Turning a Segmented Bowl




This is my instructable for turning a segmented wooden bowl. I made this one with salvaged wood from old projects and furniture. It uses cherry and maple for the contrast, but you can use almost any hardwoods. I've found that it helps to pick ones of similar hardness. When you sand them, one won't wear down faster than the other. I will be building the bowl blank from segments of cherry and maple glued together. This provides two benefits over turning a bowl from a solid blank. First, there's less waste because the blank will already be hollow, and roughly the dimensions of the final bowl. Second, when turning, you're nearly always cutting with the grain of the wood, rather than across it. (The exception being the disk at the bottom) This reduces tearing, wear on the tools, and makes mounds of those shaving ribbons that are so satisfying to watch fountain off the work-piece and pile up on the floor.

Shameless Plug:
This bowl and more of my woodworking can be seen and purchased at https://adirondackearthlore.etsy.com

(Update: Both of these bowls have sold, but there's still plenty of my other work up there!)

Step 1: What You'll Need

  • Plans and a cut list. I generated mine using Woodturner pro, which is available at www.woodturnerpro.com. They have a trial version available so you can play with it and find out if you like it. It's a great program and I've used it for several bowls. (I am in no way affiliated with Woodturner Pro, just a huge fan)
  • Dimensional Lumber. Any hardwood should be fine. The amount and length will be dictated by your cut list.
  • Glue. A good carpentry glue like Titebond II is recommended. Gorilla Glue works well too, but you have to be careful with your clamping
  • Table saw
  • Chop saw or miter saw
  • Lathe and chisels; I used:
    • assorted bowl gouges
    • fingernail gouge
    • round scraper
    • parting tool
  • Scrap wood for waste blocks
  • Compass
  • Band Saw
  • Sander
  • Large hose clamps; the metal sort with the worm gear for tightening them. The more, the merrier. You may need to connect several together to be able to go all the way around the larger rings. I had to use three of my largest clamps to go around the largest ring.
  • ring or spring clamps (optional); I made mine out of PVC. The basic idea is similar to this instructable, but I added brads to the ends to help them bite a bit better. I may post an instructable on making mine later.
  • Sandpaper; various grits ranging from 60 - 600, plus 000 and 0000 steel wool.
  • Finish of your choice. I used tung oil because it is food-safe and provides a shiny water-resistant finish.
  • Safety gear
    • full face shield - Don't even think of starting without one.
    • dust mask - a really good idea. The fine dust from sanding some hardwoods are irritants, allergens, and some are just plain toxic.

Step 2: Lay Out Your Plans

As I mentioned, I used the software Woodturner Pro to lay out the basic shape of the bowl and generate my cutlist. The cutlist for this bowl is shown here. It has six "rings" of increasing size, starting with the disk at the bottom. Each ring is composed of 12 segments. For my bowl, I chose to alternate cherry and maple for the contrast.

Step 3: Cut Your Segments; Ring 1 - Disk

I've found that the set up work for making a segmented bowl is far more taxing than the actual turning process. Because of this, I've found it economical to make more than one at a time. It takes time to change from one cutting operation to the next, so I plan on cutting for at least two bowls.

In this case the first ring is a flat disc of maple 4.5" OD (outside diameter) I've marked it with my compass, and I cut it on the band saw.

Step 4: Mount Waste Block and Chuck.

Having cut the disk for the base of the bowl, I now need to attach a waste block so I can screw it onto my lathe chuck. I keep a stack of square waste blocks cut from 2X4's with a hole drilled in the center that will accept an 8d nail snugly to use as a centering tool.

  • I used an awl to mark the center of the circle I drew with the compass
  • apply glue to the back of the waste block
  • use the nail to center the waste block on the disc, and clamp
  • let dry overnight.

With those steps complete, I screwed the waste block to my lathe chuck so the assembly can be mounted on the lathe. If you have a 4 jaw bowl chuck, you may want to mount your bowl differently.

Step 5: Begin Cutting Segments; Ripping Ring 2

Following the cut list for ring 2 I ripped boards on the table saw down to the 3" width required. The economy board length listed for this ring is 12 3/4". That means you alternate the orientation of the pieces you will be cutting to minimize the waste. Woodturner pro also provides a "grain match" length which will allow you to make the grain follow around the edge of the bowl, but wastes half the wood.

Again, I'm making two bowls using alternating woods, so I'll cut one board in maple and another in cherry. I also add a little extra to the length measurement because I've found it wise to always plan to cut one or two more segments than I need. Sometimes you will later notice a flaw in a segment (worm hole, crack, etc) that makes it unsuitable for the project. If you find this later in the process, going back and exactly duplicating the size of the piece you need is much more hassle than it's worth.

