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When starting to make plates or bowls, do not start with a large piece of wood initially and tear into it like a person possessed, it will be much better if you select a piece of wood that’s about 200mm in diameter and only 35—40mm thick, I will try to explain why this should be. By keeping it fairly small means you will get more practice in all the areas that matter, i.e. the profile or shape, dealing with the chuck recess, the final cuts and of course the finishing. Another thing to avoid in the early days are deep bowls, the deeper it gets the harder it also gets, and lastly , definitely no inverted tops until you have gained some more experience. Keep them shallow and open, this will mean that the bevel on your gouge will always be in contact with the minimum of difficulty.

The first picture shows the tools and equipment required to actually make a bowl, they are, a faceplate, an expanding collet chuck, a 6mm bowl gouge, 10mm bowl gouge, parting tool, skew chisel and a 12mm spindle gouge. In addition I would use a power drill with some powerlock sanding discs and of course you will need some sealer,  some lacquer or finishing oil , sanding cloth (various grits) and some wire wool.


Now to make the bowl.

Select your blank, in this case it’s an Elm blank measuring 230mm in diameter and 40mm thick, the centre of the blank is clearly marked by the pencil marks taken from the compass centre used when drawing the circle on the blank prior to being cut on the bandsaw. If you are purchasing blanks already cut they should have this marks on them when purchased.

Our blank, the wood is Elm, the size is 230mm in diameter x 40mm thick, the centre clearly marked in pencil.

Select a suitable faceplate, here I have used a 100mm diameter faceplate, using your compass and the centre marks on the blank proceed to mark out the diameter of the faceplate on the blank as shown above.

Now fix your faceplate to the blank by means of four screws, they don't need to be very long, 20mm long size 8 or 10 would be adequate, but do make sure they are tight.

Our blank now on the lathe, and the rest positioned to skim the bottom, use a 10mm bowl gouge rolled well over and cut as near as possible to the centre line in the direction the arrow is showing, remembering to keep the bevel rubbing. Now turn the rest round to cut the side of your blank, cutting in the direction of the arrow, all you are looking to do at this stage is get the blank into an even disc that’s running true.

Now with your disc being true, bottom and side, start to lay out the foot and if required the chuck recess. I like to make the foot approximately 50% of the width of the blank, use a parting tool to mark where the foot will extend to, arrow 1, Lay out your chuck recess with a compass, then cut the inside away with a 6mm bowl gouge, in the direction of arrow 2, to a depth of 3mm, the inside edge of the chuck recess should be cut at an angle to match your chuck collet, for this I would use a skew chisel  used like you would a scraper. Next dress the bottom of the foot by making it very slightly concave, a small bowl gouge or a 12mm spindle gouge  could be used for this, again cutting in the direction of arrow 3, this will ensure the bowl will be sitting on the outside edge of the foot, making it very stable.




The next stage is to form the outside shape, for this use a 10mm bowl gouge, cutting in the direction of arrow 1, the gouge should be rolled well over so that the flute is pointing to approx 10 o’clock and the bevel kept rubbing at all times, also try to keep the handle as low as possible bearing in mind you will have to pass over the lathe bed, and your knuckles should in fact feel the bed as you do so. The last area to work on the outside is the side of the foot, although only 3 to 5mm deep, it will require to be cleaned up, I would use a 12mm spindle gouge for this rolled right over to 9 o’clock and in the direction of arrow 2.



The outside now almost complete, take your chuck and do a trial fit before you start the finishing process, there is nothing more annoying than to finish the outside, take it off the lathe and the face plate, put the chuck onto the lathe offer up your bowl only to find it does not fit. Any error at the trial fit stage can quickly be put right, so take the time to do a trial fit, believe me you will at some stage thank yourself that you did.

You are now ready to sand the outside of your bowl, for this I would use the following, a power drill, 2 sizes of Powerlock holders and some Powerlock discs, the holders are 2” & 3”, the discs are 120,180 & 240 grit in both sizes, as shown below.


The tools required, a faceplate, expanding collet chuck, powerlock sanding disc & holder, power drill & a  selection of hand held turning tools.

The products used in the finishing process.

Left, Sanding Sealer.     Middle, Thinners.       Right, Lacquer.

Start by sanding the chuck recess area first, use the 2” holder with a 120 grit disc, the lathe should be running at approx 1000—1500rpm , the drill will be running at approx 2400rpm, the bowl will be running anti clockwise with the drill running clockwise, now using this knowledge place the disc on the area to be sanded so that they are running in opposite directions, I would sand in the area of the recess equal to that of about 11 0’clock, using the area of the disc equal to that of again 11 o’clock, tilt the disc slightly inwards at the top of the disc, don't press too hard and sand towards the middle, repeat with the other grades , 180 & 240 grits. You will require a small piece of J-Flex sanding cloth to sand the inside edge of the chuck recess, do this before changing to the larger disc to sand the rest of the bowl, a piece of 240 grit will be sufficient.

