Back in May I decided to make a couple of bowls for my niece’s wedding in late July. Finding wood to make bowls from is no problem: we lost an Arizona Ash tree in the Icepocalypse of 2021, and there’s plenty of that lying around. Originally I had intended to make just one bowl, but then decided on two.
Although I did turn a few bowls when I was a member of TechShop, I don’t have a lathe and have no real plans to get one. I carve my bowls with an angle grinder and Foredom power carver.
I started with an end grain bowl: just a piece from one of the larger limbs, about 9″ in diameter and about 4″ tall.
The bowl blank is mounted on my holding jig: a piece of galvanized pipe attached to floor flanges screwed to the bowl and to the work bench. I’ve tried many different ways of holding a piece when working on it, and this is the one I like best. It’d be different if I were doing a more detailed carving, but for carving bowls this is fantastic. It holds the piece securely and I can move around it. The pipe flange is attached to the top of the bowl.
I’ve seen some people hollow the bowl first, before shaping the outside. I don’t understand how they can do that. I always shape the outside first. Here it is after rough shaping.
One of the things I’ve struggled with is smoothing and sanding after the bowl is carved. Smoothing the outside of the bowl can be a very big pain once it’s in the shop. What I do is rough carve the outside, then smooth it with 36, 60, 80 and if I can, 120 grit flap wheels while it’s still on the holding jig. About half the time I can’t get to 120 grit because it burns the wood. It depends on the type of wood and the moisture content. Sometimes I’ll do the 120 grit sanding by hand while it’s still mounted.
This bowl was a bit difficult because it was too small to hollow with the angle grinder. I had to resort to my Foredom power carver and a 1″ ball burr. Hollowing took a while. Sanding took even longer, and I had to fill a couple of voids with crushed Malachite. But it turned out really nice.
The second bowl is from the same limb, right next to the round bowl. This one is oblong, about 9 inches wide and perhaps 16 inches long. Depth is about 3 inches. Here it is, sitting on the holding jig before I started carving.
Sometime between when I carved the round-ish bowl and when I started on this one, I remembered that I had an Arbortech Mini-Turbo attachment for my angle grinder. That made hollowing this bowl a lot easier.
To hold the bowl in place, I flattened the bottom with an electric hand plane and then glued it to a piece of wood paneling I had left over from when we remodeled the house. I then clamped the paneling to the workbench. This works well, but separating the bowl from the paneling when done is a pain in the neck. I’ve since experimented with several other options, including using less glue (holds well, but still difficult to remove), double-sided tape (works very well and easy to remove), and gluing the bowl to a piece of stiff cardboard (holds well and easier to remove than paneling or plywood). My preferred method is the double-sided tape, but sometimes it doesn’t hold and I have to resort to the cardboard and glue.
One thing I haven’t tried yet is blue painter’s tape and superglue (put a piece of tape on the bench and on the bowl, and add a few drops of superglue to hold them together). I’ve seen that used to good effect in other woodworking situations. I expect it’ll hold well, and removal should be trivial.
I did initial smoothing with a 36 grit flap disc on the angle grinder, then hand sanded to 220 grit, starting at 60 and working my way up. I was pleasantly surprised at the figuring in the wood. I had to get it wet and snap a picture when I had finished the 60 grit pass. It’s just so dang pretty.
There were a few small cracks in the bowl that I filled with crushed turquoise. The result is, I think, quite beautiful.
Finish on both bowls is Half and Half, a product of the Real Milk Paint company. It’s a 50/50 mixture of pure tung oil and an orange solvent. People I trust say that it’s the best spoon finish, so I figured it should be great for bowls, too.