Rustic Country Dough Bowl

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This article is from Issue 56 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Rustic Bowl

Power-carve a treasure from found wood.

Overall dimensions: 10"w × 18"l × 4"h

Before the advent of woodworking power tools, many of the kitchenware items found in homes originated from the surrounding forest and the handcrafting skills of locals. Bowls, trays, and utensils were shaped from green logs with hatchets, handsaws, adzes, chisels, and knives. They were then smoothed by scraping. They took time and brawn to create, resulting in functional pieces that displayed somewhat uneven lines and endearing country charm. Even the wood choices added personality to the pieces, featuring sapwood, crotch figure, knots, and other eye-catching elements.

Today, you can capture the same good looks in a fraction of the time using handheld angle grinders and various carving attachments. I’ll show you how to power-carve a dough bowl to shape from a log half, ending up with a prized container by the day’s end. Once you make the initial investment in tools and cutters, you’ll find you can fill a pickup with one-of-a-kind bowls and trays using green wood from your own backyard. One more thing–don’t feel obligated to knead bread dough in the bowls you make. Use them instead to hold fruits and nuts, as a display item, or as a treasured holiday gift.

Tools For The Job

To follow through on the instructions, you’ll need the tools, cutters, and other items shown in the photo below. (See also the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide.) For safety, include work gloves, face shield, ear protection, and a dust mask. Chips will fly, and you’ll want full protection!

  1. Chainsaw with a 24" to 20" bar
  2. Marker
  3. T-bevel
  4. No.5 jack plane
  5. Bosch 41 ⁄2" angle grinder
  6. Lancelot 14-tooth, 4"-dia., (roughing) wood carving disc
  7. Holey Galahad 4"-dia., round, medium (red), smoothing disc
  8. Caliper
  9. Merlin (Proxxon) power carver
  10. Merlin 8-tooth, 2"-dia. chain disc
  11. Merlin 2"-dia. tungsten-carbide medium disc
  12. Portable drill
  13. Inflatable dome sander (23 ⁄8 × 19 ⁄16") and sanding sleeve, 60-grit
  14. Disc sanders
  15. Sanding strips 1 in various grits
Rustic Bowl

Select and prep your stock

1 Scout outside for a good dough bowl candidate from available logs or pile of firewood. Straight timber is the best choice for your first bowl because it’s easier to work. Look for softer hardwoods like poplar, soft maple, and cherry. A 13"- to 14"-diameter log that is 20" long can yield two 10" wide × 18" long dough bowls that include 11⁄2"-long handles. For the bowl shown here, I used cherry.

2 Once you find the right candidate, chainsaw an unseasoned log to 20" long, as depicted in Cut 1 in Figure 1. Dough bowls–unlike furniture pieces–do not require hardand-fast fine measurements in the making, so if you are off a little, it won’t matter.

3 Now, make a pair of parallel slices through the center of the log, cutting lengthwise, where shown in Cut 2. Here you are parting away the pith or waste slab and establishing the top faces of the bowl blanks. These should be square to the ends of the bowl blank.

4 Next, measure down from the bowl blank’s top face 4" to 41⁄2", and mark a parallel bottom face. Mark a 10"- to 12"-wide top face on the bowl blank that is centered between the blank’s edges. Connect the lines using a felt-tip marker and straightedge wood strip. You want the best wood the log has to offer for your bowl, not the wane or pith. Now, with the blank’s end against a strip screwed in place, slice off the rounded crown of the blank, creating a flat blank bottom that is parallel to the top face, as indicated in Cut 3.

5 Cut and place a rectangular piece of cardboard (about 5 × 20") on the bottom face of the blank and between the waney edges. Strike parallel lines inside the wane along the cardboard piece to lay out the bowl’s 4" to 5" true bottom, as shown in Photo A. Lay out the blank’s top face, as well, with a pair of parallel lines within the waney edges.

6 Holding an adjusted sliding bevel against the blank’s ends, strike angled lines that connect the top face and bottom face lines, as shown in Photo B. These will serve as guidelines for cutting the tapered sides of the bowl blank.

7 Place the blank top face down on a pair of scrap spacers, and, with the chainsaw bar angled, cut the tapered blank sides, as shown in Photo C and Cut 4.

8 Lay out the interior perimeter rectangle on the blank’s top face, referencing Figure 2. Referencing Figure 1, lay out the handles and tapered ends of the bowl blank, as shown in Photo D.

9 Now, with one end of the blank wedged snugly against a cleat that is screwed to the table and the other end elevated, make a pair of cuts to rough-form a handle and tapered end, as shown in Photo E and Cut 5. Repeat to cut the other bowl blank end in the same manner.

10 Moving inside and using a hand plane, belt sander, or 8" jointer, flatten the bottom face of the blank, as shown in Photo F, making it parallel with the top face and ensuring it sits without rocking.

11 Lay out a centered inside rectangle on the blank’s top face that represents the inside bottom of the bowl, where shown in Figure 2. Note that the bowl walls must remain 3⁄4" thick along all tapered sides. Mark the locations for the depth reference holes at the corners of the inside rectangle for 1⁄2" holes. Mark a fifth reference hole at the rectangle’s center. 

rustic dough bowl

12 Measure the height of the bowl blank all around, noting the measurement at the lowest corner. Install a 1⁄2" twist bit in a portable drill, and wrap a piece of tape on the bit to serve as a hole depth stop. This should be the height of the bowl minus 3⁄4". Now, drill the five holes, as shown in Photo G, holding the drill vertically over the blank and stopping when the tape touches the wood.

