Introduction: From Blank to Bowl

Wooden bowls are beautiful and easy to make because they come straight from a log. There isn't any cutting or gluing, so the natural beauty of the wood can shine. Once you figure out how to use the lathe tools properly, it's really satisfying to watch the shavings pile up by your feet.
First, you need to find a good-sized log. After cutting it into a blank you mount it on the lathe and rough it out. Slowly, you shape it until it vaguely resembles a bowl. On your first try, anything that looks like a bowl is an accomplishment. With practice, you will be able to complete a bowl in a short afternoon by reducing sanding time and learning to hog out the inside quickly.

They also make great gifts, and luckily they're practically free to make. You just have to find a log!

WARNING: woodturning is addicting. You see, the spinning chunks of wood create a vortex that sucks money into it. You may be tempted to spend hours in the workshop, neglecting to eat or do homework.
With all that said, eating and doing homework are not nearly as fun as woodturning :)
And you can find deals on craigslist, too.

Step 1: Whatcha Gonna Need?

A lathe, quite obviously. (discussed on next page)

A faceplate to attach the rough chunk of wood

A chuck to do the inside of the bowl

A chunk of wood to put in the chuck

A bowl gouge

A drill for screwing in the face plate

And finally a good live center to put in the tailstock.

Other gouges are very useful but not completely necessary, although an inexpensive, small skew used as a scraper can be useful for the chucking up the bowl.

And you need either a bandsaw or a handsaw that can handle your log. You're going to need to cut it up a lot.

A finish for your bowl-I use the same finish i use on my cutting boards-its a mix of wax and mineral oil. I love this finish, but any moisture will leave spots.

A face shield or at the very least a pair of large safety glasses. You don't want to break your nose if a chunk comes flying off or if your bowl breaks. (See step 8)

A dust mask, preferably a respirator since sanding makes a ton of dust.

Than you need miscellaneous stuff like a broom and fan for the shavings :)

Step 2: No, Really, What Do You Need?

See, this is the problem with woodturning. Probably the biggest one there is. I can't tell you exactly what you need because just about every woodturner in the world has a different set of preferences. It really depends on what you are most comfortable with after a lot of practice and what you plan to do. Stick with what you like and gives you good results.

The lathe
There are tiny ones that can turn no more then 1.5 inches in diameter. And there are gigantic ones that can turn whole trees. Remember: you can turn small stuff on a big lathe but not big stuff on a small lathe.
Now, for bowl turning i recommend a lathe with at least 12" of swing and ideally a rotating headstock. Geez Louise, what does that all mean?

The headstock is the part of the lathe that has the motor and can accept a wide variety of accessories for turning.
A rotating headstock swivels so that you can easily swing a large bowl gouge without hitting the bed. You can also turn larger bowls, but the blank will need to be more balanced because it will be missing the support of the tailstock.  I highly recommend this since it makes turning easier.

Swing is the maximum diameter that a lathe can turn. It is dependent upon the distance of the center of the spindle to the bed.
(the spindle is that part that spins)

The tailstock is extra support. It's the part that can be moved up and down the bed to support either a long or uneven piece.

The tool rest and banjo are absolutely necessary. They support the force of cutting.
Those are the main parts of any lathe. If you buy a lathe and these parts are not included, you've been scammed.

Any lathe should also have lots of heavy cast iron everywhere and a minimum speed of 500 rpm or lower. Any faster is too unsafe to turn a bowl more than about 8 inches in diameter and that's starting with a balanced blank.
Basically, the bigger stuff you want to turn, the bigger the swing and the heavier the lathe you'll want. It also helps tremendously to make or buy a good dedicated stand for it that you can weigh down with sandbags or lumber.
I have a coronet record power lathe #3 that i bought off of craigslist for $300.
This deal included 3 brand-new $70 gouges and a $125 collet chuck set. The lathe itself had never been used. New, it is around $550.
Did i get a good deal? I think so.
In other words, look on craigslist! People usually just want to get rid of stuff that they have cluttering up their garage. You might find an amazing deal.
Also, make sure you know what your lathe can handle. If you have any doubts about the safety of what you're doing, stop.

