How to Turn a Bowl on Lathe from Scrap Wood – Handyman tips

Published On: July 25, 20200 Comments on How to Turn a Bowl on Lathe from Scrap Wood – Handyman tipsTags: Last Updated: June 2, 202415.2 min read

Discover the art of transforming scrap wood into breathtaking lathe-turned bowls as we delve into the world of crafting beauty. In this article, we will explore the creative process behind this captivating woodworking technique, showcasing the transformative power of reclaimed materials.

Using traditional woodworking tools and techniques, skilled artisans turn discarded pieces of wood into stunning works of art. Each bowl is meticulously shaped and carved on a lathe, bringing out the unique patterns and textures of the wood. From elegant smooth designs to intricate patterns and mesmerizing grains, these bowls are a testament to the beauty hidden within discarded materials.

Beyond their aesthetic appeal, these lathe-turned bowls also promote sustainability by reducing waste and giving new life to old materials. By repurposing scrap wood, craftsmen create functional and decorative pieces that align with our eco-conscious values.

turning bowl on lathe

Join us on this journey through the art of lathe-turned bowl making and witness the magic that arises from transforming humble scraps into extraordinary works of art. Whether you are an aspiring woodworker or simply appreciate the beauty of handmade crafts, this article is sure to inspire and captivate you.

The beauty of working with scrap wood

Working with scrap wood offers a unique and rewarding experience for woodworkers. Each piece of discarded wood carries a story, a history that can be brought to life through the lathe turning process. The imperfections and irregularities often found in scrap wood add character and charm to the finished bowls, making them truly one-of-a-kind.

One of the joys of working with scrap wood is the element of surprise. You never know what lies beneath the rough exterior of a discarded piece of wood. As you turn the wood on the lathe, the true beauty of the material is revealed, unveiling stunning patterns, colors, and grains. This anticipation and discovery make the process all the more exciting and fulfilling.

Moreover, working with scrap wood allows woodworkers to experiment and push their creative boundaries. Unlike working with pristine, expensive wood, there is less pressure to achieve perfection. Instead, the focus is on embracing the natural characteristics of the scrap wood and allowing its unique qualities to shine through. This creative freedom opens up endless possibilities for design and innovation.

In summary, working with scrap wood offers a chance to create something extraordinary out of the ordinary. It allows woodworkers to connect with the material on a deeper level and celebrate the beauty that can be found in the most unexpected places.

Tools and equipment needed for lathe turning

Before diving into the process of lathe turning, it’s essential to gather the necessary tools and equipment. While the specific tools may vary depending on the complexity of the project, here are some fundamental tools every lathe turner should have:

  1. Lathe: The lathe is the centerpiece of the lathe turning process. It consists of a motor, a spindle, and a bed. The motor powers the rotation of the spindle, while the bed provides support for the workpiece.
  1. Chisels and gouges: Chisels and gouges are the primary cutting tools used in lathe turning. They come in various shapes and sizes, each serving a specific purpose. Common types include spindle gouges, bowl gouges, and parting tools.
  1. Calipers: Calipers are essential for measuring and achieving precise dimensions. They help ensure symmetry and accuracy in the turning process.
  1. Sandpaper and sanding pads: Sandpaper is used to smooth and refine the surface of the turned bowl. Different grits of sandpaper are used progressively to achieve a polished finish.
  1. Safety equipment: Safety should always be a top priority when working with power tools. Safety goggles, ear protection, and a dust mask are essential to protect against flying debris and harmful dust particles.
  1. Woodworking lathe accessories: Additional accessories such as faceplates, drive centers, and live centers may be necessary depending on the specific project requirements.

Having the right tools and equipment not only ensures a smooth and efficient turning process but also contributes to the overall safety and quality of the finished bowls. Investing in high-quality tools will pay off in the long run by providing better results and a more enjoyable woodworking experience.

