Introduction: From a Log to a Bowl in One Day

About: I am a very retired man living in San Diego Ca. These days I wake up and see what my mind has in store for me to make or enjoy. Covid was a game changer and made me realize that life needs to be lived, not jus…

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.