When you ask newcomers to woodturning what they would like to make, they almost invariably say a bowl. In this article I’m going to make a bowl in cherry with an undercut lip, using just one tool
The bowl featured here is turned in cherry. When selecting fruitwood it’s quite difficult to find a well-seasoned blank that doesn’t have faults and cracks. I came across this one at Isca Woodcrafts in Newport. Here I found a good stock of home-grown timbers both in boards and turning blanks, and the proprietor was very helpful and knowledgeable.
Preparing the blank
Mount the blank on a screw chuck and face it off with the curved section of the tear-drop scraper cutter, photo 1. Hold the tool with the flat side of the shank resting on the toolrest and with the handle slightly raised. Next, mark out the recess for the chuck jaws to be used in expansion, change the cutter and use the square-ended blade to form the recess, photo 2.
Shaping the exterior
Fit the scraper blade and start to shape the outside of the bowl, moving the blade backwards and forwards from the recess to the outer rim, photo 3. You’ll notice that I’ve removed the tailstock assembly completely because this gives me better access to the work and greater manoeuvrability.
Continue to form a rounded bun-shape. Turn the cutter over and set it so that the straight edge does the cutting. Now the curved edge of the shank will be held down on the toolrest, photo 4. By tilting the tool slightly, a shear cut is made to produce a smooth finish.
The purest turner will say that you can’t achieve a fine surface with a scraper, and undoubtedly a bowl gouge will give a superior result if used correctly. However, it takes time and experience to get to this standard; if you’re just starting out and don’t have much time to carry out your hobby, I think you’ll be quite satisfied with the scraper.
The partly turned bowl now needs to be really well sanded. Move the toolrest out of the way and sand it vigorously, starting with 120 grit and working through to 400 grit. Keep the abrasive moving; use extraction if possible and wear a mask. If the lathe speed is too high, the wood will overheat and little cracks will appear which are almost impossible to get rid of. I hold the end of the extractor hose under the work as I sand to take away as much of the fine dust as I can at source, photo 5.
Sealing and polishing
Apply two coats of cellulose sanding sealer. I have a love/hate relationship with this! For a start, the screw top won’t come off as the sealer acts as a glue, and I usually have to grip it in a vice. I also find the fumes very strong. However, once I’ve wrestled the top off and opened the window, this sealer does a very good job. Do cover the lathe bed with an old cloth; dried drops of sealer are very hard to remove. Follow this up with a few coats of Record Speed an eze friction polish. Finish off with carnauba wax and buff it up to a good shine.
Hollowing out the bowl
Remove the partly turned bowl from the screw chuck and mount it in your scroll chuck jaws. Start hollowing out from the centre using the curved scraper cutter, photo 6. Note that the tool handle is slightly raised here and the flat section on the shank is held firmly down on the toolrest.
Place a straightedge across the bowl and use callipers to check the depth, photo 7. Then continue to hollow out and smooth the bottom of the bowl, photo 8.
Shaping the rim
Start to undercut the rim using the hollowing cutter with the round end, photo 9. The angle of the cutter can be adjusted through 360°, making it ideal for undercutting. Measure the wall thickness, and stop undercutting when you’re satisfied you have taken away sufficient wood; you’re looking to leave a thickness of about 6mm of wood remaining, photo 10.
Sanding the inside of the bowl is more difficult than tackling the outside. I find that a sanding disc used with a small electric drill or a flexible drive makes life easier and is more forgiving on the fingers, photo 11. The abrasive discs are backed with a Velcro-like material, and it’s a quick and easy process to work down through the grits. Apply a dash of sealer, polish and wax on the inside and you’re finished.
Sharpening the cutters
The cutters can be kept sharp with a diamond stone, but it’s possible that you may consider buying the Sorby ProEdge sharpening system at a later stage in your turning career. The system includes a jig to hold these cutters, photo 12, because they’re far too small to be held safely by hand when using the machine. I grind the cutters at 80°, and the ProEdge is calibrated to achieve this setting consistently.