Step 6: Begin Cutting Segments; Miter Cutting the Segments for Ring 2

Now that my boards are ripped to the specified width, I set the miter on my chop saw for 15 degrees, and clamp a stop block at 1-11/16"; the required segment edge length for ring 2. (the photos above aren't actually ring 2, they're one of the larger rings. I didn't get photos of ring 2 cutting)

Each ring requires 6 cherry and 6 maple, so I'm cutting 1 extra of each color, just in case.La

Step 7: Lather, Rinse, Repeat

The steps for rings 3 through 6 are essentially the same, so I repeat the previous two steps for each ring, ripping to width, and cutting to the specified length on the chop saw.

Step 8: Begin Ring Assembly

Starting with ring 2, Begin assembling the rings.

It helps to dry-fit the ring first. Arrange the pieces in a circle, and if necessary apply your hose clamp around the outside. Check to be sure that all the segments fit snugly. If they don't use a sander to make a minor adjustment to all the segments. Repeat this until they fit snugly.

Apply glue to the segments. I've found that if I apply the glue to the pieces, fit them together, let them sit for a minute, separate them again, and reapply another light coat of glue, I get a better bond. The first coat of glue tends to get absorbed by the end grain of the wood. A second application resolves this problem.

I chose to use my spring clamps to assemble pairs of segments first, rather than trying to get all 12 of them to align perfectly at once. I'm currently not sure if adding the extra step to get better alignment is worth the extra time it requires.

Once the pairs of segments are dry, repeat the dry-fit, sanding, and glue-up process with the 6 pairs, and clamp the ring with the hose clamp.

Once the glue is dry, you can take it out of the clamps, and sand the surface flat. The flatter the better. This needs to glue to the disk with as few voids as possible.

Step 9: Glue Up the Remaining Rings

The process for the remaining rings is the same as the previous step. Repeat until you have all the rings glued up, and surface sanded.

Step 10: Glue Rings Together

Now that the rings are ready, they can be assembled.

Align ring 2 on top of ring 3, taking care to overlap the glue joints on the other ring. If the glue joints align, the final result won't be as strong, and could fly apart on the lathe. Trace the outline of ring 2 on ring 3. This will help show where the glue needs to be applied. It is very important that each ring be centered on the previous ring as accurately as possible, otherwise the blank will wobble on the lathe, and again, it could fly apart.

Apply the glue, fit the ring back in place.

Now apply glue on ring 2 and center ring 2 on it.

I used my drill press as a clamp, advancing the drill chuck down onto the lathe chuck, and locking it in place. alternately, you can simply balance something heavy on the whole assembly, but I've found that difficult. Perhaps in the future I'll make a weight that screws into the lathe chuck.

So far I've only glued together rings 1-3. The reason for this is that I found (the hard way) that my lathe tool rest doesn't reach the bottom of a fully assembled bowl.

Step 11: Mount and Begin Turning

Once the glue is dry, remove the blank from the clamp, and mount the assembly on the lathe. Don't for get to put on your safety gear. A full-face shield is a must. Not kidding. I've watched many sharp chunks of wood bounce off my mask that I would have otherwise worn. So far I've not taken a whole bowl in the face, but many have sailed over my shoulder and made dents in the furnace behind me! This is not a place to skimp if you value your life and vision.

Begin the rough turning as you normally would. Use a large gouge to round off the corners on the outside of the blank. I used a fingernail gouge to define the rough contour of the inside of the bowl. continue smoothing the contour, working to smooth out the curve of the surface so that it just touches the joints between the rings, and removes all the flat spots from the rings.

Once the basic profile has taken shape, and there are no flat spots visible, switch to a scraper taking light cuts to continue smoothing the surface. Keeping the tools sharp will reduce the tear-out between the segments. I found that I always had a bit of tear out on the trailing edge of some segments. Don't worry, aggressive sanding will take care of that.

Take care not to round over the top edges of the bowl yet, there are still two more rings to add.

Do some coarse sanding with 60 grit paper; just enough to remove any digs left from tear-out.

Use the scraper to flatten and true up the top edge of the bowl a large, flat sanding block with coarse paper will help true the edge to receive the next ring.

Step 12: Glue Remaining Rings; Complete Turning

Now the remaining rings can be centered and glued in place.

Once the glue is dry, the remaining rings can be turned and the final profile can be refined with scrapers and coarse sanding.