A word about chucks-I have never used the scroll-type chuck. Instead, a collet chuck works by expanding around a wedge or contracting small jaws. I can't really comment on one vs. the other. This is all I've ever used and it works for me.

The gouges
Besides the lathe, this is probably what varies most between woodturners. They each have different brand preferences, different grinds, different sizes different handles and on and on and on.
What do I recommend?
For a beginner, don't get the most expensive set. Wait until you're sure you want to do woodturning.
As for bowl turning I use a roughing gouge, a bowl gouge (1/2" by American standards and with the regular roll grind on it) a small inexpensive skew, a parting tool and robert sorby spindle gouge (unlike any other I've ever seen).

The bowl gouge
Unless you are doing small bowls, I recommend at least the 1/2" gouge. Although I have the gouge ground with only the "regular" grind, many people recommend using an Ellsworth grind on your bowl gouge. From what I've seen, I would recommend it too. It can perform roughing cuts and shearing cuts, leaving a very smooth surface that needs little sanding.

The roughing gougeshould be big and strong since it's going to take repeated hits from an uneven bowl blank.
The small skewis for preparing the recess for the chuck and so is the parting tool. If you have a scroll chuck, use whatever you feel comfortable with for shaping the tenon on a bowl.
The spindle gougeI use is great, because the regular grind on my bowl gouge isn't really capable of getting rid of rough tool marks. can use the spindle gouge to clean up the inside of a bowl with no tearout at all. If you use an Ellsworth or fingernail grind on your bowl gouge, you won't really need this. It works for me, though.
One note: many people do not recommend using a spindle gouge for bowl work. I would not recommend using the classic type of spindle gouge at all. When I use mine, I also have to be careful to keep the tool rest as close to the bowl as possible to avoid breaking or bending the tang.
The saw
To cut the bowl blank, you need some sort of saw. I use El cheapo handsaw. I have to sharpen it about every 15 minutes, and I can literally feel it dull after i start cutting.
But it gets the job done.
For a bowl blank, it's likely that you will need to both rip and crosscut. Get a saw that can handle both.
You could also use a bandsaw, but I don't have thousands of dollars to spend on one that would be big enough. I haven't been able to find the right one on Craigslist either.

The blank
Just make sure that it's big enough to fit the bowl you plan to make and that it's small enough to turn without hitting the bed.

Ok, well, let's get started!

Step 3: Got Moisture?

There is debate about whether it is better to turn dry wood or green wood. I prefer green wood because :

1. It is sooooo much fun to make long shavings. Turning dry blanks creates dust, which is annoying and can be harmful.
2. You can make a bowl from a green blank much faster.
3. Turning green is easier on your tools. The moisture keeps them cool and keeps them sharper for a longer time.
4. its free!!! You can find logs that have been dumped in trash piles all around your neighborhood. A prepared blank that is large enough for most work will be very expensive.

The disadvantages to turning green wood are:
1. Green wood is softer than dry wood, so you need to be more careful with chucking.
2. The bowl can warp and crack.
3. You need to establish the wall thickness the first time you cut. You can't go back and thin it out because the wood will have warped.
4. You need to prepare the blank yourself from a log.
5. They need time to dry before you can finish them completely.

With all that being said, turning dry wood is just annoying and boring. It creates dust, you need to sharpen your tools very often, and it's very slow.
Sometimes warping in a wet bowl isn't bad. Wood has never grown perfectly round naturally, so a warped bowl seems more natural to me. It also adds interest.

A few more notes about moisture and logs:
Logs tend to crack when left either in direct sun or very dry atmospheres. For this reason, you should always plan to leave a little extra at the end of any log you are going to use for a bowl blank because of cracking.
To help prevent cracking, you can seal the ends with a latex or wax, or you can store the logs in a cool but not  damp place, out of direct sun.
Do not store them underneath anything plastic unless there is good ventilation. Plastic does not allow moisture to escape slowly, (
(which is exactly what we want) and causes mold and fungus and bacteria and bugs and other icky stuff. Not fun.
You can achieve an effect called spalting if you leave the uncovered end of the log on soil. Don't leave it for too long or the log won't be very strong- it will have rotted.

