Blanks to Bowls

Blanks to Bowls

Harvesting your own wood for blanks, and turn blanks into bowls is a process unique to wood turning. Knowledge of wood types, drying, and sawing lumber are just some of the skills need to complete this full process. This level of woodturning is not for everyone. The availability of raw wood to someone in the city is limited, and the physical work involved can be daunting to many.

Roughing a bowl blank on the Lathe

In this first picture I have the bowl blank slabbed and roughed round on the band saw. It is installed on the lathe with a faceplate and square drive screws. On a side note, this blank probably weighs close to 80 lbs, based on past experience. It is approximately 15” in diameter and 6 1/2” thick. I am using a 4” faceplate and eight screws. To rough a bowl with the best results and the most pleasure, it is essential to start at the bottom of the blank using a bowl gouge. I will first flatten the bottom of the blank to get a smooth surface.

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One of the best ways to maximize your turning pleasure is to core small bowl blanks out of larger bowl blanks. This serves several purposes. First, it saves wood, which is important whether you buy your blanks or harvest them by the sweat of your brow. It saves work, in that you don't have to sweep up and haul away as many shavings, and thirdly, it saves time, because you can core a bowl center a lot faster than you can turn it into shavings. In the not too distant past I hosted a small gathering of turners for the purposes of demonstrating the Kel McNaughton bowl coring system. It was not a large gathering, but we had some fun, and for the edification of you who could not make it, we took pictures.

Making Birdseye Blanks

Before snow comes I drive to my wood lot with my KUBOTA tractor and trailer. My tractor is equipped with a farm winch at the back, and the trailer has a self-releasing snatch block at the top rear .This allows me to winch a load of birds-eye without trouble. After putting on 4 or 5 logs, I top load my trailer using the bucket of the tractor, which is equipped with forks. I can bring home two cords of birds-eye maple this way, which is about what I turn each year. Once back home the logs are sealed at the ends to prevent cracking. The first step in turning a bowl is to rough turn the shape of the bowl. After that is done, the blank can dry to an equilibrium, and then be put back on the lathe and turned to its final shape.

Logs to Blanks

When a friend was forced to harvest a seriously distressed walnut tree, I was presented with several logs to feed my turning habit. With bark-on diameters in the 8" to 10" range, the yield was not going to be large, but considering the price, I gladly accepted. Rather than just cut the logs into relatively straight turning lengths, I decided to go a step further and reduce them on the bandsaw to eliminate as much of the waste as possible and hopefully speed the drying process somewhat. The high contrast between the familiar dark walnut core against the outer white wood made slicing the chunks into squares without loss much easier than with many species. As always, before the first cut, the logs were inspected closely for any sign of metal. Finding none, I moved on to the initial cuts.

Sawing a Log for Bowls

Since I am doing quite a bit of sawing right now, trying to regain control of my woodpile, I thought I'd post a pictorial essay on how I currently do it. There are certainly variations on this theme, some of which will be noted as I go along. The subject here is a cherry log, approximately 14" in diameter, and 20" long. I am cutting it into two pieces for bowl blanks. Under normal circumstances, I would get two bowls from this log, but since I have a Kel McNaughton coring tool, I should be able to get at least four, and maybe even six if I want some very small ones.

Why Rough Turn Wet Wood as a Wood Turner?

Because wood turners make use of thick pieces of lumber, often acquired ourselves in log form, we are often faced with wood that is still high in moisture content, if not soaking wet. This poses quite a problem if the goal is to end up with a clean wood turning project free of cracks and warping. Wood is a fluid material, expanding and contracting based on the amount of moisture within it. And if the piece of wood in question is a freshly cut log, the amount of movement during drying will be extreme. So how does one deal with this issue when gazing at a beautiful Cherry or Maple log, thoughts of wooden bowls, plates, and hollow forms dancing in your mind.