl. Unfortunately, this

gouge over as it proceeds through the cut.

often isn't the case. Several things may be causing problems. The most common problem is that the gouge isn't sharp. There's really no other way to put this, if it isn't sharp, it won't work.

Another major problem may be that the bevel ofthe gouge isn't rubbing against the wood correctly. If the handle is raised too high, and the bevel isn't rubbing, the gouge will dig in and scare the. . . unnerve you to say the least.

Then there's another possibility. If the gouge cuts for only part of a pass, then the solution may be to reposition the tool rest. As the shape of the bowi develops, try moving the tool rest so it's somewhat parallel to the side of the bowl. This should make it easier for the gouge to followr the profile of the bowl and continue cutting.

If a continuous cut seems impossible, try cutting for just one half the length of the profile. Then make another, separate cut to complete the pass. As long as the ridge formed between the two cuts isn't too large, it can be removed by the scraper during the finish passes.


For now you only have to remove enough material so the coved lip can be formed with a W scraper. By removing this waste you can use the template to determine the finished profile of the wall. (NOTE: The V/ scraper should be reground to an extreme fingernail shape, see page 22.)

Reposition the small tool rest so that it's just below the center point of the blank. Then, to form the coved lip, take only light cuts with the scraper, see Fig. 3. This tends to take a few minutes to accomplish, but if heavy cuts are made, the tear out will be horrendous. Check the profile ofthe lip frequently with a partial template.

The scraper may need to be re sharpened several times before the final shape is achieved. (You can tell when to resharpen the scraper when it produces dust instead of shavings.)

3 Using the •/*" light scraper, form the underside of the tip by making very light passes. Use a partial template to check the shape of the lip often.








After the lip is formed on the underside of the rim, the finished profile on the outside of the bowl can be completed using the W gouge. The profile of the bowl will continue beyond the plywood faceplate, but for now, just shape the outside of the bowl up to the plywood disk.

Check the profile often, using the coved lip as a point of reference for the template. When the final pass is about to be made, take a minute to resharpen the gouge to a keen edge. The effort spent here will definitely show in the final finish.

finish cuts. After the outside of the bowl is shaped, the heavy domed scraper is used to clean up the surface, see Fig. 4. (Switch to the small scraper when working near the coved lip.) Be sure that the scraper has a bun- on its edge and that it's always held so that it's pointing downward. To achieve a good finish, make only very light cuts with the scraper.

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