Step 4: Preparing the Blank

OK, get out your saw and your log. We're gonna cut all the way through that sucker! If this is your first time attempting bowl turning, don't use an amazingly nice wood. I guarantee that there is a very high chance your bowl will still break. Don't use something like pine since its actually very unpleasant to turn.

Get ready to cut!
Yes, seriously. It's not impossible.
Now, look at your log. Now back at my bowl. Now back at your log.
Now visualize the bowl in the log. You need to cut a chunk of your log that you will be able to turn your bowl from.
One note: it may seem natural to turn a bowl with the endgrain parallel to the axis of rotation. The log is circular, so you just crosscut a piece that is tall enough or the bowl, right? wrong. The grain is not oriented the same way as with spindle turning. You can, but it's much harder to make an endgrain bowl.

Instead, we are going to rip cut down the middle of the log to make a...semicircular prism. The flat face is what you put on the faceplate.
When the bowl is done, the grain will be running through it sideways.
You want to end up with a bowl blank that can fit on your lathe and can fit the size of the bowl you want. Cutting a perfect square will waste the smallest amount of wood. You want to cut down along the grain of the wood a length that's about the same as the diameter of your log.

Once you've cut down far enough, crosscut to release the piece.

I like to use a bright red sharpie to mark the line to cut, and i actually put my log on the lathe and use the tailstock to hold it on place while I'm cutting. Make sure you tie the log to the bed in case it slips.

Use your entire body while cutting, (like hand planing) not just your arm. You'll cut faster and you'll be less sore. If you feel like you need to push too hard to get a decent cut, sharpen the saw. I use an abrasive dremel wheel and lightly touch each tooth.

Once I'm finally done cutting the rough blank, I lay out the biggest circle that will fit on the face. Draw lines corner to corner to find the approximate center, then use a compass and move the center around to find the center of the largest circle.

Now temporarily mount the log on the lathe. Just use a spur center to hold the log on its centerpoint. Spin the log and see if the corners hit the bed of the lathe. If any of them do, mark the corner and cut it off. Once you're done, screw on the faceplate in the center. Make sure you use wood screws and not drywall screws. Drywall screws are brittle and can easily shear off. Also, it might be a good idea to drill pilot holes because the screws can get suck if the wood moves too much. This happened to me once and i had to drill out the screw. It's a good way to ruin a good day.

Now you get to start turning!

Step 5: Roughing Out

Before you start, I cannot stress enough how important it is to make sure your tools are always sharp when turning. Sharp tools minimize tearout, cut faster and smoother and are less likely to catch. Also, remember that everyone has their own methods of turning. Whatever you feel comfortable with and gives you good results should be what you stick with. My ways of turning are neither the right way nor the wrong way.

Roughing Out
You can go gung-ho on this one. You don't need to pay attention to the dreaded bevel-rubbing or the angle of the tool or the height of the tool rest as much as when you are fine-tuning the bowl.
It's most important that your roughing gouge be as beefy as possible.

Keep the tool rest as close as you can to the wildly spinning, unbalanced hunk of wood. This will help you keep control over the cut and prevent it from catching and jerking your wrist, or maybe breaking the tool.
Ok, once the faceplate is screwed onto the spindle and you are 100000% sure that the log will not hit the bed, spin it again to make sure. The lathe can be severely damaged if the log prevents the spindle from turning.
Now, remember that the log is uneven and that the tool will not always be contacting wood. The cut will be interrupted.

to turn:
1. anchor the tool
2. rub the back of the bevel on the wood so the gouge is not cutting.
3. Gradually bring the handle toward you to lower the angle f the gouge until it starts to cut. Once it starts to cut, keep it at that angle.
4. For all cuts except roughing out, make sure the bevel is rubbing.

