Kevin's 52 Bowl Challenge

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Hey everybody, Kevin at Woodcraft here. Some of you know me through the Instagram page but if you don't, here's a little intro. 

I’ve been woodworking since late 2015 and have done a lot of small builds. Boxes, cutting boards, a couple small tables, that sort of thing. I could never get my grandfather’s lathe working in my old shop so prior to working here I hadn’t tried any turning. Since I started here in December of 2017 I learned  how to turn pens and have made about 10 or so. A few months ago I asked a coworker, Ben, to show me the basics of bowl turning. I managed to turn 2 bowls in 2019 using carbide tools.

In 2020 I wanted to turn more and give traditional tools a try. Inspired by Matt Kenney’s build series and book “52 boxes in 52 weeks” I decided to try to turn 52 bowls this year. I’m going to use this page to document my different bowls, the successes/failures and hopefully this will serve to inspire others.

Fail #1 (and a half)

One of our sales tab items in the month of January was a 6x6x2 turning blank of Brownheart so I decided to try it out. The blank seemed very dense but looked dull and boring, without much character to the wood. Sort of "industrial" looking. I turned the outside and flipped it around to turn the inside. After I started hollowing I realized it wasn't quite centered so when I tried to true it up I had a little blow out. 

I tried to salvage it into a little platter which looked GORGEOUS when I put some finish on it. I went to take it off the chuck and put my thumb right through the middle. I had turned it too thin. Oh well, better luck next time. 

Small turned Leopard Wood Bowl

Bowl #1

Since the brownheart bowl didn't work out as I had planned I decided to not count it and do another bowl that week. I also took a step back and decided that I needed to focus more on the basics first and not try to get too crazy with my design. With 51 more bowls on the horizon I'll have plenty of oportunity to get creative.  

I found a little piece of what I believe is Leopard Wood in our scrap bin. It turned very nicely and I really like the grain of it with the big spots on the bottom and little speckles throughout. It was a small piece to begin with and ended up about 3 inches in diameter. 

This was finished with Doctor's Woodshop Wax Bowl Finish.

Shallow Black Mesquite bowl with 2 burned accent lines

Bowl #2

One of the two bowls I turned before this personal challenge was out of some black mesquite. I thought it was beautiful and wanted to try another one. 

I tried to stay basic with the design and work on technique. Especially since I was trying to use traditional tools on this bowl rather than carbide tools. Let me tell you, that's a big difference. I basically just tried out the traditional tools on the blank and then resorted to the carbide tools I knew when I actually got close to the shape I wanted. 

I wanted to try the Easy Wood Wire Burning Set again since the brownheart bowl didn't make it. It adds a nice little touch to this otherwise simple bowl. 

This was finished with Doctor's Woodshop Wax Bowl Finish.

Shallow maple platter with small bark inclusion

Bowl #3

The Woodcraft scrap bin has it's perks, mainly in the variety of things to be found. It also has it's troubles, people tend to grab a board at random when doing a photo or video shoot and drilling holes or cutting into it and then putting it back. There was a decent sized hunk of maple that someone had halfway re-sawn leaving it unusable for most projects. 

Cutting off the re-sawn part left me with a fairly square hunk a couple inches thick, which I decided to turn into this maple bowl. The little inclusion was a pleasant surprise once I got done turning.

Because this was from the scrap bin I felt a little more confident using the traditional tools and really started to get the hang of "riding the bevel" and the angles needed for getting certain cuts. I didn't use as much of the carbide tools on this project but I did use a lot of the traditional scrapers rather than the gouges. 

Due to the light colored wood I finished this with Hut Crystal Coat for more of a high build/glossy finish.

Hollowed mahogany bowl that was turned too thin on the bottom.

Fail #2

A lot of my bowls up until this point had been fairly shallow and I wanted to try something deeper. I went up to the Woodcraft store and the thickest bowl blank they had was a piece of Mahogany. I had just re-potted a couple succulents over the weekend and the color of the mahogany reminded me of the ceramic pots that I used, so that was my inspiration for shape. 

Now, the worst part about this is I know about using a drill bit to mark the depth of your bowl. I even distinctly remember thinking to myself, "I should mark the depth on this" and then decided that I would be okay and didn't need to. I was wrong. 

I also used an expansion recess for the chuck instead of a tenon for some unknown reason which may have added to my bad depth judgement. 

Bowl #4

I found a severely crooked and slightly twisted board of quilted maple in the clearance bin of the local Woodcraft Store. Not usable for many projects, but perfect to cut up for some bowls. I was able to salvage 4 square blanks out of it. 

I started turning one without much of a plan. After a lot of catches still trying to get my angles right with the traditional tools I ended up making a fairly boring, shallow dish. It would probably make a good place for rings but not much else. 

I used the Doctors Woodshop Wax Bowl finish which I decided doesn't do the light colored and heavily figured wood any justice. I will probably be using a high gloss friction polish for the rest. 

Fail #3

This is the second blank of that figured maple. I used a square carbide cutter to form the tenon but other than that it was all done with traditional tools. A little scraper but mostly gouges! And it went well, really well, until it didn't. 

I figured out how to use the Tormek T-8 for turning tools, sharpened all of the tools, and had shavings flying everywhere, it was great. But the bowl had a lot of curly grain and I kept getting some tearout as you can see. I was using a gouge with a shear scraping cut trying to remove it, came around the edge and sent the right piece flying. Thankfully I always where a dust mask and face shield, I was also facing the bottom of the bowl and was out of the way.  

I was sad though because it's pretty wood, and look how nice and even the thickness is throughout. I think I'm starting to get the hang of this. 

Brownheart bowl with a slight cove on the bottom and two burnt accent lines

Bowl #5

This was a successful attempt at the first bowl I tried to make this year. I actually really like the grain of the brownheart. It has a certain visual weight to it compared to something like maple. 

It was very dry and produced a lot of dust but turned very easily for as dense as it is. I even used a gouge to shape the cove towards the bottom. 

I was extremely happy with this one because there are no noticeable rough spots in the end grain which is one of the things I've been having a little trouble with. I did use a drill bit to mark the depth this time, you can still see a little hole from the tip of the bradpoint bit. 

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  • MC from CAMERON PARK
    This is a great series. I can’t wait to see more!

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