Scroll Sawed Wooden Bowls!




Hey everybody!

I was disappointed recently to find that there are no instructables on making wooden bowls with a scroll saw, even though there are lots of books published on the subject.  So I've decided to fill the gap.

All you'll need is a scroll saw and a few other tools to get started.  I like this project because it minimizes the amount of wasted wood (unlike bowls made with a lathe) and the bowls produced have very interesting designs.  It's also surprisingly easy, as long as you have the patience to sand it to perfection...  So let's get started!

I also wanted to thank my wife Trish, who inspired and helped me to tackle this project.

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Step 1: Materials

The following tools are mandatory:
These tools are optional, but make everything easier and improve the quality of the bowls:
You will also need the following supplies:
  • Wood glue
  • Scroll saw blades (yes - they will break often)
  • Pen/pencil
  • Clamps, clamps, and more clamps
  • Sand paper and sand paper belts for sanders
  • Varnish (and/or stain, depending on what you want to do)
  • At least 1 board foot of wood, can be pieces of various woods
Note:  If you plan on putting food in the bowl, you should avoid using exotic hardwoods.  Many of those woods contain toxic chemicals which can contaminate food and possibly harm you.  However, most domestic hardwoods are fine for use with food.

Step 2: Wood & Laminates

The first step is to prepare the blank from which you will cut the bowl pieces.  I recommend making the blank at least 12"x12".  It can be a solid piece of wood or a laminate of several different types of wood.  If you use more pieces with contrasting colors, it makes the final design on the bowl much more impressive.  I used a parallel laminate of 3 types of wood for this project, but you can do far more just by changing the thickness of the strips or gluing them together at different angles.

Here are the general steps for making a good laminate:
  1. Cut the desired strips to the desired width with a table saw
  2. Use a miter saw to cut the strips to the desired length
  3. Use a jointer to smooth and level the sides of the strips
  4. Fit the pieces together to make sure there are no gaps

Step 3: Gluing the Laminate

Special care must be taken while gluing the strips of the laminate together to avoid warping. 
  1. Choose a flat surface that you can use clamps with and clean it
  2. Look ahead to step 7 before gluing
  3. Apply a good amount of glue to each piece and join them together. Do not glue the middle two pieces together if you want to avoid drilling entry holes, as mentioned in step 7.
  4. Carefully wipe up excess glue
  5. Use long clamps to squeeze the pieces together
  6. Use more clamps to keep the laminate flat on the table/surface
  7. Wipe up any more excess glue
  8. Let the glue dry for about 24 hours at or above 55F

Step 4: Finishing the Laminate

  1. I highly recommend using a planer to smooth the laminate and get rid of any warping that may have occurred during gluing. 
  2. Once you have smooth surfaces on both sides of the laminate, measure its thickness at multiple points to make sure the piece is even.

Step 5: Choosing Bowl Dimensions

The simplest way to make a bowl is to cut the rings at a 45 degree angle.  That way, the rings are as far apart as the laminate is thick (see picture below).  I recommend the diameter of the inner circle be at least 3".

If you want to try different dimensions to make unique bowls, grab a calculator or open up excel and follow the steps below (see second picture):
  1. Choose a diameter for the inner circle (should be 3-4")......D, cell A2
  2. Measure the maximum length/diameter of the laminate.....L, cell B2
  3. Measure the thickness of the laminate...................................T, cell C2
  4. Choose an angle to cut..............................................................(theta), cell D2
  5. Calculate width of each ring......................................................X, cell E2
  6. Cut and paste this formula into cell E2:           =TAN(RADIANS(D2))*C2
  7. Calculate the number of rings (round down).........................N, cell F2
  8. Cut and paste this formula into cell F2:           =FLOOR((B2-A2)/(2*E2),1)
  9. Calculate the final height of the bowl.......................................H, cell G2
  10. Cut and paste this formula into cell G2:          =(F2+1)*C2
  11. Play around with the cut angle (theta) until you are happy with the final height of the bowl.

Step 6: Trace the Circles

Once you have calculated the width of each ring (X from last step), you will need to trace the rings onto the bowl, like so:
  1. Find the center of the blank and mark it with an X.
  2. Take a stiff piece of card stock (ex: cover of a notebook or holiday card) and cut a 1" wide by 6-12" long strip.
  3. On one end of the strip, make a tiny hole with the point of a knife
  4. Draw a straight line from that hole across the length of the strip
  5. Make another hole about "D/2" inches along that line from the first hole
  6. Make more holes, each "X" inches apart, until you've reached the maximum radius of your bowl
  7. Pin the strip down to the blank with a pointy object and carefully trace concentric circles by rotating the strip around the centerpoint on the blank (see below)

Step 7: Optional: Drilling Entry Holes

Most traditional wood bowls start with a solid piece of wood.  To start cutting the rings, entry holes must be drilled at the same angle that will be used with the scroll saw to allow you to start cutting.  If you have a good drill press and a strong thin bit, you can use this method.

However, I don't have a good drill press, so I can't make consistent entry holes.  Therefore, I came up with a way to avoid having to drill them.  I simply make the laminate in even halves and cut semi-circles which are later glued together to give full circles.  That way I don't have to worry about the accuracy of entry holes or putting on/taking off my scroll saw blade.  See the second picture below to see exactly what I'm talking about.

Step 8: Cutting the Rings

Now it is time to warm up that scroll saw!