Make sure your tool is sharp, screw your faceplate onto the lathe and start turning. Depending on the characteristics of your lathe and your log, there may a be certain area where you have to start cutting first, but just look at it and use common sense. Generally, start cutting near the most unbalanced area first so you can balance it quickly. The best way to do a good job is to practice. Be very careful with the corners. You probably won't be able to see them very well- they look like a shadow. Make sure you are conscious of where the wood is. Once the log starts to smooth out, develop the form a little bit with the roughing gouge. Make sure your tool rest is always as close as possible to the spinning wood. Don't get too close to the final shape because tearout will still be excessive.

When you feel like the wood is more balanced and your lathe is not shaking crazily, up the speed a little bit. You will get smoother cuts and you will also cut faster.
Some people go straight for the form when the log is still not rounded out. I like to smooth it all out first and then start to develop the form.

Step 6: Doing the Outside

Now comes more delicate work.
I like to turn my bowls, once they are round and balanced, at around 1000 RPM, which is the middle setting on my lathe.
Once you've started developing the form, switch to another gouge to finish it up with as little tearout as possible. Some people can use a bowl gouge on the outside, but for me that just doesn't cut it.
I use my weird Robert Sorby spindle gouge very carefully to finish up the outside and get rid of tearout. My spindle gouge does not have wings on it, so there aren't any corners to catch.
This is where you have to start rubbing the bevel to avoid catches.
Now, rubbing the bevel is something I don't completely understand. You need to get a feel for it, which you can only get after practice. It also varies between types, shapes and grinds on the gouges. If the tool feels like it's going to twist out of your hand while turning, then the bevel is not rubbing and the cut is not supported.
A good general tip is to hold the gouge around 40 degrees to the floor, aim it in the direction you're cutting and twist it so the flute is facing away from you.
Or you can do a pull cut, which is generally smoother, by just twisting it the other way, pulling toward you and aiming the gouge toward yourself.
It's best to either be shown by someone or watch a video.
Honestly, whatever you are most comfortable with is the best. I use a spindle gouge, which is not normally recommended. It works for me, so I'm going to keep doing it. If you can manage using a bowl gouge, good for you. It's most important that you keep the bevel rubbing.
Fitting the chuck
I use a collet chuck, which, when bowl turning, uses expanding jaws that are pressed into a recess.
Many people use a scroll type chuck, whose jaws can be either moved inward or outward. While you are turning your bowl, you need to account for the chuck attachment.
Collet chuck
For my collet chuck to achieve "maximum gripping power," the recess needs to be 2 7/8" in diameter, be 1/4" in depth and have a 15 degree incline, like a dovetail. First, use a parting tool to flatten the bottom of the bowl. Use a compass to mark the circle. I use the parting tool again to define the edges and the angle. Then, I use my bowl gouge to hollow out most of it to the correct depth.I use the skew as a scraper to flatten the bottom. Before taking off the faceplate, I check to make sure that the chuck fits well.
Scroll chuck
It's much more simple to prepare a tenon for a scroll chuck. Again, use a parting tool to completely flatten the bottom of the bowl. Shape a tenon on the end. The most important part is that the sides of the tenon are exactly perpendicular to the bottom of the bowl. Once you put the chuck on and tighten it, you should not be able to fit a sheet of paper between the jaws of the chuck and the bowl. (I don't mean between the tenon and the jaws)

Once I have my form finished, I sand to around 100 grit just 'cause. You don't really need to.

Step 7: Doing the Inside

This is the part of bowl turning that scared me. I still get nervous when it comes time to hollow out the inside. It's really not that bad, but it requires more practice and more focus to do well.
There are two main ways of turning the inside of a bowl: turning from the outside to the center, and turning from the center to the outside. In either case, you need to cut in steps.
I have personally never tried the center to outside method because, from what I understand, it's meant more for ellsworth grind gouges and it is also more likely to catch. If you can do it well, there is less finishing work.
Use a bowl gouge for hollowing!! It's tempting to use a scraper to avoid catches. Unfortunately, they tear out the wood and are very slow at cutting. They build up heat and also have to be sharpened very often.
Besides, learning to use a bowl gouge properly will save time in the future.

