Overview: Turning green wood bowls is one of the hottest areas of interest in woodturning today!
This article on bowl turning will focus on the steps necessary to turn a basic wet wood rough-out bowl. Effective drying techniques and finish turning will also be discussed.
Stack of Mesquite rough outs awaiting interior hollowing
Turning Green Bowls: Quick Tips
Basic Procedures for Turning Green Wood Bowls - Face Grain
Basic Procedures for Finish Turning Dry Face Grain Bowls
Need More Help? If you are interested in learning how to turn green wood bowls from the log to the completed bowl, we have a 2 hour, 20 minute, two disk DVD video available. For details, check out Bowl Turning: Step by Step
Additional Tips on Turning
Green Wood Bowls and Kiln Dried Bowls
Working with Rough Blanks: Kiln Dried (KD), or green wood blanks can be used for your bowls. Green wood has many advantages over KD wood including: wider species selection, availability of larger sections, lower cost and the ability to custom cut the log. With pre-cut blanks from a lumber stockist, you simply mount the blanks according to your preference and begin turning.
If you start from a rough log, you have two options: 1.) Face grain or 2.) End grain blanks. Most turners prefer face grain bowls because this orientation allows the easy removal of the unstable pith area during turning. Cutting the log lengthwise creates face grain bowl blanks. Crosscutting the log to the depth required creates end grain bowl blanks.
Finished Honey Mesquite salad bowl
Mounting Options: There are numerous ways to mount your bowl for turning. Screw chucks, faceplates, drive spurs and others are available. In my studio, I begin most of my rough bowls between centres, using a large 1.5” four-prong drive spur, in conjunction with the tailstock. This allows me to retain more options for re-positioning the blanks if necessary, during the initial turning and profile work on the exterior.
Necessary Tools: You will need a few basic tools to turn green wood bowls. The bulk of bowl turning is done with deep fluted bowl gouges. The specific tools you may require depend on the size of your lathe and what type/size of projects you wish to turn. If you’re just starting out, a good set of gouges would include a 5/8” or ½” bowl gouge for rough turning and a 3/8” and ¼” gouge for fine detail work.
Spindle gouges can be used for exterior details (like beads, or decorative rim work), but should not be used for interior hollowing. A ½” skew chisel is useful for creating dovetails and refining beads. You may also want to consider a round-nose, or half-round scraper, or a dedicated set of shear scrapers. M2 High Speed Steel (HSS) gouges are the entry-level alloy for woodturning and are suitable for numerous turning projects. Higher-grade alloys for woodturners include M4HSS, ASP 2030 and 2060 (Powder Metal).
Finishing Options for Completed Green Wood Bowls
There are numerous finishes available for bowls and every turner has their own personal favourites. For bowls that will be turned and used to hold food items, my favourite edible oil finish is a penetrating Walnut oil finish.
For greater durability, a penetrating solvent based polymerising oil, like General Finishes Salad Bowl Finish is used. Mineral oil is another popular salad bowl finish with many turners. Some turners prefer no finish at all on their green wood bowls, allowing a natural patina to develop.
Applying and oil finish to
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Safety Note: Always follow all manufacturers safety instructions before working with your lathe, or any of the tools or products you may use. If you are unsure about any operation, obtain competent professional instruction before proceeding. Use and wear all necessary safety devices during turning and observe safe woodturning practices to prevent accident or injury.
Steven D. Russell is a professional studio woodturner, teacher and writer. He has written numerous articles for international woodturning magazines, which have been published in more than 78 countries around the world. Steve has demonstrated in numerous cities across the United States. His studio, Eurowood Werks, specializes in bowls, platters and hollow forms with unique visual and tactile treatments.
Steve is also the current and founding President of the Lone Star Woodturners Association, Inc., an AAW member chapter. The LSWA is a 501(c)3 non-profit educational organization dedicated to teaching and demonstrating the art and craft of woodturning.
Steve is also a featured writer for the Guild of Master Craftsman's "Woodturning" magazine, published in London England. Woodturning magazine is the world's leading magazine for woodturners. Look for his articles covering technical topics, or project based articles in an upcoming issue.