Another Safety warning:

Don't forget your dust mask during sanding operations. Some woods are irritating or toxic. Spalted wood can contain spores that may be distributed during sanding. Getting them in your lungs can actually cause a fungal infection in your lungs.

In the photo above, I was trying to get a jump on the work because I didn't have enough hose clamps to glue all the rings at once. I turned rings 1-4 while 5 was gluing, and I turned ring 5 while 6 was still gluing up.

Step 13: More Sanding and Finishing

Sand the bowl with increasingly fine grits until you've reached the surface you want. I worked up from 60 grit through 100, 200, 400 sandpaper, and 0000 steel wool.

When you think the sanding is complete, inspect the bowl CAREFULLY for small dings and tear out. The're hard to spot when the bowl is unfinished, but they become painfully obvious once you have two coats of finish on (again, learned this one the hard way).

Since this bowl could be used for food, I used a food-safe tung oil finish. Rotate the bowl by hand as you apply the tung oil with a cloth or brush. The first coat can be fairly heavy, as the wood will absorb it quite quickly. You can apply a second coat within an hour. After the second coat, follow the instructions on the can for your finish. I waited 8 hours for the tung oil to dry and harden, and then I sanded again with 400 grit, and applied another coat. Repeat as necessary, using increasingly fine grits

Finally, I buffed the finish with a brown paper bag, followed by a cotton rag. This provides a very glossy finish.

Step 14: Part It Off

With the parting tool, separate the bowl from the waste block. This step is much easier if you have a partner with their hands ready to grab the bowl when parts off. You'll see it start to wobble a bit right before it separates.

Alternately, if you can't find someone to help, part it down to about an inch, stop the lathe, and cut off the rest with a coping saw or hacksaw.

Turn the bowl upside down onto a soft cloth. With a chisel, carefully shave off the button on the bottom.

Sand and finish the bottom of the bowl.

Step 15: All Done. Lessons Learned

That's it, your bowl is done.

Here's what I learned:

When the bottom of the bowl is hollowed out, a circle of the bottom disk shows through ring 2. Since the wood of ring 2 is very thin at that transition point, the circle is not perfectly round. It's not extremely noticeable, but it could be better. When I did the second one, I turned a 3/4" peg from cherry, and drilled a 3/4" hole in the center using a forstner bit mounted in my tail-stock. This hole went all the way through ring 2, and halfway into the disk of ring 1. I glued the peg into it so that it stuck out a bit, then turned it flush with a scraper. This made the circle at the center of the bowl much sharper and well defined.

I need more hose clamps. The process would have gone much faster if I had enough hose clamps to glue all the rings at once. As it was, I could do two smaller rings at once, but only do one large ring at a time. It would have gone much faster if I had enough clamps to do all the rings at once.

My turning tools never seem to be sharp enough. I don't have any sharpening jigs for my chisels, so I sharpen by hand. I'm still getting the hang of this, so it takes longer than I'd like to get a consistent edge. As a result, I don't do it as often as I really need to.



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    28 Discussions


    9 months ago

    He had a lot of catches. Insuring that his chisels were very sharp might have avoided much of this.


    3 years ago

    Cutting segments with a small (8" or less) chop saw: Make a thin wooden fence, apply with double sided tape. Cutting your first segment, mark the length on the fence with a knife before you cut. Long side against fence always. Accurate reputation with few problems.

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    Accurate repetition without damaged or flying segments. Chop saw from Lowe's for a little over $100, with carbide tipped blade.


    3 years ago

    Very good job!
    Definitely got to try this.
    Where do you pick your wood up from?

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    That particular piece was made with wood I salvaged. The maple was left over from another project that didn't pan out. I believe it originally was purchased as dimensional lumber from Lowes. The darker wood was rescued from a burn pile. It was part of a piece of furniture; a headboard I believe. I ripped it into narrow boards for this project. I'm guessing it's cherry or walnut. I wish knew exactly, it was a beautiful dark color.

    Although it's more prep work than starting with a solid blank, the dimensional lumber is easier to source than a huge blank that has dried without cracking.


    3 years ago

    A beautiful bowl

    Bill WW

    5 years ago on Introduction

    Very good tip regarding the glue soaking into end grain.

    Would appreciate you opinion on something. We both have used the miter gauge on our table saws to cut angled segments. On my last project, however, I set the miter gauge to 90 and angled the saw blade tilt to 15 degrees using the bevel setting. I used a magnetic digital angle gauge, it's very precise. The segments fit together perfectly, no sanding required. Have watched a lot of videos and read a lot, but never saw anyone using the bevel setting for cutting segment angles. Do you see any issues doing this?