Before you start turning the inside, make sure the bowl isn't off-center. Check for any obvious cracks or holes of any kind. Watch out for bark, too, because it can fly off and hit you. Make sure the bowl is securely mounted to a chuck and that the chuck is securely mounted to the lathe. I recommend drilling a hole in the very center that's around 3/8 of an inch or so. If you cut too close to the center and the gouge  moves to the half of the bowl that's moving UP, the gouge will be picked up, thrown around and back down onto the tool rest with a lot of force. Drilling a hole can help prevent that.

Position the tool rest to that it's very close the the bowl. When the gouge is resting on the rest parallel to the floor, the cutting edge should be at the middle of the bowl or very slightly below.
By this point, your bowl should be balanced. If it's less than 9 inches in diameter, I usually turn the speed up to around 1000 RPM. It's a comfortable speed that gives a smooth, efficient cut.
I always use the center-out method, so I can't comment on cutting from the outside to the center.
Switch on the lathe and start turning near the center. Using a bowl gouge correctly takes a lot of skill. At the beginning you need to be very careful because your head will be spinning with all the different things you have to keep track of.
Start cutting near the center. Hold the gouge so that a pencil held across the flute would be vertical. (rotate it about 90 degrees clockwise when you are facing the bowl.)
Once you've cut down a bit, rotate the flute back a bit so it's at about 70 degrees, and make sure you start rubbing the bevel.
Turning the inside of a bowl is like scooping out the center. Use a long, relaxed swinging motion to hollow a bowl. Hold the tool about parallel to the floor, and keep the handle close to your body. You should be getting a nice, smooth cut.
Keep 'stepping' out from the center, working your way back in. Make sure you establish your wall thickness right away. do not try going back to thin it out. A medium-sized bowl should be about 1/4 to 1/2" thick, depending on whether its going to be used to eat out of or as decoration.
When you get near the transition from the walls to the bottom of the bowl, be very careful with bevel support and the wings of the gouge. If you are using a normal rolling grind, the wings can easily catch. Make sure the corners never touch the wood. This isn't as much of a problem with Ellsworth or fingernail grind gouges.
While you are turning, keep a constant wall thickness, always rub the bevel, work quickly to avoid excessive warping, and keep track of how deep you can cut before you hit the chuck. Keep your motions smooth and relaxed.

Help! I'm getting a lot of chatter and vibration!
This happens to me a lot. I'm not completely sure why, but here are possible reasons:
1. I'm rubbing the bevel too hard, and the force of the cut combined with the tool hanging far over the edge creates marks and rough cuts.
2. The bowl is warping as it's turning, and the tool intermittently hits the wood.
3. It's not sharp enough and I have to force the cut too much.
4. I'm trying to thin out the walls more, and they are not thick enough to support the cut.
If you get a lot of chatter and vibration, especially if it only happens after you're almost done with the bowl, it's  probably a combination of 2 and 4. Maybe 3. If you have only been turning the middle part of the bowl and the walls have not even developed, examine your technique and bring the tool rest closer to the wood.

I like to have a narrow rim on my bowls. I don't like the square flat rims. VERY CAREFULLY, I go back and work the rim once most of the hollowing is done. That's not a good idea, though, because it is hard to get bevel support. As you can see on the next step...

Step 8: Dog Flag-nabbit!

You're having fun turning. You're pretty much done hollowing out. And you look at your bowl and decide to make one final cut near the rim.
BAM *grunt* awww...
You were turning fine and then your tool caught. There was a loud bam, something hit you, and you notice a shadowy look about your bowl. Once you recover, you will most likely notice that your bowl broke. Then you say awww...
Why did this happen?
For me, I decided to go back and thin out the rim a little bit. The rim area is the weakest, since it usually very thin and has little surrounding wood for support. It's also moving the fastest. Speaking of speed, I guarantee you that you will not be able to react if something like this happens. You will have no chance whatsoever of dodging the broken chunk if it decides to come your way.
When i went back to thin out the rim. I knew I was making a risky cut. There wouldn't really be any bevel support to prevent the gouge from gouging in. And so it did.
It happened to do so right near a natural crack in the wood. So, a large chunk came spinning off.
Usually a broken bowl is caused by a can also be a crack that enlarged as the wood dried...finally breaking off with the slightest bump.
In any case, inspect what happened and make sure you never do it again.
Now, to fix it.
Use glue, unless you get creative and you want to add wood stitches. I've seen a few pieces like this that are beautiful. I did not want to put in the time or effort and decided to try gluing the piece back on. I think it worked out pretty well.
Once it breaks, you need to work quickly and calmly to avoid letting the piece warp out of shape. Put plenty of glue all around the broken edge, and figure out how you're going to clamp it.
One option is rubber bands. If you have enough that are big and strong enough, this is probably your best bet. If not, read on.

