Make a Bowl Out of a Log Part 1





Introduction: Make a Bowl Out of a Log Part 1

About: I've built houses, decks, custom cabinets, furniture of all types. Ive done furniture repair and restoration, residential and commercial remodels, restaurant seating and tables and hotel furniture. Ive been ...

The only thing I like better than turning bowls out of wood, is turning bowls out of free wood! Throuought the summer trees fall down. Im constantly looking for nice pieces carelessly thrown out. 
The only bad part about it is they are always wet. Wood has a high percentage of water stored in the trunks and can take years and years to dry in log form. 
I let my logs dry outside off the ground I put a tarp over them to keep the rain off, but other than that they sit for a year. At that point you should see a natural split forming in the ends. I used a hatchet and sledge hammer to speed up the job following the natural split. I usually get two nice half logs. Then using a hand saw , chain saw or bandsaw cut them into the bowl blanks. Try and keep the length a little longer than the width of the log half.

Step 1: Prepare and Mount Your Blank

The blank needs a way of being mounted to your lathe. This can be done a hundred different ways. I use a 3" (stock) faceplate that came with the lathe as well as a Nova G3 4 jaw chuck. 
The first thing you need to do is prepare the face of the cut side of the log for turning. Just get it as flat as possible. Then center your faceplate on the log and using a center punch mark the holes needed to screw the faceplate to the blank
remove the chuck and drill your holes. The depth of the hole will vary depending on the length of screws you use. Note: do not use dry wall screws for this. Only use wood type screws!
After the holes are drilled it's time to mount it to the faceplate. This is as simple as screwing it to the blank. Then mount it to your lathe.

Step 2: Rough the Outside and for the Recess for the Chuck

This is the fun part, and makes the shop very very messy. It's also a time consuming part but that's ok crank up the tunes and find our groove!
Start by roughing the outside of the bowl. Make it as round as possible. At first you need to start your lathe speed out very very slow... Otherwise the stuff on your bench will dance all over the place. The vibrations can be violent!
After you get the outside basically round , work your way to the bottom(bark side) of the bowl. 
once you get it flat and all the bark removed and good solid wood to work with, form the recess for the chuck jaws to grip into. 
I make it abou 2" in diameter and about 1/4" deep. That usually makes for a good solid tight grip on the bowl. nothing worse than having it come off the chuck.

Step 3: Remove the Faceplate and Mount the Chuck

Remove the blank  and faceplate from the lathe and unscrew the faceplate. Then mount your chuck to the prepared recess nice and tight.
when you re-mount the blank on the chuck and run it on the lathe you will most of the time see it wobble. Just clean it up real quick with a few light touches with your gouge. And proceed to set up your toolrest to the top of the bowl.

Step 4: Rough Out the Inside of the Bowl

Remove all the wood from the inside of the bowl leaving about 3/4" wall thickness.

Step 5: Pack It Up and Wait a Couple Months

This wood is wet, with about 14-15 % moisture content and needs to dry for at least a month probably two before I can finish it. So bag it up in a brown paper bag with its own shavings tightly packed all around it. After a month open the bag and let it breath for a weak and then close it back up for another month.

Stay tuned for part II
thanks for looking.



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    this is so cool! I want to try this but i,m a woman,doesn't matter i'm gonna try this!

    4 replies

    May be 5 years since you posted this but how'd you get on? I'm a woman and I've just started a furniture design course at the age of 46. I'm loving working on the lathe and so proud of my first bowl made from mahogany and finished with bees-wax.

    Who cares if your a woman? None of us (hopefully) are sexist. As long as you have the tools, fire away!

    I agree with SlicksQueegie it is extremely addictive but it can be done to a certain extent on a budget at first.

    I would recommend that look for a night class in wood turning or someone who has a wood lathe to try it out first, you do have to have a certain feel for the wood and not everyone does. This also means thee are unused wood lathes in garages everywhere so check Craigs list, gumtree, eBay etc.

    If you do show a talent for wood turning then it is worth spending the money on a chucking system like the G3 as a good chuck is both safe and expands your capability.

    I hope you do give this a go as it is a fantastic hobby.

    There are a lot of women turners out there... But I will say it is a pretty expensive hobby. And extremely addicting...

    What type of lathe do you us

    Thank you, but it's not finished yet... Hardest part yet to come...

    Yeah I agree, the hardest part is to come. Its very hard to open the bag up and find that the wood has cracked or warped real bad. I have had a few real nice pieces crack because i left a knot to near the edge or the wall were just a shade to thick at the bottom etc.  But that also makes it fun to see if you can coax something  beautiful out of a stinky old log.

    I have had poor success with wind fall logs as I am beginning to think they probably developed many stress fractures in the limbs that got broken in the storms that felled them.  I hve had much better success with log that where felled by a chainsaw

    I must try that paper bag full of shavings trick, i use a cabinet in an earth floored shed to season my green wood pieces.

