Mar 28 2012

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My First Bowl

A few weeks ago, I turned my first bowl. I wanted to make something on my new mini-lathe, so I found a slab of walnut in my wood stash and decided to make a bowl. I did some things right, some things wrong, and learned a lot about turning in the process.

I found the center of the walnut slab by drawing lines connecting both pairs of opposing corners. The picture doesn’t show it but I ended up extending the lines longer for lining up the lathe center plate. Then using a compass, I traced the largest circle I could to guide me when I cutting off the corners.

Once I knew how large I could make the bowl, I took the blank to my table saw and cut off the corners using my miter sled. For more stability, I backed up the walnut blank with a 45° triangle of scrap wood.

When it came to mounting the blank to the plate, I found that I didn’t extend the lines marking the center long enough to intersect with the holes in the center plate. Even with the longer lines, I still found it was really hard to line all four holes and keep and eye on the cross hairs to make sure they stayed in the center of the threads. After attaching a few things to the lathe center using this method, I think I’ll try drawing a series of concentric circles to line up the plate next time.

I mounted the center and blank on the lathe, dropped the lathe down to its second lowest speed (1100 RPM) and began rounding the blank with a skew chisel. Although I paired the blank using the point of the skew chisel, I’ve seen people using gouges for this process. I’ve found the few times I’ve tried using a gouge for this, it really chews up the wood. Maybe my gouges aren’t sharp enough.

Once it was round, I roughed the outside shape of the bowl. When I was satisfied with the general shape, I moved the tool rest and began hollowing out the inside with some gouges. After I was finished roughing out the inside, I went back to finish the outside. The process of removing all the interior wood made the rest of the bowl move and the outer surface was no longer round. So I spent a minute re-rounding the bowl, then I used the middle of the skew chisel to cut the final surface.

Finishing the inside wasn’t as easy for me. As I was approaching the final inside surface, I was trying very hard not to let the gouge go off course and leave trails. Every time I thought I was done, the gouge would slip and I would have to start the finished surface over again — with the bowl just a little thinner.  I did try using a scraper, but it really didn’t remove enough material to fix the gouges. Unfortunately I didn’t take more pictures of the whole turning process, since I was too focused on what I was doing to think about it.

Once I finished turning the bowl, I sanded it on the lathe with 100, 150, 240, and 300 grits and #0000 steel wool until the surface was almost glass smooth — except for a few gouges of course. Then I wiped on an oil/urethane mix while the bowl was still mounted on the lathe. I think this was a mistake, you’ll see why later.

I couldn’t finish the bottom of the bowl while it was still mounted on the lathe, so I removed it and sanded the bottom through the same grits. I also gave it one coat of the oil/ urethane mix.

At this point I thought about filling the holes on the bottom, so I mixed up some 5 minute epoxy. While I was at it, I thought I’d try to fill some of the gouges in the bowl too. It turns out the epoxy didn’t stick very well to the oil inside the bowl, but there must have been enough dry surface inside the screw holes  for the epoxy to grab, that worked out just fine.

With the bowl being the color I wanted after one coat of oil, I switched to just urethane and applied three more coats, sanding lightly with steel wool in between applications.

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