Choosing the right wood for bowl turning

The choice of wood plays a crucial role in the final appearance and durability of the lathe-turned bowl. Different types of wood offer unique characteristics, such as color, grain pattern, hardness, and workability. Here are some factors to consider when selecting wood for bowl turning:

  1. Hardness: Hardwoods, such as maple, cherry, walnut, and oak, are commonly preferred for bowl turning due to their durability and ability to withstand wear and tear. Softer woods, like pine or cedar, may be more challenging to work with and may not hold up as well over time.
  1. Grain pattern: The grain pattern of the wood can greatly enhance the visual appeal of the turned bowl. Straight grains, burls, spalting, and figure patterns all contribute to the unique aesthetics of the finished piece. Consider the desired look and feel of the bowl when choosing wood with a specific grain pattern.
  1. Workability: Some woods are easier to work with than others. Wood with a fine and consistent grain, such as maple or cherry, is generally easier to turn and shape on the lathe. Exotic woods, while visually stunning, may present more challenges due to their hardness or interlocking grain.
  1. Availability: Availability and cost are practical considerations when choosing wood for bowl turning. Local hardwood suppliers or salvage yards may offer a variety of reclaimed woods at a more affordable price. Additionally, using reclaimed or salvaged wood aligns with the sustainability aspect of lathe turning.

Ultimately, the choice of wood will depend on personal preference, project requirements, and the desired outcome. Experimenting with different types of wood can lead to unexpected discoveries and unique creations.

Preparation and safety measures before starting

Before embarking on the lathe turning journey, it is essential to take the necessary preparation and safety measures to ensure a smooth and safe woodworking experience. Here are some steps to follow:

  1. Identify the type of wood: Determine the type of wood you are working with to understand its specific characteristics, such as hardness and grain pattern. This information will help you select the appropriate tools and techniques for turning.
  1. Inspect the wood: Carefully examine the piece of wood for any defects or cracks that may affect the turning process. Remove any loose bark or debris that could interfere with the tools or cause safety hazards.
  1. Secure the wood: Before mounting the wood on the lathe, ensure it is securely fastened to prevent any movement or wobbling during the turning process. Use a chuck or faceplate with strong grip to hold the wood firmly in place.
  1. Wear appropriate safety gear: Always wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from flying wood chips or debris. Ear protection is also recommended, as the lathe can generate loud noise. Additionally, wearing a dust mask will help protect your respiratory system from fine wood particles.
  1. Clear the workspace: Ensure you have a clean and clutter-free workspace around the lathe. Remove any potential trip hazards and keep the area well-lit for better visibility. Having a well-organized workspace will contribute to a safe and efficient turning process.

By taking these preparation and safety measures, woodworkers can minimize the risk of accidents and create a conducive environment for unleashing their creativity on the lathe.

Step By Step DIY Bowl Turning Guide (From Scrap Wood)

Step #1 – Preparing the scrap wood

Identify suitable pieces of wood to use for the bowl. You can mix both hardwood pieces and softwood pieces. You can get them all from the nearby workshop where many unused scrap wood might have been left useless. Pass each of the pieces of wood selected through the planer to ensure the edges are parallel. You may need to use the table saw to make them the same thickness.

Step #2 – Cutting the scrap wood into the shape

Now set your table saw to cut equal-length pieces of wood at 45 degrees to the blade. Repeat this step for every piece of wood until you have cut enough pieces.

Step #3- Assemblies

When you have completed the previous step, take a clean plane surface (or a bench) and stick a piece of sandpaper onto it so that the active side faces upwards. Take each piece of wood from step 2 and rub the freshly cut sides on the sandpaper to smooth them.

Now take 3-pieces of the wood and arrange them such that the base and the top are hexagonal. They should fit perfectly if you were consistent when cutting them in step 2. We will assume that all your pieces fit into this shape when taken 3 at a time.

