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Wavy, wonky, wonderful once-turned bowls...

When I started making wooden bowls I used a chisel and a mallet and a lot of effort.

After some pretty sketchy 'bowls' I bought a lathe and made my first bowl which looked a lot more like a bowl.

My one big problem was that my bowls would change shape and, more often than not, crack as they dried.

Years passed and I have learned from some of the best woodturners in the world, my bowls have got better, but as I chase the art of design and tool work I have learnt that a woodturner must pay equal attention to the less glamorous side of bowl making - drying.

To make a bowl, I turn from fresh wood, the more water in the wood the easier it is to turn and carve, it also means less dust which is a welcome relief. The bowl is turned thicker than its finished self, and then left to dry in a cupboard, box or paper bag; something with a little air circulation.

It is important to turn the bowl with an equal thickness throughout so it dries equally, this will limit warping and cracking. Sometimes as a bowl dries it becomes clear I have not managed to achieve one of the parameters and the bowl is no good, a sad fate after months of drying.

I weigh the bowl periodically and when the weight stops going down I can take the bowl out of storage and turn it again, removing any warped shape and sanding it smooth to finish.

Here's a video of the whole process...

Over the last year I have realised the bit I love most about making a bowl is the first stage; the collecting of wood, preparing it and rough turning it. I love learning about the tree and seeing what is in the wood as it turns and I like the wet wood much more than the dry dusty wood.

I also realised that the shapes I make on my first turn are much closer to the shape I was going for, and often by the time I correct drying problems, or my mistakes, on the second turn, I end up with a bowl far from my original design hopes.

Obviously, this is a skill that comes with practice, but I decided to play around with once-turned bowls and focus on what I enjoy.

Once-turned bowls are not necessarily easier, in fact they leave no room for mistake, there's no correcting further down the line. They do however let me make a shape when the wood is more amenable, torn grain is less of a problem (torn grain results in rough spots) as long as my technique is correct and my chisels are sharp.

Getting walls to a universal thickness is even more vital to limit the dangers of drying and thinner walls work best too.

I still dry the once-turned bowls carefully, weighing them and keeping them from heat and lots of air circulation but I don't dry them so slowly that there is no warping, I want the wood to move and groove just not go so mad that it is not useable as a bowl.

It's great to see how different woods respond, I turned a holly bowl in this manor and left it out for two days, the left photo is the freshly turned bowl and the right photo is the same bowl just two days later.

Once-turned bowls are fun, they are satisfying because you can make a bowl in an afternoon and not have to wait for months on end with your fingers crossed.

They come out a little wonky, wavy and weird and I like that. They rarely get as smooth as twice-turned bowls because you can not sand them to the same degree (wet wood does not sand), although I do sometimes sand them by hand when they are dry, however avoiding sanding is part of the attraction, and I like a bit of texture to my bowls.

So there we have it, once-turned bowls. I hope this post becomes more than a once-read blog, but maybe with that calibre of humour Ill be lucky to get one!

If you would like to check out some of my once-turned and twice-turned bowls then please feel free to click here.

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1 Comment

Lisa Hancock
Oct 03, 2022

Jonah this is brilliant! I’ve just watched your 3 minute video, with Stan, on how to make a bowl! He came off his Xbox to watch it. I'd love to sign Stan and his dad up for the workshop on 16th, but he's only 14. Next time 🤞🏻 I'll keep

Looking out for them. Thanks, Lisa x

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