Turn a Stylish Salad Bowl Set

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This article is from Issue 25 of Woodcraft Magazine.

For everyday use or to give as a gift

Designers/Turners/Writers: Rex Burningham and Kip Christensen

We asked expert turners Rex Burningham and Kip Christensen of Utah to give us a blow-by-blow account on creating an eye-pleasing maple salad bowl set from green wood, and, boy, did they ever. Save bucks by using green wood from your own backyard, or save time by going with air-dried blanks. This latter option lets you complete the bowls in a day or two. See our Convenience-Plus Buying Guide for tools and accessories used, and for the 5×12"-diameter green or air-dried wood blanks for the large serving bowl, and the four 21/2×7"-diameter green or air-dried wood blanks for the smaller side bowls. We’ll begin turning the large serving bowl from green wood. If working with air-dried wood, you can skip the rough turning and storing steps (required when using green wood) and turn the blanks into finished bowls in the same day.

Stage One
Rough-turning a green blank

Controlling wood movement plays a huge role in forming a successful salad bowl set. Though working with dried stock is ideal, you’ll more than likely use green bowl blanks. That means rough-turning the blanks and setting them aside for drying prior to completion. Here’s the first stage of this two-stage process.

1 Drill a mounting hole into the top of the bowl blank that is equal to the root diameter of the lathe screw shown in Photo A and slightly longer than the screw. Mount the blank onto the lathe screw center secured in the jaws of a four-jawed chuck for initial turning.

2 True up both the side and the face of the blank with a 1/2"-deep-fluted gouge before shaping the bowl. With the tailstock providing support, use a push cut (push the gouge toward the chuck) with the bevel rubbing to clean up the side as shown in Photo B. Next, move the tailstock out of the way, readjust the tool rest parallel to the blank face, and use a pull cut (start from the center and pull the gouge to you) to true up the face as shown in Photo C.

Tool: 1/2" bowl gouge Lathe Speed: 400-500 RPM

3 Lay out the diameter of the bowl’s foot as shown in Photo D. See also Figure 1 on page 64 for reference. For the bowl to be functionally stable without looking bottom-heavy the foot should be approximately one-third the diameter of the rim. In this case the foot will be approximately 4" in diameter.

4 Shape the outside of the bowl by removing the bottom corner and then rounding the bottom of the bowl between the foot and the rim as shown in Photo E. These “roughing” cuts can be fairly aggressive. Note that the bevel of the 1/2" gouge rubs on the wood just behind the cut to help control the depth of the cut.

Tool: 1/2" bowl gouge Speed:  600 to 700 rpm

5 using a skew, turn a spigot that will allow the chuck to grip the blank in the next step. Lay a skew flat on the tool rest and cut with a scraping motion. Shape a spigot (Figure 1) that measures between 1/4" and 3/8" deep, maintaining a crisp and clean bottom corner as shown in Photo F. Notice the straight shoulder at the bottom of the spigot that the jaws will contact. Photo F Inset shows how the jaws of the chuck will grip that spigot. The spigot should be shorter than the depth of the jaws so it does not bottom out at the base of the jaws.

Tool: 1/2" oval skew Speed: 600 to 700 rpm

6 Remove the blank from the screw center and secure the spigot in the chuck jaws. Bring the tailstock into position to support the wood while truing up the face of the blank. To do this make a light scraping cut, working from the center of the bowl toward the rim as shown in Photo G.

Tool: 1/2" bowl gouge Speed: 500 to 600 rpm

7 Back off the tailstock and hollow out the bowl, beginning at the center and progressing toward the outer rim using a 1/2" bowl gouge as shown in Photo H. Make the opening larger in diameter and deeper with each pass. To keep the bevel rubbing on the wood just behind the cut, swing the tool handle in a large arc as shown in Photo I to advance the gouge’s cutting edge toward the bowl bottom. When the opening in the bowl gets sufficiently large, adjust the tool rest so it angles in toward the bowl bottom as shown in Photo J. This prevents the gouge from extending too far out beyond the tool rest. Regularly check the bowl wall shape with the template and the wall thickness with a double ended caliper. When the wall approximates 11/4"-thick, prepare the rough-turned bowl for drying.

Tool: 1/2" bowl gouge Speed: 700 to 800 rpm

8 Brush the green-wood bowl with a generous coat of Anchorseal as shown in Photo K to prevent it from cracking as it dries. Drying time varies depending on several factors and is increased considerably by the application of the Anchorseal. Expect the large salad bowl to take from three to six months to dry before it is ready to be remounted and turned into a finished bowl. The bowl blank is dry when it measures less that 10% moisture content with a moisture meter or when it goes several days without losing weight through moisture loss.

