Notes on Bowl Making by the Greats
These are the important things that impressed me greatly after only a couple
of months of turning experience. I garnered these from demonstrations by three
I thought myself fortunate to have been able to see these demonstrations and
have Craft Supplies, Inc. and the Utah Association of Woodturners
to thank for this. If I lived anywhere else, would I have even had this
Only a neophyte in this passion that is bowl turning, I have not taken the
same notes that an experienced turner would have taken. In retrospect, I was
too fascinated by the demonstrations to take as many notes as I should have. Of
course, Raffin has a book out that details his technology as of 1985.
Mike Mahoney, production turner
Demonstrated project: bowls and stacked bowl sets
Demonstrations: 31 May 2000 and 6 February 2001
- Work uphill when rough-cuttingmake shavings instead of sawdust.
- Drying: Rough out, wax end grain, bag on floor for a couple months.
Store bowls inverted!
- Use mineral oil on end grain to lubricate roughing before shearing off.
- Use McNaughton tool for coring to save wood, be more ecological, etc.
Core out successively smaller bowls rather than starting with the
smallest even though this would seem slower; it will result in more
evenly scaled bowls. Here is the sequence:
- 1. Finish biggest outside.
- 2. Core out next bowl from bigger one.
- 3. Unchuck bigger bowl.
- 4. Screw-chuck and finish next biggest outside.
- 5. Turn new bowl around and chuck for next coring.
- 6. Repeat starting at step #2 and continue until smallest bowl
is achieved. Dry rough-cut together.
- Mike leaves finished bowls in vat of mineral oil. Intends them for use.
Rex Burningham, artistic & big bowl turner
Demonstrated project: huge end-cap maple burl platter
Demonstration: 31 May 2000
- Scribe diameter with dividers (not radius).
Touch and move until line scribed meets other tine.
- On sanding: Seeing tear-out at 220 grit?
Don't go back to 150, go all the way back to 100 (or 80).
- Superglue will take sanding heat!
- Power sander must be reversible!
- In turning, speed may kill you, but faster is more fluid.
- For flat work, tip sharp scraper up at angle to the tool rest
(don't lay it flat) to shear off instead of scrape/tear.
- For this bowl type (big bowls), it is important to finish the outside
completely since scooping out will relieve the tension and the bowl
will move out of round and level.
Richard Raffin, world-wide grand master
Demonstrated project: five quick bowls in ash
Demonstration: 6 June 2000
- Use shallow gouge to shape edge and remove waste (because it's cheaper).
- Shaping and scraping were done at 1500-2000 RPM.
- Use detail grooves made in outside to chuck piece.
- He turns the scraper on its side for cutting! (See Burningham.)
- On the ribs (for outside decoration), the spindle gouge (3/8) is a
rowing action! His gouge is fingernail-shaped.
- Oil (mineral, linseed) and beeswax immediately after sanding, but only
under pressure from consumer. Sees his bowls as real, organic and
not in need of sanding nor special finishes.
Rex Burningham, artistic & big bowl turner
Demonstrated project: large maple burl platter
Demonstration: 7 May 2002
- Mounted platter, 16" to 18" in diameter, on screw chuck and held with
- Platter is done completely dried. Turn, sand and finish in this
- 1 Bottom.
- Ogee works best because it's harder to get wrong.
- Cut dovetail foot of large diameter and deepish because it
- Turn middle of bottom slightly convex for strength and
to hedge against cutting through from other side.
- After sanding, recut the definition between the foot and the
side of the platter crisply.
- 2 Edge.
- Cut down into separation between edge and center of
platter to delimit the two. Working the edge will relieve
stress and greatly (and quickly) change the platter making
it unworkable if details are left to later. Turn details,
such as the form itself and any inlay immediately and
- Be concerned with form and thickness.
- Leave edge strong enough.
- Cut inlay in dovetail 3/16ths
inches deep to hold brass filings. (Get brass
filings from key makers.)
- Use thin glue (CA Red) on filings that have been
filled in and heaped up. Go back over (very soon
before thin has dried) with thick glue (CA Yellow).
- After the inlay is dry, trim with gouge and then spray
hardener. Finish triming.
- 3. Middle (the cored-out part).
- Core out more or less as for a bowl.
- Don't core too thindepends on diameter.
- Use a scraper turned on its side as if a skew. Don't scrape
near outer edge because of curve touching too much of the
scraper and because the outside edge has gone out of round
- On sanding: Use sand paper as if someone was buying it for you.
- A tool technique: Use scraper as if a skew (turned up on edge).
- A tool suggestion: Vicmarc big (8") jaws for turning platters (hold
inside going out in dovetail foot using greatest diameter jaw).