    P6050087 (Medium).JPG
    4 replies
    r-philpBill WW

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Hi Bill:

    It really shouldn't matter *how* you cut your segments as long as the angle is accurate. I may consider using your method next time. One of the problems I ran into was my impatience with the chop saw. I have to wait for my blade to spin down after a cut, or on the upstroke, the blade will catch the segment between the blade and the stop block. Usually this results in a chunk being taken out of my segment, (rendering it worthless) and tossing it at high velocity to a random spot in the workshop. Once my heart stops racing, and I've recovered the new piece of scrap, I have to start over and cut a new one, waiting for the blade to spin down properly. Your method sounds like it would go much faster.

    The only problem I would run into with that process would be switching the table saw from ripping boards to cutting segments. My process, to reduce waste, was to rip a board for the widest segments, and cut segments from that until I had enough. If I ran out, the saw was still set to rip an identical board. If I still had board left when I completed all the segments of that length, I set up the table saw for the next widest segment, and re-ripped my leftover board to that width, and started cutting segments again. That way I didn't have to carefully measure the board length for each segment width, and if I screwed up one or two, it wasn't a show-stopper. I could keep going as long as I didn't run out of wood.

    Once, when I was making a small bowl, with tiny segments; I taped a small piece of bent spring steel (rescued from a small tape measure) to the fence of the chop saw. That way, when I completed a cut, the spring would kick the cut piece away from the saw blade. I was able to work much faster, but I found the same trick didn't work for larger pieces. The tiny spring was too weak to move the larger pieces, and a larger spring wouldn't have laid completely flat against the fence.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Hi r-Philip,

    Instead of a spring to hold down or kick out the small cut pieces, I glued a clothespin onto a piece of wood to hold the cut pieces in place until the saw was pushed back. (I use a radial arm saw to cut my segments) I cut about three quarters of an inch off the bottom half of the clothespin so only the top half of the clothespin holds the piece of wood in place. I leave the clothespin spring intact to put pressure on the piece of wood. You just have to make sure the clothespin is set back far enough so the saw blade doesn't hit it. I've cut pieces as small as 3/8 inch by 3/8 inch up to pieces 2-1/4 inches high by 3 inches long using this method with no problems.

    Bill WWr-philp

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction


    Interesting idea, the spring steel to kick the pieces out. Of course, we have to be careful about steel near the blade. I think both the chop saw and table saw are useful for cutting segments, depending on size and angle.

    r-philpBill WW

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    It did work well for small pieces. The spring was very thin and tiny, as it was a 1" piece from the spring of a 3' pocket tape measure. The risk to the saw was negligible, as I cut the spring with scissors. Just enough force to push it away from the fence, and thin enough that it wouldn't measurably affect the angle of the cut. I held it on with masking tape, so the mod temporary. It did improve the speed at which I could cut small parts.

    Bill WW

    5 years ago on Introduction

    Very nice, thank you for the tips. I have been "working" wood forever (it seems), but have been "turning" wood for a month. Also concentrating on segmented pieces. I have plans for a very similar bowl to yours, using maple and walnut.

    I bought a set of "hose clamp" components from Lee Valley that work really well for clamping the rings during glue up. The band comes in a long coil, you cut the length you need. The bands are a bit smaller.

    I also made items with 12 segments cut on the miter/chop saw. My saw has a 15 degree fixed stop, and is very accurate at that setting. However, not sure I could precisely set an angle if it was not a positive stop. I cut most of my segments on the table saw with a purpose built sled, see this Instructable:


    Here is a photo of my first segmented item - oak and padauk, it is the size of a paper cup. Broke a bowl gouge on this one!

    P4040005 (Medium).JPG
    1 reply
    r-philpBill WW

    Reply 5 years ago

    Very well done Bill! That's a great looking piece too. Sorry to hear about the broken gouge. You might have let the chisel touch the workpiece before the tool rest. That can cause a catch that slams the tool against the rest. Thankfully, I've never broken a chisel, but I did snap a tool rest that way once.
    I've got a stop on my chop saw too, but some error manages to creep in anyway.
    Good luck, and enjoy your turning!


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Wow, the result is amazing! Love the cherry wood color... I definitely want to make something like this!

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago

    Thank you. I was particularly lucky when I rescued that piece of cherry. It was in a pile of lumber to be burned.


    Reply 5 years ago

    Thank you very much. I'm glad you enjoyed it.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    As a turner on a Metal lathe,I use wood. this has turned out very good and of course this is Art. Just keep those tools "SHARP"