Now smear wood glue on the inner surfaces (those that were not exposed when you created the shape) of each of the three pieces of wood. Stick the three to each other and use at least 4 sets of clamps. Leave them in this condition for a while, so they get strongly bonded together before you work on them again.

Repeat this step for all the pieces of wood you have until all are in sets of three and remember to mix soft and hardwood pieces.

hollowing bowl on lathe


Step #4 – Creating the Bowl blank

In this step, we will use what we have created in step 3 to make a bowl blank. Unfasten the clamps from the sets and arrange two sets side by side on the bench while they stand on the hexagonal base.

Smear wood glue on one rectangular face on each of the sets and stick the sets together. Repeat this for another two sets and finally stick them to the two sets you previously glued together. You now have four of the original 3-a set glued together; we will refer to this as a 4 X 3 set. Use two pairs of clamps to hold them tightly together for some time. Use a scraper to remove any excess glue from all the faces of the 4 X 3 set. Repeat this step to create more 4 X 3 sets.

Combine several 4 X 3 sets from the previous step, stick them together using wood glue and several sets of clamps to hold them together for some time. (For this step, you may also add a single basic set at a time, but that would take more time).

We have, eventually, created our bowl blank, although it does not seem to be in good shape. Take a compass, adjust it to a suitable radius, and assume the center of the plane as precisely as you can. Now draw a circle on the plane, ensuring that the circumference is always within the bounds of the plane.

Use a scroll saw or jigsaw to carefully trace the circle you have drawn. It will cut out the unwanted parts of the plane, leaving a circular plane suitable for tuning our bowl.

Step #5

We have a perfect plane, and it is now time to turn our bowl! Now centrally attach a faceplate to one face of the rounded bowl plate using faceplate screws. Mount the bowl blank on the lathe and lock it. Set the tool rest appropriately and fire up the lathe.

Step #6: Turning the bowl exterior

With the lathe rotating slowly, place the bowl gouge on the tool rest and let it cut lightly into the bowl blank. Move the bowl gouge slightly along the tool rest and remember to shape the bowl base as may be necessary. Adjust the tool rest as may be necessary while focusing on the uniformity in the exterior. Unless on purpose, do not let the gouge cut too deep into the bowl blank. The bowl base and the rim are two areas that you should pay keen interest on while curving the exterior of the bowl. Now cut a recess on the bottom of the bowl blank, which will be used to hold it in place when you curve the inside.

Step #: 7 Curving the inside

Adjust the tool rest to align it parallel to the face of the bowl blank. While it is rotating slowly, use the bowl gouge to make gradual cuts focusing on the inner shape of the bowl. Remove materials from the inside as much as you can, but be sure you have maintained a uniform thickness of the bowl. Now shape the bowl lips as may be needed taking care not to cause any cracks on the material.

Step #8: The Finishing

The bowl is in good shape now. The next thing is to sand and apply it to bring smooth finishing. While the bowl is still mounted on the lathe, turn it slowly to ensure it is rotating freely, then fire up the lathe and maintain a slow speed. Use a piece of sandpaper on both the inside and the outside of the bowl for a smoother feel.

Once you are sure it is smooth enough, detach the bowl from the lathe and apply a thin uniform layer of Danish oil or any other finish of your liking. For even a better outcome, you may apply a second layer of finish after you have sanded on the first layer. Now, look at the bowl. Who would think it is made from scrap wood?