Power-Carving Safety Guidelines

  1. Read the angle grinder’s operating instructions, and never remove the cutter guard. Opt for a grinder having a paddle switch, and make sure the guard is between you and the cutter.
  2. Keep both hands on the angle grinder during operation, and never lay it down until the cutter stops rotating.
  3. Wear eye, ear, and respiratory protection when operating power carvers; wear gloves to protect hands when removing a large quantity of chips.
  4. Secure work to a mounting board or carver’s work positioner when shaping the interior with cutters. Make sure the mounting board allows enough room to clamp it to the bench without interfering with waste removal.
  5. Get a feel for the cutters and discs by testing them on scrapwood before using them on the bowl blanks.
Rustic Bowl

Power-carve the blank

Note: Power-carving in the manner shown here requires adhering to the safety guidelines in the sidebar.

1 Secure the bowl blank upside down to the edge of the workbench top using clamps or an end vise and bench dogs. Install a single Lancelot 14-tooth chain disc on an angle grinder, and smooth the outside face of one bowl side by lightly grazing its surface, as shown in Photo H. Work the cutter from the bowl’s bottom down to its top edge, moving the tool from end to end. You want to remove the rough-sawn surface made by the chainsaw and eliminate bumps with 1⁄32"-deep cuts. This action is referred to as a “smoothing cut” and requires no pressure. Repeat to smooth the other tapered side.

2 Now, work the ends. Secure the workpiece to your bench, and then smooth the tapered ends, as shown in Photo I, working the cutter from the bowl bottom to the bottom face of the handle. Again, just barely touch the surface.

3 Cut a piece of scrap plywood to 16 × 16", ensuring it is flat. Now, with a medium viscosity CA glue and activator, attach the blank right-side up to the plywood, pressing its flat (planed) bottom to the plywood, as shown in Photo J. Note that CA glue will adhere to damp or oily wood. (If you own a carver’s work positioner with a faceplate and screws, consider using it in place of the plywood.) Now, secure this work-holding plywood to a bench with a vise and bench dogs or clamps.

Dough bowl

4 With the same 14-tooth chain disc and right-angle grinder, hog out the waste to form the bowl’s interior. Here, you want to make “chopping” cuts by dipping or plunging the cutter into the center of the bowl, as shown in Photos K and L. Here, wear gloves to protect your hands from the flying debris. Expect to take several minutes dipping the cutter into the blank, working across the grain first, and then cutting with the grain, staying within the layout lines. Concentrate first on the center of the large rectangle, being mindful that the sides taper to the bottom, indicated by the four perimeter drill holes. Use the drill depth holes as guides for determining if you’ve reached the bowl’s interior bottom.

5 Once you removed the bulk of the waste in the bowl’s interior, make smoothing cuts, as described earlier, to clean up the tapered walls and the interior bottom while working up to the outside rectangular cut lines, as shown in Photo M. Use a caliper to check that the sidewall thickness remains at around 3⁄4", as shown in Photo N. Trim down any high corners of the bowl’s top edges to make them the same height all around. Redraw any layout lines if necessary. (Later, with further trimming and sanding, your finished wall thickness will be 5⁄8" thick.) 

Dough bowl

6 Lay out the centered bowl handles, as shown in Figure 2. Then, use chopping and smoothing cuts to sculpt a handle at each end, as shown in Photo O.

7 Switch to a smaller right-angle grinder with a Merlin 2"-diameter, 8-tooth chain cutter, and trim and feather the bowl’s inside corners, as shown in Photo P, as well as further refining the bowl handles.

Rustic Bowl

8 Switch to a Holey Galahad 4"-diameter tungsten carbide disc, and go over all the interior surfaces within reach for further smoothing and transitioning of inside corners and handle edges, as shown in Photo Q. Use a light touch to smooth away any remaining chainsaw marks. This carbide disc works well for tighter areas.

9 Using a hammer, pop the blank loose from the plywood work holder. Now, flip the bowl upside down, secure it in your bench, and smooth the exterior with the same 4"-diameter abrasive disc that you used in the previous step.

10 Continue refining and smoothing the exterior surfaces of the bowl. Use the Merlin 8-tooth chain disc to further detail, and round over the handles, as shown in the Handle Side View in Figure 2 and Photo R.

11 Switch to a 2"-diameter tungsten-carbide medium disc, and go over the entire piece again, from the inside bowl walls and transitions to softening the outside tapered corners to the handles, as shown in Photo S

12 Let the bowl dry for a few days. Then, install an inflatable dome sander and 80-grit sanding sleeve in a drill, and sand all the transition areas and tight spots, as shown in Photo T. Use disc sanders to further smooth the surface. As you refine the bowl, power-sand a schedule of grits through 320.

13 For hard-to-get areas, use strips of sandpaper to remove machine marks and other uneven areas, as shown in Photo U. Pull the sandpaper strips back and forth to achieve the desired smoothness. Once completely sanded, let the bowl sit for four or five days to further dry. (As long as I’ve been making bowls, I’ve not had any crack.)

14 Finally, wipe all the fine dust off your dough bowl, and apply an appropriate finish. (I wiped on Odie’s Oil, but Danish oil or walnut, almond, or safflower oil would also help beautify and preserve the wood.)

About Our Designer/Builder

A lifelong resident of Newland, North Carolina, Alan Hollar has turned and carved wood bowls and other items dating back to the mid 1980s. His imaginative works can be found on display and for sale at many Southern Highland Guild galleries. Contact him at

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