I make wooden bowls using a traditional pole-lathe. I often get asked does that make your leg tired (the lathe is foot-powered)? And why don’t you use an electric lathe?
In answer to the first question – yes. But it’s not just the leg I use to power the lathe that gets tired.
I use the traditional tools because the process is so satisfying and when you compare it to working on an electric lathe, it is a more relaxed affair. It’s a lot quieter for a start. I am also able to move my lathe outdoors. There is something quite relaxing about working beneath the boughs of a tree in the summer.
Why Make Wooden Bowls?
But why wooden bowls? As my skills have developed, I find there is always something new to learn. When you start getting a good finish on the outside of the bowl you start to concentrate more on the shape of the bowl and imposing your design on the wood rather than seeing what happens. Then there’s focusing on the thickness of the bowl’s wall and seeing how thin you can sensibly go. Does the shape of the inside walls match the exterior? Have you cut the rim of the bowl nicely to give a good edge (this is a particularly difficult area). How smooth are the interior walls and how well do they transition from the side to the base?
The Lessons in Bowl Turning Never End
Once you think you’ve got a good design and understand the process, you start using a different species of wood and the learning curve begins again. You can see in my shop that I have some oak bowls in various sizes. I also have some cherry bowls. When I started using cherry after working on the oak, it was almost like starting again. The green wood cherry was a lot softer than the oak. In a way, that was quite nice as the effort to create the bowl blank, and the bowl itself was easier. Yet that created its own problems as well. I lost a few blanks as I was overzealous with the axing process and lost a couple on the lathe due to lapses in concentration and cutting too deep.
Teaching Bowl Turning
Since starting JB Woodcrafts, I have been on an exciting learning curve. One of the most surprising aspects is how much I enjoy teaching bowl turning. I offer 1-2-1 courses and bowl-turning taster sessions in Cambridgeshire.
Feedback from a Bowl-Turning Taster Session
Like most woodworkers collecting tools is part of the attraction. Bowl turning is no exception, and I am the proud owner of some create handmade bowl hooks from various makers including, Sharif Adams, Matt Whitaker and Ben Orford. However, I believe it’s essential to be self-sufficient in all aspects of this ancient craft. With that in mind, I went on a hook-making course held by Sharif to learn how to make my own bowl hooks. I will report on how I get on making bowl hooks in a future article.