Finishing techniques for a stunning result

The finishing touches applied to a lathe-turned bowl can greatly enhance its aesthetic appeal and durability. Here are some popular finishing techniques to consider:

  1. Oil finishes: Applying natural oils, such as tung oil or Danish oil, can bring out the natural colors and patterns of the wood. These finishes penetrate the wood, providing a protective layer that highlights the grain and adds depth to the bowl.
  1. Wax finishes: Using a wax finish, such as beeswax or carnauba wax, creates a smooth and glossy surface on the bowl. Wax finishes provide a layer of protection and enhance the visual appeal of the wood.
  1. Lacquer finishes: Lacquer finishes provide a durable and high-gloss coating to the bowl. They can be sprayed or brushed on, creating a smooth and shiny surface. Lacquers are available in various sheens, allowing for customization based on personal preferences.
  1. Burnishing: Burnishing involves using a burnishing tool to compress the wood fibers, resulting in a polished and smooth surface. This technique can be used in conjunction with other finishes to achieve a unique and tactile effect.
  1. Inlay or embellishments: Adding inlay or decorative elements to the bowl can elevate its visual appeal. Inlay materials such as crushed stone, metal powders, or even other types of wood can be incorporated into the design to create intricate patterns or focal points.

When selecting a finishing technique, consider the desired look, feel, and purpose of the bowl. Experimentation is encouraged, as different finishes can produce varying effects on different types of wood. Ultimately, the goal is to enhance the natural beauty of the wood while protecting it for years to come.

bowl made out of scrap wood

Tips and tricks for beginners in lathe turning

For beginners venturing into the world of lathe turning, here are some tips and tricks to help you get started:

  1. Start with simple projects: Begin with small and straightforward projects to familiarize yourself with the lathe and the turning process. Gradually progress to more complex designs as your skills and confidence develop.
  1. Take your time: Lathe turning is a skill that requires practice and patience. Don’t rush through the steps or get discouraged by initial mistakes. Embrace the learning process and enjoy the journey of honing your craft.
  1. Seek guidance and mentorship: Join local woodworking clubs or online communities to connect with experienced turners. Learning from others and sharing experiences can accelerate your learning curve and provide valuable insights.
  1. Invest in quality tools: High-quality tools will make a noticeable difference in the turning process and the final result. Start with a few essential tools and gradually expand your collection as you progress.
  1. Practice tool sharpening: Keeping your tools sharp is essential for achieving clean cuts and reducing the risk of accidents. Learn proper sharpening techniques and invest in sharpening equipment to maintain the cutting edges of your tools.
  1. Embrace mistakes: Mistakes in woodturning are inevitable, especially when starting out. Instead of getting discouraged, view mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning. Analyze what went wrong and make adjustments for future projects.
  1. Experiment with different woods: Don’t limit yourself to one type of wood. Experiment with different species and explore the unique characteristics and challenges each wood presents. This experimentation will broaden your skills and expand your creative possibilities.

Remember, lathe turning is a skill that takes time and dedication to master. As you progress and gain experience, you will develop your own techniques and style, creating truly remarkable pieces of art.

Showcasing the versatility and uniqueness of lathe-turned bowls

Lathe-turned bowls come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and designs, showcasing the versatility and uniqueness of this woodworking technique. From traditional and rustic designs to modern and contemporary styles, there is a lathe-turned bowl for every taste and aesthetic preference.

Bowls can be simple and elegant, with smooth curves and a natural finish that highlights the beauty of the wood. They can also feature intricate patterns and decorative elements, such as pierced designs or textured surfaces. The possibilities are endless, limited only by the artisan’s imagination and skill.

Lathe-turned bowls serve both functional and decorative purposes. Small bowls can be used for holding jewelry or trinkets, while larger bowls can be used for serving food or displaying fruit. Their organic shapes and natural textures add warmth and character to any space, making them a popular choice for interior decor.

Moreover, lathe-turned bowls make meaningful and thoughtful gifts. Handcrafted from reclaimed materials, they carry a story of sustainability and craftsmanship. Whether given as wedding gifts, housewarming presents, or anniversary mementos, these bowls are cherished heirlooms that can be passed down through generations.

The uniqueness of each lathe-turned bowl lies in the distinct characteristics of the wood used. No two bowls are ever the same, as every piece of wood possesses its own patterns, colors, and grains. This individuality ensures that each bowl is truly a one-of-a-kind work of art.

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