Now with the 3” disc and a 120 grit disc start to sand the outside of the bowl, use the top of the disc again slightly tilted forwards and sand in the areas marked with the arrows and in the directions indicated, you may not be able to get right into the foot area because of the shape of the foot, if that is the case, use the area of the disc at about 3 o’clock and sand away from the foot but starting as close as possible to it, you need only sand away for a short distance until the area you were sanding overlaps, don’t forget to sand the edge of the foot and also the base of the foot. Check frequently to see how your sanding process is working, there may be areas where the grain has been raised, these areas can be treated with sanding sealer before continuing the sanding process, the sealer helps to raise the areas affected and makes the sanding of them easier. Once you are happy with the results from the first grade repeat the process with the other 2 grades, as you go through the grades your bowl should darken slightly in colour, the finer the grade the darker it will become. Having completed the 3 grades of sanding on your bowl, stop the lathe and give it one final inspection, if there are any sanding marks still visible, deal with them now, they will not go away, a very fine grade of J-Flex (well worn) should do the job, sand any affected area by hand with the grain while the bowl is stationary, now with a wad of steel wool (0000) start the lathe and rub the steel wool all over the outside, including the chuck recess, don’t rub too hard, just enough to achieve the final finish.

The sealing and polishing comes next, see next picture.

The sealer we will be using is Mylands Cellulose Sanding Sealer, this needs to be diluted with cellulose thinners at a rate of 80% sealer & 20% thinners, it should be similar to the consistency of that of milk. Apply to the stationary article with a brush and be fairly quick and liberal with it, what you are looking to do is coat the entire surface before any of it starts to dry, and this sealer dries at a very rapid rate, now wipe off the excess with a wad of paper kitchen towel, again working fairly quickly to avoid any area drying before the excess has been removed. It will be dry in a matter of seconds, switch on the lathe and flatten the grain with a wad of steel wool (0000) rubbing all over the sealed areas, do not press too hard. Now comes the Lacquer, again a Mylands product, Melamine Lacquer, this too needs to be thinned using the same thinners and at a similar rate. This is also applied to the stationary article, this time using a paper towel, put some lacquer on your towel and rub it in, coating all areas as evenly as possible, you may need to select an area where you start, say a knot or a colour variation and work away from that until you ultimately come back to it, the reason for this is that no noticeable change will take place during the application of the lacquer, hence you need to know where you have been. The lacquer like the sealer will be dry in a matter of seconds, but do make sure it is indeed dry before burnishing, at this stage it will appear a little dull bordering on a satin to matt appearance. With the lacquer dry we can now switch on the lathe and burnish using a clean new paper towel, again rub all areas keeping an even pressure, you are looking for the dullness to change to a soft glow, this will happen as you do it, if it’s not happening try pressing just a little bit harder, but do not over do it as it’s possible to go through the lacquer with too much pressure, better to start light and increase the pressure until you see the change happen, once you see the change happen maintain the same pressure over the rest of the bowl. The outside is now complete, take your bowl off the lathe and remove the face plate.

Having put the chuck onto the lathe, our bowl blank is now offered up to be secured in place for the turning of the inside. The tool rest has also been put in place ready for the turning to start.

You will see that the tool rest is some way below the centre of the bowl, this is to allow for the thickness of the gouge and also the angle it needs to be presented at to achieve the best cut. You will see that the gouge has been rolled over to have the flute pointing to about 2 o’clock, now with the bevel rubbing make your cuts in the direction of the arrow.

This picture shows that a series of cuts have been made towards the centre, but a cone of wood still remains, the reason for working like this is that a larger diameter bowl can move as you remove material from the inside. This is all to do with releasing the stress that’s built up inside a piece of wood., The cone in the middle helps to keep the outer part stable until you reach the final cut, making it easier to do, once you have reached that point you will of course need to now remove the centre cone, do this without touching the already cut area, the smaller bowls will not require this approach, you can in effect cut all the way to the centre with each cut. 

Here the thickness of the sides is being checked with a double ended callipers, prior to removing the centre cone. Once you are happy with the thickness being as near constant as you can make it continue to remove the centre cone, remembering to keep the profile constant and the thickness the same, you will also need to be aware of the overall thickness in relation to the area where the chuck recess is, making sure you do not penetrate it, I like to leave 5mm of wood over the chuck recess area, this amount will ensure a good sanding base is maintained and the bowl will not distort due to it being too thin.

The inside now that the turning has been completed, this is now ready to be sanded, repeat the sanding process as was described for the outside, this time only using the 3” holder and discs. The area I would use the sander on is highlighted by the lines & arrows, use the top right side of the disc and angle the drill slightly upwards from the centre. The lathe and the sander should be running in opposite directions at all times.

Our bowl now that the sanding process is complete.

It’s now ready to seal and polish.

Repeat the sealing and polishing process as described above for the outside.

The bowl having had one coat of sealer and one coat of melamine, ready to be removed from the lathe.

The completed bowl, the wood is Elm.


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J-flex sanding cloth.

Powerlock Sanding System.

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