Clamps may be the best thing for you. Depending on the way that you bowl broke, you will need to use different types and arrangements of clamps. You need to apply pressure in just about every direction-down, back, sideways, longways...
Use boards that span the entire rim of the bowl to get an adequate clamping platform.
You can clamp ... clamps on either side of a crack and use a third clamp to push those together.
You mainly want even pressure all the way around.
And make sure that if the piece is warped you account for that.
And make sure you use plenty of glue. You want little bubbles coming out from the crack that are evenly sized, for the most part.
Wipe off excess glue with a damp rag.
Then leave it clamped for at least 24 hours.
Hopefully your bowl was near complete when it broke. I would not recommend trying to take a tool with an edge to the bowl again...just in case. You pretty much have to just stick with sandpaper... or a very sharp scraper (oxymoron hehe lol ok...nvm) using light cuts.
But then you'll have to sand a lot anyway to get rid of all the tearout that will be made by the scraper.

Step 9: Moisture Cont.

This isnt really a step, it's more like advice.
Before your bowl is sanded completely and finished, you should make sure it is pretty much devoid of moisture. We wanted a lot before, now as we finish the bowl we want none.
If your bowl is still sopping wet, you can pack it in a bucket or (paper) bag in its own shavings. It's hard to tell when the bowl is completely dry, but I usually just feel it to see if it's still cool.
You can also just let it air dry if you live in a humid place like Miami.
Or pack it in paper bags. Not plastic bags. Plastic=moldy bowls. Not fun.
You want it to slowly and evenly dry to avoid cracking. When you finally unveil it after drying is complete, it will have probably changed shape a little. Most of my thinner bowl usually end up more oval in shape than round. And the rim usually isn't flat, either.
Is that a bad thing? No... I think it actually adds interest to whatever you've done.
The thinner you make it and the wetter you put it in to the bag, the more the shape will have changed.
If you finish working on the bowl and it's fairly dry, you can go ahead and sand it down.
Wait a couple days to put on the finish.

Step 10: Sadning and Finishing.

Why is sanding spelled sadning? Good question, my friend.
Well, it makes me sad. why?
I'll be honest. It's slow, boring and dusty. If you're sweaty, it sticks to you.
And the dust is a harmful nuisance.
Sanding tips: don't skip grits and wait for even scratch marks to go to the next grit.
I can't stress this enough. Sanding a bowl creates an enormous amount of very fine sawdust. A paper or cloth mask won't really suffice. If you wake up the next day with a sore throat, it's time to get a respirator or new cartridges.
Use a fan behind you whenever sanding. It helps move the dusty air out and away.
One thing: on the bottom of the bowl, you will be sanding across the grain. Expect to work a little more there to get rid of all the visible scratches.
Also, sand on a low speed. I sand around 500 because it's just about the lowest speed my lathe can turn at. Higher speeds generate heat and friction very quickly. Sandpaper will wear out faster and not do as good of a job.
Finishing of the sanding
I sand it to maybe around 320. I'm not actually sure, since I finish sanding with a sponge that says "fine".
Once you think you are done sanding, carefully inspect the entire bowl for any areas you might have missed. I always find a couple.
When you are sure you're done, and if the bowl is dry enough, you can put on your finish.
Finishing with a finish
This is my favorite part. With the first stroke of an oil, the colors of the wood explode into view.
Speaking of which, an oil finish is my favorite, although not for durability.
I've seen bowls finished with a bunch of different finishes: lacquers, salad bowl finishes, epoxies and the classic oil and wax combination.
Lacquers build a hard, thick shiny film. Although they are supposed to be food-safe, many contain metallic driers or other nasty chemicals. When they start to get old, they can chip and peel, and then you are eating lacquer. Besides, I don't really like the hard, shiny finish for something as natural as a wooden bowl. They tend to stay on the surface of the wood.

