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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Lessons Learned About Turning Bowls

Learning to turn bowls is becoming quite an adventure. It seems sometimes that the more I learn, the more I have to learn. It is a fun adventure though, so I think I'll keep at it for a long time to come. Actually, the amount of knowledge and skill required I think is what makes turning even more interesting to me. A lot of wood working skills come easy to me. Sometimes, it seems they come too easy and there just isn't much of a challenge to it. Therefore, something like turning, that challenges me every step of the way, holds my interest much better. It has gotten to where some other skills I rely on for working wood become a bore. They are just going through the motions. Each time I turn on that lathe though I feel a sense of excitement of what I might learn today.
I started out trying to turn bowls in end grain. I don't know why. Looking back on it, I think it just made more sense to me. It seemed to me, round tree, round bowl. It isn't that simple though. Through research and the help of some good friends guiding me towards some good video where I could see proper techniques, I've come a long way since turning the bowl in this photo.
Along the way, I learned that there is a place for end grain turning. However, after turning that end grain, I placed it on my work bench as a reminder of why you don't turn deep bowl in green end grain wood. All that cracking wood would just never do.
This next bowl was never meant to be complete. It was just a practice piece to test some of what I'd been learning. Looking at it on my bench now though, I sort of wish I had turned a tenon on the bottom of it so it would be easier to go back and actually finish it.
It was along this same time that I started realizing the dangers of using spindle gouges for bowl turning. The gouge on top of this photo is a spindle gouge. The one on bottom is a bowl gouge. That's a lot of different in tool size. I found out it is more than just size though. Tool weight and balance, and strength, makes the bowl gouge just handle better for the over reaching past the tool rest that you do with bowl turning.
In this photo, you see the bowl gouges I ordered. These are Benjamin's Best gouges from Penn State Industries. You can order these gouges here if you'd like. Through my inexperience, these seem to be some great tools here, and if you research the prices of bowl gouges around the internet, they are also very reasonably priced.
My next trial in bowl turning turned into another disaster, but another lesson. I learned to start researching woods that I try to turn with. This is a hunk chopped off a cypress log. I tried turning it after mounting it with an reverse tenon. I'm not sure if that's the proper terminology, but I turned a recess in the bottom, reversed it, and then tried mounting it on my chuck with the jaws pushing outwards into that recess. I couldn't then understand why, not long after I started hogging the material out of the inside of the bowl, it slung off the lathe at high speed. 
I done what I've started doing anytime I don't understand something turning related. I stopped and got on the internet to try and learn. I learned that cypress is not a good wood to be turning bowls with anyway.
That brings me to my latest bowl, and my first successful bowl. I know it doesn't look like much, but it is a huge accomplishment for me.
The bowl is only two inches deep. It started out as about a five inch deep bowl. I messed it up several times though, and when I did, would part off the top of the mistake and keep going. This was after all supposed to be a learning exercise. I'm afraid I won't be using the bowl. It is still green and I turned it thin, as a finished bowl, just for practice sake. In the future, I need to leave them thicker, unfinished, to be able to turn them down to a finished state after they've dried. That is for the future though. For, now, I'm happy enough turning green finished bowls that I know won't be usable just for the experience. I'll have usable bowls soon enough that I'll look back on these and laugh at them.  

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