From a Log to a Bowl in One Day





Introduction: From a Log to a Bowl in One Day

About: I was born in the Chicago, Illinois and spent my formative years in a small community known as Wonder Lake. I moved to Greers Ferry. Arkansas while I was in high school. I joined the Navy as a Photographer a...

I just took up the hobby of woodturning and as a beginner I don’t have a lot of patience yet. I want to see result NOW.

I have spent the last couple of week of weeks watching almost every YOUTUBE video I could find on the subject and now I am an EXPERT. No, really, I am the most basic of basic wood turner you can be but I am having FUN.


With any hobby you need to follow all safety precaution. This is especially true with woodturning. You are using a lathe that is spinning a piece of wood at high revolutions. You are yielding turning tools with sharp edges (sharp tools make safer turning). And add to that the chips of wood flying thru the air and you have it all.

The recommended personal safety equipment should include a full-face shield, ear protection and some type of respirator (this is especially true for the finish sanding).

As far as the tools go, follow the manufacture’s safety guidelines.

Step 2: What's Inside That Log and How Do I Get It Out

This is one of the videos that got me thinking about microwaving my project.

If you are turning wet wood you can always rough turn it, and then store it away and let it dry naturally until it is at a workable moisture level that you can finish it. Wet wood may crack, check or warp.

What I have found it that you can take logs and seal the ends to help even out the drying process. You can use everyday items like latex paint or you can buy a dedicated sealing product.

You can take a rough turned bowl blank, thick sides and bottom so you can corrected for any changes that happen while it dries) and store it in a paper bag and pack it with the shavings you created.

That being said, I have been turning for 2 weeks total. I bought a beginner lathe and after a week I decided that you get what you pay for and returned it and got my current lathe. I have a JET 1221 VS multispeed and I have added a One Way Talon Chuck. This is not an endorsement but I am very happy with it.

This is an expensive hobby to get into but you may have a woodturning group in your area that offers classes. I can remember as a kid my dad had a Shopsmith all in one tool and it had a lathe as one of the attachments. You can also do the standard Craigslist search and see what is available.

My first attempts were tops, very quick and easy and then I glued up some cedar fencing and turned a very rough little bowl.
My second real project will be what we cover here - taking a log and turning it into a bowl or lidless box.

I put an ad on Craigslist looking for fresh logs and really didn’t get any response but I did find someone that had some California Pepper Tree logs for free.

I picked up four nice logs and brought them home. The best-laid plans almost derailed when I realized that only one log was small enough to fit my band saw. The rest of the logs will have to find a solution for other projects, may be time to buy a chain saw.

Step 3: Let the "NUKING" Begin

The log had a diameter of about 5 ½ inches or so and I cut a 4-inch piece off the end of the log and was ready to begin. I will say that that the Pepper Tree log had a very sappy ¼ in layer under the back and that was removed with the initial turning when I rough turned the log to round. This initial turning is done “between centers” on the lathe. The wood is pressure fit between two points that have a sharp point to hold the wood.

Because I have a chuck attachment for my lathe I turned a tenon on one end of my wood. Another option would have been to cut a mortis on the end. The tenon is something that sticks out and the chuck clamps on and the mortis is a hole that the chuck expands into and holds the wood. Right now I feel more comfortable with the tenon but as I get better I will let the project dictate.

I turned everything down to a rough shape, thick walls and thick bottom and removed it from the lathe and moved into the kitchen.

My wood at this stage weighed 16.5 ounces.

I put the wood in the microwave and “nuked” it for 1 minute.  I took it out and re-weighed it. New weight 16.4 ounces.  I would let it sit out and cool a couple of minutes and then repeat. It started out slowly loosing only .1 ounce for the first 4 or 5 trips in the microwave but then it started moving faster. After the seventh time through it dropped by .4 of an ounce. It took about 24 trips through the microwave and the weight leveled off at 8.6 ounces. I ran it a couple of times at the last weight to just make sure I hit a stable weight.