Stage Two
Finish-turn the dried bowl

1 Remount your dry bowl blank securely in the chuck jaws and bring the tailstock into position for support. Now true up the rim, using a light scraping cut as shown in Photo L.

Tool: 1/2" bowl gouge Speed: 400 to 500 rpm

2 Next, true up the outside of the bowl. Direct push cuts from the rim to the base as well as pull cuts from the base to the rim. You’ll achieve the cleanest cuts when moving from the base toward the rim because the tool is not cutting directly into end grain. Note in Photos M and N how the tool contacts the wood to make the cut and the adjustment in the tool rest. Model your stance after the one in Photo O which shows the tool handle supported by your body. Control the tool by slowly leaning with your body as you make the cut. Your guide hand should follow the curve of the bowl along the tool rest. The combination of hands and body working together as one will produce a smooth and flowing cut.

Tool: 1/2" bowl gouge Speed: 400 to 500 rpm

3 Now remove the tailstock, reposition the tool rest to the inside of the bowl, and true up the inside. Use the bevel to control the depth and accuracy of the cut.

Tool: 1/2" bowl gouge Speed: 600 to 700 RPM

4 Determine the wall thickness at the rim and define the rim while there is still a mass of wood toward the bowl bottom. Note in Figure 1 how the rim curves slightly and slopes gently toward the center of the bowl. Continue to turn to the final wall thickness by working from the rim downward as shown in Photo P.

Tool: 1/2" bowl gouge Speed: 700 to 800 rpm

5 Occasionally turn off the lathe and check the wall thickness with double-ended calipers as shown in Photo Q.

6 Use a large half-round scraper to reach the inside bottom of the bowl. Adjust the height and angle of the tool rest so the scraper can easily contact the center height of the bowl. Now, working out from the bowl center begin to cut, keeping the tool handle slightly higher than the cutting edge, and the flat bottom of the scraper held flat to the tool rest as shown in Photo R. Work outward just far enough to complete the curve and meet the previous cut made with the bowl gouge.  Avoid scraping up the side of the bowl toward the rim.

Tool: Half-round scraper Speed: 700 to 800 rpm

7 Power-sand the completed bowl both inside and out with a portable drill and attachment that uses a 2" sanding disc applied to a foam holder. Angle the drill upward slightly into the bowl at about the nine o’clock position as shown in Photo S. (Power-sanding is most aggressive when the rotation of the disc is opposite that of the bowl.) Begin with 100-grit abrasive and progress to 320 grit.

Tool: 2" bowl sanding kit Speed: 700 to 800 rpm

8 Add a decorative detail on the bowl’s outside by first laying a skew flat on the tool rest, and cutting two pairs of V-grooves 5/8" and 1" down from the rim using the tool’s point. Now, wire-burn the grooves to make them stand out as shown in Photo T and Figure 1. The wire burner shown here makes fast work of this task. To employ this tool, hold the ball handles of the wire burner securely in your hands, rest one hand on the tool rest, and bring the wire into the V-groove. Friction from the wire against the rotating wood creates the black detail lines. Remove any burn residue by sanding lightly with 320-grit abrasive.

Tool: Wire burner Speed: 700 to 800 rpm

9 Remove the bowl from the chuck, and replace the standard jaws with jumbo jaws. Mount the bowl in the Jumbo Jaws and apply light pressure with the tailstock. Using light cuts with the  3/8" spindle gouge, remove the spigot and shape the foot as desired. Turn as much as possible with the tailstock in position, then remove the tailstock and complete the turning as shown in Photo U. Then, power-sand the bottom of the bowl.

Tools: 3/8" spindle gouge       Speed: 500 to 600 rpm
2" bowl sanding kit

10 Finally, apply a finish to your salad bowl as shown in Photo V. We rubbed in a generous amount of wax. (See “Food-Safer Finishes” on page 66.) After 15 minutes, wipe off the excess wax, and your salad bowl is ready for use. Clean the bowl by wiping it with a damp cloth and then drying it immediately. Restore periodically by applying an additional coat of wax when needed.

Turn a matching set of side bowls

To turn the side bowls for your salad bowl set, follow the same procedure used for the large salad bowl with a few exceptions. Go with a 3/8" rather than a 1/2" bowl gouge, and use smaller (No. 2) jaws in the Stronghold chuck. Use the smaller templates found in Figure 1, and the smaller 21/2×7"-diameter bowl blanks.

About our Pros

Accomplished woodturners Rex Burningham and Kip Christensen have produced several instructional DVDs including “Woodturning Projects with Rex and Kip,” Volumes 1-4 (Vol. 1 covers turning green bowls; Vol. 3 shows turning dried bowls), and “Turning Pens with Kip and Rex,” Volumes 1-2.


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