Power-carving Bowls

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This article is from issue 113 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Tools and techniques for sculpting 

There is something very direct and satisfying about carving; making an object by removing material from a solid chunk until the shape that is left matches the vision you started out with. And while I enjoy the tap, tap, tap of working with a mallet and chisels, it can be a lot of fun to put the oomph of electricity behind your tools and spray chips with abandon as you quickly cut away the waste. A number of tools on the market let you do just that. Most of them use an angle grinder for power with attachments to cut as well as sand. In this story, I’ll show you how to put these tools to use in making trays and bowls. A pattern for one of these bowls is available on p. 45, the other two are available online. But don’t feel limited by what’s shown here, you can employ these techniques to make nearly any shape or style of bowl or tray imaginable.

Order of Work

  • Lay out and cut the overall form
  • Shape the outside
  • Hollow the inside
  • Refine the details
  • Sand and finish


Visit onlineEXTRAS for free full-size patterns and a short how-to video.

Grind to refine. Use a light touch and keep the tool moving as you smooth away the lumps left from the cutting disk.

Carve the outside

Choose your material and lay out the overall shape of your piece. While hand carvers are somewhat constrained to using softer woods, power carvers are free to work with nearly any species. If you’re duplicating one of the designs presented here, download the patterns from the magazine website. Trace the shapes onto your blank and cut away the bulk of the waste at the bandsaw. Then shape the outside contours with a cutting disk before refining the shape with a grinding disk. While you could do all the shaping with this disk, cutting disks are much faster.

Tools for shaping

Cutting Disks. Cutting disks such as Manpa’s Multicutter (see Buyer’s Guide click here to download PDF) or King Arthur’s Lancelot make short work of cutting away the waste.
Grinding Disks. Abrasive disks such as the Holy Gallahad from King Arthur or the Extreme Shaping Dishes from Kutzall are great for quickly fairing bumpy surfaces left from the cutting disks.

Ball Gouge. Arbortech’s ball gouge offers a little more control than a cutting disk while still chewing through material quickly.

Hollow the inside

With the overall shape pretty well defined, turn your attention to hollowing the inside to echo the outside contours. Start by marking the rim, and then remove as much of the waste as possible using a carving disk. For larger shapes, I find it helpful to define the depth by drilling holes across the field as seen below. I also like to use a ball gouge as an intermediate step between the cutting and grinding disks. It’s easier to control the contours as it cuts slower than the cutting disk. Continue refining the shape using a grinding disk. 

Remove the waste. After marking the rim a little thicker than you ultimately want, hollow the interior by stroking the cutter back and forth longitudinally as well as from rim to center and back.

Cut closer to the line. You may find a ball gouge allows you to make controlled cuts closer to your layout lines. Keep your arms tucked close and move the tool with your core.

Smooth away the bumps. Finish roughing the inside with a grinding disk. With broader bowls, you can drill out the interior, leaving the drill dimples as a depth guide.

Finalize, sand, and finish

At this point, your piece is nearly finished with the exception of the feet/base. Lay out, cut, and grind these features. A rotary tool with small cutters makes easy work of finessing the base. Then sand everything to fair the surfaces and remove the scratches from the grinding disk. There are several power options available. Flap disks attach directly to your angle grinder and work well for convex and broad concave surfaces. Bulb sanders are usually chucked in a drill (or drill press) or driven by a flex shaft. To finish up, start with coarser grit abrasives (60, 80, or 100) then work your way up to fine (220). Wipe, brush, or spray on your favorite finish. 

Tools for finishing

Rotary tools. A wide variety of cutting burs and bits are available for cutting and refining the fine details.
Flap sander. Flap sanders pick up where grinding disks leave off, fairing surfaces and abrading away scratches in preparation for finish. 

Sanding bulbs. King Arthur’s sanding bulbs are filled with air, making them resilient and capable of fairing surfaces nicely. 

Sketch and cut. After shaping and fairing the bowl, rough out the base using a cutting disk. 

Small tools for details. A small burr cutter in a rotary tool is great for fine detail work such as defining the transition between the base and the body.

Flap away the scratches. Swap out the grinding disk for a flap sander to smooth the outer bowl. Keep the tool moving and stroke with the grain. 

Rotary airbags. Sand the inside surfaces with a bulb sander such as King Arthur’s Guinevere. Alternate between sanding and feeling the surface with your fingers to detect bumps.

The Armstrong system. I do my final shaping and sanding by hand. A half-round file is helpful for fairing some surfaces, while a resilient cork sanding block aids with others. 


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