A Step by Step Guide to Turn Wood from Log to Bowl

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Blog entry by Bearpie posted 01-29-2013 06:40 AM 12488 reads 4 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch

There have been many questions asked about turning logs into bowls and how to go about it. Bear in mind that the way I am showing is only one way of doing this There are many different ways and others may have different ideas or methods of doing what I am about to attempt. If you disagree with any of the ways I do it, feel free to do it another way! I have taken 30+ pictures and will attempt to explain in simple details what each step is. The wood I chose to use is Rosewood.

I generally start with a log and cut it down to the desired size and cut the corners off to make it easier to turn.

Find the center using a compass square.

Draw a circle and cut away excess wood.

I have 2 options to use; a spur drive or a small face plate. I opted to use the spur drive. I use a chisel to make grooves to accept the spur drives.

Mount block on lathe.

Next 2 images shows my turning chisel before and after sharpening. Just a light touch on the grinder is all that is needed.

Make sure you wear one of these, they protect your whole face. I prefer these over the goggle types cause they prevent chips hitting my face.

I usually start turning from the end and work my way across the surface, that way I am not hitting all the high spots going clunk-a-clunk-a-clunk. By staying on the end and going back it goes smoothly and there is far less tear-outs on the end grain portion.

Next 2 images shows progression further along and across the other end.

Next 2 images shows measurements needed for chucking. In my case I like about 2 1/4”. Different chucks may require different measurements.

Preparing for chucking so I can turn and finish the bottom and re-chuck on the bottom.

I will change my chuck jaws to these when I re-chuck on the bottom.

For this size turning 3/16” is all I need. For a larger turning this would be deeper and bigger in diameter. You also have to match the angle of the jaws for maximum hold. I turn and sand the bottom to “finished” product because once I switch I will not be able to go back to this area to rework it.

I can now turn the sides and the insides. I like to use the live center to help hold and “steady” the piece as I turn as much of the inside as possible before I stop using it.

I carefully measure how far I can cut into the bowl without going through the bottom!(it has happened several times and may again if I’m not careful) In this case I will go 2 1/4” deep.

I like to leave some support till I have the majority of the waste removed then I remove the “stalk”. I have stopped removing them by hitting on it with a hammer because it sometimes breaks where I don’t want it to! Then I have to start all over again.

Carefully measure your depths often as it doesn’t take long to go toooo deep!

Use your calipers to check thickness or you will be too thin and in danger of having the piece fly apart on you. TIP: Never stand directly in line with the spinning piece. If you must, then at least tilt your head away from center mass so it won’t hit your head.

When you are close to final dimensions it is a very good idea to sharpen your chisel again so it is easy to clean/shave the surface and with little or no tear-outs and it will leave the surface ready for 120 grit sandpaper instead of 80 grit sandpaper!

This is an excellent tool to use to sand. It is available at most hardware, big box, Sears, etc. It is available in several grits.

I’m pointing out flaws in the next 3 pictures as areas to watch out for when you are sanding. Be sure to remove them before going on to finer grits or you will be forever sanding or have a ring or blemish on the bowl.

Almost there!

Looking good, need to sand with 800 grit and buff.

See the shine? There is no finish on this and it has not been buffed yet.

Now it has been buffed.

This is with just 2 coats of Tung Oil applied right after the buffing when the wood is still warm from heat generated by buffing. The heat aids in the wood absorbing more Tung Oil. I let it sit 10-15 minutes then wipe with clean towel while spinning on lathe, it also buffs the finish and makes it shine. Then apply 2nd coat and let sit half hour and repeat wiping process!

Voila! Bowl done! Bowl measures 5 1/2” D x 2 1/2” H An excellent size for a candy dish!

Entire process took about 4 hours including taking pictures! Getting this on the blog took another 3 1/2 hours!

I hope this helps beginners and newbies in turning and finishing. It may help others (I hope) Bear in mind that this is not the only way of the turning process, just the way I chose to present it. Comments welcomed and questions will be answered as quick as I can get to it!

-- Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

9 comments so far

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9239 posts in 4158 days

#1 posted 01-29-2013 10:15 AM

Thank you for taking the time to document this Erwin. I never ‘watched’ this entire process before and I found it very interesting. You certainly had beautiful results. :)


-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

View snowdog's profile


1181 posts in 5221 days

#2 posted 01-29-2013 12:18 PM

I use a different method (Richard Raffan used in a vid) but have not found one that I am really comfortable (skilled ) with yet. Love turning and fail about 50% of the time but it is still fun.

-- "so much to learn and so little time"..

View Kreegan's profile


1452 posts in 3385 days

#3 posted 01-29-2013 01:11 PM

Great blog entry! Very informative!

View BritBoxmaker's profile


4611 posts in 4274 days

#4 posted 01-29-2013 01:38 PM

Excellent blog, Erwin. Good of you to share this valuable knowledge.

-- Martyn -- Boxologist, Pattern Juggler and Candyman of the visually challenging.

View shopmania's profile


702 posts in 4420 days

#5 posted 01-29-2013 06:05 PM

Thanks for sharing. I like your “negative tenon” for chucking. I know mine will do that too, but I’ve been using a positive tenon to squeeze the bowl. I guess since a I cracked on early on by expanding the chuck too much, but I was also turning a log cross section with the pith in the middle, which I’ve since learned is a no-no. So I need to try it that way again while turning side grain. Good blog!

-- Tim, Myrtle Beach, [email protected] Just one more tool, that's all I need! :)

View lanwater's profile


3113 posts in 4172 days

#6 posted 01-29-2013 10:29 PM

Thanks Erwin.

Your blog is very useful for me. I have been debating getting a lathe and learn turning.

-- Abbas, Castro Valley, CA

View lanwater's profile


3113 posts in 4172 days

#7 posted 01-29-2013 10:29 PM

And… great pictures!

-- Abbas, Castro Valley, CA

View justoneofme's profile


862 posts in 3718 days

#8 posted 02-02-2013 03:26 PM

That was a fascinating blog Erwin … you made it look so easy, turning a chunk of wood into that beautiful little bowl!! However, not easy enough for me to attempt!! :)

-- Elaine in Duncan

View ShapingGrain's profile


19 posts in 2053 days

#9 posted 11-25-2016 01:20 PM

Excellent article. Thank you for taking the time to share. Now only if my wife will let me buy another tool for the shop, it will be a lathe.

-- Ken, New Hampshire,

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