Salad bowl finishes are pretty much the same, although they have been "tested" for food safety. These are probably better than lacquers with about the same durability. When applied, they can be either shiny or have a semi-gloss luster, which I like better.

Epoxies are probably the most durable of them all. They make a hard, thick coating that protects the wood from any sort of moisture or food. Again, though, they are shiny and only stay on the surface of the wood. Their main disadvantage are that they are messy (two part mixture) and are also the most expensive.

Mineral oil and wax finishes are probably the most food- safe. Wax is perfectly safe to eat, as is mineral oil. They seep deep into the wood and can be polished to a beautiful luster with only a few seconds of work. I usually finish my bowls with this. Although, in my opinion, these finishes are the nicest, they aren't really durable at all. They are very susceptible to moisture (they can get spots) and they never truly dry. If the bowl is used often, they have to be reapplied every month or so to keep up the shine.

What not to use
Anything that is not durable that also cures in a film. If it can easily flake or break off, it's not a good idea. Anything with particularly harmful ingredients such as metallic driers should not be used. Also, don't use vegetable or olive oil. Over time, they can go rancid and smell bad. Also, people with allergies may react badly to walnut oil finishes. Before applying a finish you're not sure about, research it online and look on the back of the can or bottle for any warnings.

What to use
For functional bowls, use epoxy or salad bowl finish. They should be food-safe.
For decorative bowls, or if you are concerned with harmful/unnatural ingredients, use a mineral oil and wax combination. Be careful about getting these bowls wet because moisture will leave spots that are hard to get rid of.

How to apply mineral oil/wax
First, see if you can heat up the bottle of stuff, so it will penetrate deeper into the wood. Usually I just leave it in he sunshine. I use butcher block conditioner or block oil. They are mainly mineral oil and wax. Put on a good amount and turn the lathe on its slowest speed. Use a clean cloth to work the finish into the wood and buff it up to a nice shine. Simple and easy.
BE CAREFUL when using a cloth. Never wrap it around your hand, just in case the lathe grabs it and twists it around. Make sure you can let go quickly. I would use paper towels, but they leave bits of paper.
Done! You can apply a second coat if you see that the wood is still thirsty for more.

Step 11: Making a Full Circle

In summary:
Find a nice log that's not cracked and pretty good sized, and hopefully fairly green. Cut it up into a blank.
Make sure the blank can spin safely on your lathe, then rough it out.
Turn the outside of your bowl. this decides the form.
Make the attachment for the chuck.
Flip the bowl around and work on the inside. Establish wall thickness right away, don;t go back to make it thinner.
Sand until there are no visible scratches.
Then put on a finish.
That's all folks.
It's more fun to turn green wood.
Make sure you always rub the bevel
Establish wall thickness the first time you cut.
BE SAFE! use a face shield, respirator and proper speeds on your lathe.

Your first few bowls are bound to break. Start small and work your way up. Practice may not make perfect, but it will always make better. There is no substitute for getting out into the shop and turning a chunk of wood. Before you do start turning, it would be a great idea to look up a video online. I promise that there is a plethora of information on the interwebs. Once you get the basics of woodturning down, it's a lot easier to expand into more complex turning projects. Woodturning requires and creates a completely different skillset than most woodworking, and there's a lot you can do with it. For that reason, many woodturners consider woodturning a completely different subject matter.
If the reason you haven't started woodturning yet is because of cost, look on craigslist or Ebay. I found an incredible deal on craigslist because the owner of the lathe simply didn't want it any more.

Eventually, you will be able to complete a perfect bowl in an afternoon.

Hopefully, you will end up with a beautiful bowl. And, hopefully it was also free!
Now go and practice. Stay safe.

Woodworking Challenge

Second Prize in the
Woodworking Challenge