I attacked this process in small steps, my goal was to dry out my wood, not catch it on fire. DO NOT figure that if it will dry after 24 one-minute trips in the microwave that you can just substitute 1 twenty-four minute trip in the microwave

I got a little checking on the bottom and sides but that is why I left the sides and bottom think.

I let the piece cool completely and then moved back to the lathe.

Step 4: Checks, Flaws or Character

There was some warping so I turned the block back to round. I finished the sides and then did my final sanding.

This is an Instructable on how to microwave a woodturning project to save lots of time. My lathe tool skills are very novice and I am still learning what tools do what and how to hold the bevels. That is why you aren’t seeing the actual turning.

That being said, I am very happy with the finished lidless box. I guess a could call it a pot but I seems that most bowls are cut across the grain of the wood and boxes and stuff seem to be OK with being cut end-grain

Step 5: The Finished Project

I did sand with various grit papers starting at 80 and working up though 120, 220, 320 and finish with 420.

I did rely a little on the sanding paper to handle a ripple or two on the pot but with practice I WILL get better.

Start to finish on this project was about 6 1/2 hours. That include the drive to get the logs, cutting the blank, turning, nuking, finish turning and then running the local Home Depot for sandpaper and danish oil.

Be sure to check out you local woodturning groups and see what you can make.

I have to say that woodturning is a fun hobby but I am told that it is very addictive.




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    26 Discussions

    I am glad that I am not the only one that enjoys the character of the wood. Perfection can be over-rated. What kind of wood do you get to work with in your part of the world?

    I just ended up boxing up a bunch of bowls, plates and other things and sent them to my sister. She loves anything that I make so now I have more room on my shelves to turn out some more. What items do you enjoy turning?

    I don’t know what tools you have, but if you have a sawzall, it works just fine for cutting up logs, rather than buying a chainsaw. It's safer too, in my opinion, but it does limit you to areas near electricity.
    that being said, I sure love my chainsaw.

    1 reply

    I ended up getting an electric chainsaw. I built a small log caddy to make cutting easier. I found a source of local logs at one of the country clubs in the area and I have gotten to play with eucalyptus, pine, California Pepper and some generic "firewood"(not sure what it is but very pretty turned and makes a great looking pen as well. I hope everyone is getting ready for a Merry Christmas and a happy and safe holiday season.

    I like turning green wood and I ever like a little warping and movement in the finished piece. Gives it a hands on feel. I recently was able to get a couple of eucalyptus logs. They had a lot of big cracks but a worked around the crack and have turned a couple of things. Very heavy for its size but pretty grain. Check out my mortar and pestle


    An electric chainsaw is nice as you can use it inside and you really can live with the difference in horsepower.

    1 reply

    I have my eye on one right now. I would like to get some of the larger logs down to a workable size and also split a log and try making a real bowl and maybe a natural edge bowl.

    I use a microwave also I put paper towels in with the wood to soak up the water off the steam

    1 reply

    I was really surprised at how quickly and how much water weight it lost. I let it rest in between the nuking on the gas grill grate. let air get to it from all sides. seemed to help the water/steam dissipate easily.

    Nice job! I always enjoy seeing wood turned into a useful and/or artistic item instead of firewood! Thanks for posting.

    1 reply

    I would like to say that I plan to turn out useful items but I think my first couple with lean towards the artistic with a hint of useful. I have made a couple of tops and those are just fun.

    How is the pepper wood? In Mexico, we have a song about pepperwood, being pretty much useless. I have only known of one other person to use this wood. Did the wood have any scent? was it oily? I'm asking because there are often people cutting these trees down in my neighborhood, and I would be willing to give it a try.

    1 reply

    California Pepper Tree was the first log that I was given so I don't have a lot to compare it to. The wood has a sappy out layer just under the bark. its about 1/4 to 1/2 inch think and once I turned that off the wood was fine. No real scent or odor. The wood does seem to tend to crack and check but I look forward to woorking with some of the larger logs.

    Right now my glue joint are a little sloppy and weak. I do keep looking at segmented turning though... Opens all kinds of design options.