Rough-Turning a Beech Bowl

Most of my bowls are rough-turned to a thickness of 1 to 1 1/2 inches from a blank split from a bolt of wood as freshly cut as possible, then dried for several months before being re-turned to a final shape and dimension, sanded, and finished.  I start with a bolt; a section cut from the trunk or a limb of a tree.

This is a bolt of  beech.  It's sitting on the ground in the same orientation as it was growing in the tree.
This is a bolt of beech. It’s sitting on the ground in the same orientation as it was growing in the tree.

The bolt will yield two bowls.  The first task is to split the bolt right through the heart center or pith.

This shows the end of the bolt.  You can clearly see the heart center and the annual rings.  There is a primary crack radiating out from the heart center.
This shows the end of the bolt. You can clearly see the heart center and the annual rings. There is a primary crack radiating out from the heart center.
First, using a sharp wedge and a hammer, I score across the end of the bolt following the primary crack.
First, using a sharp wedge and a hammer, I score across the end of the bolt following the primary crack.
Now drive the wedge and split the bolt.
Now I drive the wedge and split the bolt.
Two bowl blanks.
Two bowl blanks.

You’ll note that the blanks pictured are not equal in size.  The bolt is split down the heart center or pith, which may or, as in this case, may not be the same as the geometric center.  The pith is the dark line running down the face of each blank.  Next the blank is sawn into a rough circle on the band saw.

Turn a Green Bowl 018Then the round blank is mounted on a faceplate and fixed to the lathe.

Find the center of the blank.
Find the center of the blank.
Screw the faceplate tightly to the blank.
Screw the faceplate tightly to the blank.
The faceplate screws directly onto the headstock spindle of the lathe.
The faceplate screws directly onto the headstock spindle of the lathe.
Bring up the tailstock for stability and safety.
Bring up the tailstock for stability and now we begin turning the outside of the bowl.
Turn a Green Bowl 036
It’s easy to see that this blank is way out of balance so we begin turning at 200 rpm or less.

Now the turning begins.  This piece is unbalanced so I start with the lathe barely turning.  I gradually turn it up till the machine starts to shake, then back off until it stops.  In the photos below it appears that the work is turning quite fast because the shavings are flying, but even with the lathe turning slowly a 14 inch disc is moving pretty fast at the circumference.  The second photo shows that the gouge spends considerable time in the air.  It’s out of the frame in these pictures, but at this stage I keep the butt of the tool handle in my leg or my side for better control.

Turn a Green Bowl 039Turn a Green Bowl 038Turn a Green Bowl 040

Once it’s close to the shape I want on the outside of the blank I make a tenon for my chuck to hold.  In this case I made a groove, a circular dado, I suppose, so that the chuck jaws can grip the tenon on the inside or be expanded to grip the outside of the dado.Turn a Green Bowl 041Now the bowl blank is removed from the faceplate and mounted in reverse on the chuck.Turn a Green Bowl 043

This piece is still a long way from being balanced, so the lathe is kept at a slow speed and, again, the tailstock is brought up for stability and safety.  Facing off the blank will bring it substantially into balance.

Turn a Green Bowl 045

Turn a Green Bowl 044In this case, after facing off the top of the bowl blank I decided to re-true the outside so everything would be perfectly balanced.  The chuck is supposed to be self-centering, but the tenon may not compress evenly or some other factor may introduce some wobble.  This blank will be re-turned once it has dried, so it needn’t be perfect, but if it vibrates very much the inside turning will go much faster once the outside has been re-trued.

Beech sap 004
Re-truing the outside of the blank before continuing to hollow out the center.

This wood is freshly cut: very green.  You can see that once I’ve increased the speed of the lathe a bit the sap is flying from the bowl and dripping from the tool rest.  I get a nice little shower as I true up the outside.

Turn a Green Bowl 053Now we can really make some beautiful curly shavings: balanced blank, green beech, tailstock pulled back out of the way, turn the lathe speed up to 5 or 600 rpm.  Let’er rip!

Here I'm using a tape measure to check the depth.
Here I’m using a tape measure to check the depth.

I want an even thickness in the walls and bottom so it will dry without cracking.

Rough-turned to 1.5 inches thick.
Rough-turned to 1.5 inches thick.
Off the lathe.
Off the lathe.
Painted with glue and ready for the bag.
Painted with glue and ready for the bag.

There are many ways to dry these bowls.  In this case I painted the entire bowl with glue that had been thinned with an equal amount of water.  I’ll put it in the heavy grocery bag that I’ve labeled with the date and type of wood and leave it for about 3 months before re-turning it.

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