The Kelton Center Saver System:
Getting More Value from Your Bowl Blanks

Kelton Center Saver Overview: Like most people, I enjoy saving money whenever possible. I also enjoy getting the most value out of every blank that I turn, or process. Years ago when I opened my studio, I routinely wasted away the center area on bowls during turning. If the blank was highly figured, I would cut off the corners for other projects like pens, or bottle stoppers. This usually allowed me to pay for the entire bowl blank from the sales of projects made from the corners.

Wasting Away The Centers Gets Expensive

However, every time I wasted away the centre of a beautiful piece of wood to make a bowl, I knew there had to be a better way. Wasting away the center of a bowl just wastes too much wood! Some of my 12" x 12" x 4" thick figured blanks could easily cost $100.00 or more per blank. When you turn a standard bowl with a thin wall, approximately 90% - 95% of the initial blank is wasted away to complete the project. That's a lot of wasted wood on the floor and if it was a high figured or burl blank, it hurts even more.

eIkept looking at the huge piles of shavings on the floor after a day of production turning and all I could see was hundred dollar bills on the floor. Back then there were few options for a bowl centre saver, but they were available.

One day when I was about to hollow the interior of a magnificent piece of Australian Rose Myrtle Burl for a bowl, I said enough is enough and I purchased a McNaughton Centre Saver System (now called the Kelton Center Saver System) by Kel McNaughton in New Zealand.

Three piece nested bowl set made using the Kelton centre saver system. The centre two bowls were turned from an area that would ordinarily be turned away as waste

Fast forward to today… I've cored more than 10,000 bowls with some type of center saver and saved thousands of dollars in material costs as a result. I've also been able to turn smaller bowls from the saved cores, which have allowed me to decrease my overall costs per bowl and to significantly increase my profit margin on sold bowls.

Even if you have an endless supply of burl and high figured timber that's available to you for free, a center saving system is a must have tool for your studio. It's easier and faster to remove the center core on a bowl with a center saver, than to hog it away with your bowl gouge. You'll also have a significantly smaller amount of shavings on the floor to clean up as well.

Alternative Uses For The Saved Cores

The center of this bowl was removed with the Kelton centre saver system

I you don't care for turning the smaller cores, you can always take them to your next woodturning club meeting and sell them for a few bucks to other members with smaller lathes, helping to pay for the cost of your center saver tool.

I think you could easily pay for the cost of your centre saver system, by just selling the smaller cores that you don't want to turn. You could also resaw the saved cores into other project blanks for pens, bottle stoppers, inlay material, boxes, small hollow forms, small platters and lots of other spindle and faceplate projects.

Or, if you prefer, burn them in you fireplace for heat, use them in your Bar-B-Q pit, or maybe just throw them away. No matter what you do with the saved cores, it's better to core the centres of your bowls, than turn them away. Having the core removed in a solid mass, gives you options that you would not have otherwise. If you're like me, you want to have as many options as possible, especially when you have spent your hard earned money of a beautiful piece of wood.

The Kelton Center Saver System

Starting to core a bowl
with the Kelton centre saver

I started out using the Kelton Centre Saver System and I've used it to remove thousands of bowl centres. You can easily obtain one bowl blank per inch of wood thickness. For example, if you have a bowl blank that measures 12" x 12" x 4" thick, you could easily save four bowls out of the blank, instead of just one when turned in the traditional way (wasting out the centre).

If you sell your work, that's a tremendous savings and it gives you three more bowls to sell, instead of just the larger outer bowl. In my studio, the sales from the smaller bowls more than pay for the entire bowl blank, which means that the larger outer bowl is essentially free.

The Kelton System has three different versions, a Mini Centre Saver, a Standard Centre Saver and a Jumbo Centre Saver. The mini system includes two curved blades and one straight blade and is designed to core bowls less than 10" in diameter.

The standard system includes three curved blades and one straight blade and is designed to core bowls up to 12" in diameter, on lathes with 12" to 16" swing capacity or larger. The jumbo system includes two curved blades and one straight blade and is designed to core bowls up to 16" in diameter; on lathes with 16" to 24" swing capacity.

A curved blade from the standard size Kelton center saver set

The Kelton system includes a straight blade that is very useful as a large parting tool and for slicing platter and bowl blanks from larger blanks on the lathe. The curved blades work much like a scraper and can create various profiles, depending on how the system is set up. The manufacturer recommends using the system on 12" and larger lathes with 1HP or larger motors for best results.

Setup And Use Of The Kelton Centre Saver

My website has an article on the set-up and use of the Kelton Center Saver that will assist you with mastering this tool quickly. This article also includes my innovative "Fluid Pulsed" technique for using the Kelton Center Saver system on smaller, low horsepower lathes. This technique will allow users with smaller motors to enjoy the benefits of coring, whilst maximizing all the torque and speed the motor is capable of producing. My "Fluid Pulsed" technique has been well received by woodturners all over the world and has become the standard for using this system on smaller lathes.

If you're wasting away the centers of your bowls now, consider getting a Center Saver System. You'll save time and frustration in your studio and you'll spend a lot less time sweeping up mountains of shavings as well. If you turn more than a few bowls every year, you should be able to pay for the system quickly by the wood saved and the extra projects you can turn and sell from the saved cores. Most of the time our tools cost us money, but Center Savers can actually save you money as well, by allowing you to save wood that would otherwise be turned away as waste and use it for other projects.

If you would like more information on bowl turning and using the Kelton Center Saver to core bowls, my Volume #3 Double DVD video "Bowl Turning, Step-By-Step" takes you from the log to the finished bowl, including a section on using the Kelton Center Saver. You can get details on the video and see a short preview here.

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.