Today I decided to get working on a new simple maple bowl. I haven’t turned anything in over a month (or more!) now and I was starting to get a bit twitchy for going so long without doing anything new on the lathe. I have been working on a few wooden boxes, but even those are slow going (and probably due for another post about them).
A week ago, I had spent some time cleaning up part of the basement where I store the extra wood waiting to be made into something pretty. In doing so, I realized I still had a lot of very nice pieces of Norway Maple that I had been given about two years ago. It was the result of a very large branch coming down in the backyard of a friend of mine. It’s dried very nicely now over the time and is very ready to be made into bowls.
The first step was getting the wood on the lathe. I cut it down to a piece about 7-inches across, drilled out a small hole on the flat side and then attached it to the chuck on the lathe. This part took a bit of time as I had to cut it down by hand with my poor, over-worked carpenter’s saw. If I had a band-saw which is very high on my *want/need* list, it would have taken a minute or two. Cutting by hand took a bit more than that. Once it’s on the lathe, I brought up the tailstock (the big thing on the right) to make sure it didn’t come flying off the lathe at me or anywhere else in the shop.
A bit of turning later, most of it with my very useful Easy Wood Tool rougher I had something vaguely resembling a bowl-like shape on the lathe. Much of the cutting at this stage is just taking the square shape of the cut wood and making it round. This can be the most dangerous part of the entire process as there are a number of angles all working against each other, with the wood spinning around somewhere close to 800 or 1000 RPM. It doesn’t sound fast until something catches and goes flying across the shop. Eventually with enough cutting, it turns into a nice round bowl shaped object. However, the bottom end was still attached to the tailstock for safety but even that only took a few more minutes to take off. Once I cut off the rest of the wood on the bottom, it started to look more like an actual bowl.
At this point, I needed to turn the bowl around to start cutting out the inside. I prefer using a glue block to hold the wood on the lathe instead of a chuck or spur centre. The glue block is exactly like it sounds. The little block on the right attaches to the lathe, and the bowl blank is glued onto it with simple hot melt glue. It’s far more sturdy than it sounds. I was very skeptical of the whole concept when I first tried it some time ago, but ever since that time I’ve made it my go-to format for working. I’ve only had it fail once or twice (and it’s pretty spectacular when it does) so I consider it a fairly safe way to work. The bowl still has a very rough top to it but that gets fixed very fast in the next step.
Once the bowl and the block have had time for the glue to set, it’s back on to the lathe to get ready for cutting. I always use the tailstock again at this stage, just in case the glue decided to not set correctly or if the maple bowl just doesn’t want to stay where I expect it to. It’s held on quite tight so any kick would be minimal (and I’d be entirely out of the way anyways).
The first part, after getting the bowl on the glue block, is to true up the bowl. It’s not a perfect system so it’s always ever so slightly off-centre when it’s reversed back on to the lathe. A few simple cuts around the outside of the bowl, and then I clean up the top of the bowl as well. This is, again, a challenging step and the chance of a catch is very high so I work slow and careful to get it smooth and ready to do the plunge cuts into the heart of the bowl. The small dark circle in the middle of the bowl is left-over from the drilled out hole that was used to hold the bowl to the chuck when it was first mounted on the lathe.
Some cutting with my gouges and the actual shape of the bowl starts to come out of it. At this point, I’m more concerned with the actual shape of the bowl rather than worrying about trying to coax any pretty grain out of the wood. It’s still quite thick-walled right now and I haven’t decided what I’m doing with the rim design or any other ornamentation of the outside of the bowl. I decided I wanted to go extremely simple for it and not do any fancy work (and around now I think I had decided I was more than likely going to keep this one for myself and my medieval re-enactments that I do).
I tend not to over-sand my work as I don’t personally like the high gloss finish. As I try to keep things simple for the medieval market that I typically market to, my pieces are generally considered “rough” to the touch. This is good as I prefer this and do it intentionally. A bit more cutting with the gouge and some smoothing with the scrapers, I did hit this bowl up with some 80-grit sand paper to take off a few rougher edges on it. I’ll actually use the 80-grit to help do some of the shaping of the rim of the bowl – generally this is considered cheating for a turner (or we jokingly refer to it as the “80-grit gouge”).
Once it was done, I just cut the piece off the glue block and I have a completed simple maple bowl. It just needs to have it’s coats of hemp seed oil and beeswax finish applied to it and it’ll be ready to use. The bowl is approximately 15cm (or about 6 inches) and around 6cm high (or about 2.5 inches). A nice size for my medieval table.