The method here is pretty self explanatory, just cut the rings out and take your time.  Here are some extra pointers:
  1. Make sure the stage on the scroll saw is adjusted to the proper angle.  Cut a test piece and measure the angle, if necessary.
  2. Go slowly, but never stop moving forward.  If you stop or go back, you will remove more wood and scar the bowl.
  3. Maintain lots of pressure on the piece for a clean, consistent, and quick cut

Step 9: Glue.

We're almost there!

Before you do any gluing, mark the pieces so you can glue them together exactly as they were cut.  If you forget to do this, some of the bands may not match up properly.

If you avoided drilling entry holes, the first thing to do now is to glue the half circles together to make full circles.  Use plenty of glue and clamp them down on a flat surface until dry.

Once you have the rings glued, glue them together, one at a time.  Make sure that the bands on the outside of the bowl line up as nicely as possible. 

If you have a spindle sander, don't glue the bottom piece onto the bowl just yet.  Leaving the bottom of the bowl open will allow you to easily sand the inside of the bowl using a spindle sander.  If you don't have a spindle sander, go ahead and glue the bottom piece.

Put the glued bowl onto a flat surface and compress it with something heavy.  Some people use "bowl presses" (google it), but I just use my old textbooks.  Compress the bowl for at least a few hours or until the glue has dried overnight.

Step 10: Sanding

No matter how good your cuts were, there's a lot of sanding to be done!

I prefer a belt sander for this step.  I smooth out the outside and inside of the bowl with about 50 grit sand paper, then move up to 120 grit to make it even smoother for finishing.  Examine the bowl carefully, rubbing your fingers across the joints to make sure they are as smooth as possible.

I also like to round off the edge of the bowl with my disc sander.  Just take your time and evenly sand the edge of the bowl.  Be careful not to lose control - disc sanders can quickly gouge your bowl.

Finally, I like to thoroughly sand the inside and outside of the bowl with 120 grit to get any small spots the belt sander may have missed.

Step 11: Finishing Touches

Once the bowl is smooth, wipe it down with a wet cloth to remove any dust particles.  Let it dry, then apply a 1-3 coats of varnish.  Smooth out/sand with high grit sandpaper as necessary.

Congratulations!  You made a bowl!

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    42 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    This is a great instructable -- very clever use. Is there a reason you didn't use a circle-cutting jig for your concentric pieces?


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I found your info on a google search. This has been one of the best pages I have found so far on how to make a bowl with a scroll saw. I got a scroll saw for Christmas and have been wanting to learn this process. Thanks and your bowl is beautiful.


    7 years ago on Step 2

    What types of wood did you use exactly? I can't find any affordable but different looking woodtypes. Would want wood that is dark next to some light one like in this ibl.

    2 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Step 2

    I think that was purpleheart, padauk, and maple (lightest). It might be interesting to use a combo of pine and oak. They might not look like they contrast at Home Depot, but they will once you put a varnish on. Otherwise, you could always play with stains on cheap pine and see what happens.


    Reply 7 years ago on Step 2

    Thanks, I will try the normal supply store here in Germany and see what I can make out of that.
    Unfortunately I'm going on vacation next week so need to finish some bowls this week to be ready for christmas.


    8 years ago on Step 9

    That P-Chem book is a beast. I see you've put yours to more use than i have. Great bowl!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Very nicely done. I've done this same technique but used the lathe to finish the bowl. I just rough it out like you did, the mount it to a faceplate and turn to finish.
    Good comments on using exotics for food. They can be pretty potent. Use domestic hardwoods if food is going to be stored in the bowl. Mineral oil is a fine finish and is food safe. So is Watco Danish Oil if you let it cure for about 2 weeks prior to use.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I really like this project. good job... only question I have is how food friendly are the varnish and wood glue?... I have a wooden cutting board at home and wooden spoons but they are all unvarnished and the cutting board has seams but i believe that it uses a peg and hole system with glue only there, so as not to get glue near the actual cutting surface... regardless nice bowl for various knick-knacks and the like.

    4 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Titebond III has been deemed food safe and all you need is mineral oil to finish it. This is common practice for cutting boards. I hope this helps.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I really don't know, but I would have left it unvarnished if I put food in it. More importantly, the purpleheart used in these bowls has very toxic oils that can be leached out over time. If you want to avoid those toxic oils, stick with domestic woods like oak, maple, cherry, etc.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks a lot to both of you. Your replies are much appreciated.

    There are food safe wood finish products. Check with a local woodworking shop. Don't go to Lowes, or Home Depot, but a store focused on woodworking. One type of product that comes to mind is salad bowl wax. It's easy to use, and provides a food safe finish that also looks nice. has a variety of food safe finishes you could look at too.

    this is a pretty cool instructable.good job. i think i'll have to give this one a go.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    You may have some trouble with the smaller circles. It all depends on what the turning radius of your band saw blade is, but it's hypothetically possible.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    oh thanks... im kinda new to woodworking but really like it, and my dad just bought me a band saw for Christmas and ive been doing projects like crazy on it. he will probally have to help me with this one though

    I do bandsawing and scrolling is a close cousin and when making boxes I only cut thru the first line, make the cut and set the piece aside then go to the next and so on this will save a lot of gluing and the possibility of failure of the joints. Purple Heart will darken over time nothing will stop the reaction. Just the way it has to be. I like Elm when I can find it and look for the purple hue that signifies the tree is dying, make sure the wood has been dry or else. Love the bowl .