    Is a moisture meter a good investment as i was thinking of buying one, I just bought a G3 chuck myself they are now sensible money i got mine for £89 delivered on eBay, they where silly money when I first got the lathe.

    You say you timber is about 14% moisture content is that not quite close to that of seasoned timber? I turned fresh sawn pine last year and it was so wet I had a pine fresh beard for about a week from all the resin I got splashed with.

    Good luck and keep on spinning.

    A moisture meter is a good tool, I got 1 from ebay last week for $20.
    The G3 is an OK chuck but I think the Supernova 2 is way better for just a few $$ more. The chuck key on the G3 can be a pain where as the super nova has a hex key that is easier to use.Any Nova jaws are compatible with either chucks as well.

    I like the G3 chuck, you just have to keep it clean of fine dust that can build up in the teeth and index hole for the key. I've had way to many hex keys wring or ruin the head of the hex head screws and if that happen on the chuck its ruined, the G3 may be old school but its a good design and once indexed correctly in the hole you can apply way more force than i would dare risk on a hex key. The are a few knock off jaws that also fit nova chucks.

    I'm pretty happy with my G3. I have the delta 46-460 midi lathe, so the supernova 2 is a bit overkill for me.

    well, this post cursed me... it did in fact crack to baqdly to make a nice full sized bowl from...

    All part of the fun of turning, the wood tells you what its going to alow you yo make nit what you wanted to a make.

    Did it split at the knot that was on the rim of your bowl blank?   I have found that for green wood bowls you have to cut back to good solid wood as they will be most stressed parts as it seasons.  if you want to leave a knot or inclusion on the edge you need to fully season the log before you start to turn.

    All the cheery blanks I turned ended up splitting, i think it could be due to the wood being wind fall and not sawn down,  When you think about the force that is required to rip a 10" branch from a tree you would probably expect there to be allot of internal stress fractures in the fallen limb 

    In all honesty, I have yet to open a bag to a cracked piece... I have found them to be "out of round" quite a bit, but that is not a problem (that's why we turn them "over-sized") They can be finish cut then sanded and finished....

    This is the only way i have cut and finished "wet" logs(by stuffing them in bags to dry)... but the outcome thus far has been very solid, from a variety of different species of wood....

    I will check this bowl tomorrow to see how it has progressed.... stay tuned..

    Possibly, getting your blanks round is hard on your arms in my experience.

    One minor addition is that its important you base thickness is the same as your wall thickness also you might want to mention about the possible problems of including the pith.

    Thank you Pudtiny, Yeah, The Pith,
    The pith is the very center of your log and holds lots and lots of moisture.. I will point out that my log was already naturally cracked lengthwise and i just helped it along. If you could remove the Pith from the entire log and then let dry, the log should not crack. The reason for the crack is un-equal drying. while the pith is holding lots and lots of water the outside is drying and drys "inward" causing the log to form the natural crack that I used to my advantage in this case... I have turned a few things with the pith still in there, but 90% of the time, The pith will eventually cause your project to crack..
    He also pointed out the base thickness as compared to wall thickness should be the same or as close as possible. The reason is the same for the pith, you want the wood to dry nice and even,
    Lets say your bottom is 1" thick and your side wall is 3/4", the Bowl will dry unevenly and warp or even worse crack. But I stuff them in bags with their own shavings packed around them. This helps to dry the bowl equally as well...
    That being said, nothing I just posted is an "absolute" (environmental conditions as well as the species of wood play huge factors in this)...

    The wood under the bark is wetter and will shrink more as it dries causing cracks. When you cut the logs off the tree saw through the middle along the length of the log. This will relive the stress in the rings as it dries.
    I prepare wood into bowl blanks and stack in the shed for a couple of years, label the wood with date and type of wood. Coat the wood with 'End check' to slow the drying as well.

    The bark is the driest, the outer rings contain some water and the center (pith) hold most of the water in the log. The splits occur when the outer parts of the log drys at the same speed the center does. as the wood dries, it shrinks. so while the outer rings of the log are drying faster (or less water to dry) the center still holds much more water and hasn't shrunk near as much as the outside of the logs causing the outer rings to split. Not only that, but the ends dry much faster than the sides. This is why we need to seal the ends. (sealing the ends slows drying time even more) but forces it to dry much more evenly helping to prevent spits occurring.
    You don't need specialized "End check" or Anchor seal for the ends, you can use cheap plain old latex paint (look in the paint dept bad bad color color mixes to get it ridiculously cheap)
    Splitting the log lengthwise as you suggest will definitely help while the log dries, but removing the pith altogether and painting the ends will yield much better results.

    Removing the pith entirely removes a lot of the water from the log, decreasing drying time from the start
    The pic depicts the best way I have found to prepare turning blanks for drying. Next, paint the ends, date and label them and store them in a dry place with little to no light but decent airflow. For every inch of thickness allow 1 year to dry, but even that depends on location and environmental conditions...


    Well put, if wood turning was an absolute it would be boring