Turning takes patience

People are sometimes surprised when they ask me how long it took me to turn a bowl and I answer, “Oh, about a year.” Now, obviously, it doesn’t take a full year to do the actual turning. But when working with wet, or fresh-cut wood, the wood tends to warp as it dries. Sometimes I like to turn something and deliberately let it change shape, just to see how it turns out. I’ve gotten some very interesting shapes, usually ovals, from wet-turned projects. But when turning bowls, usually I like them to be a more uniform, round shape. If the wood dries too quickly, it cracks. So there’s a process to drying the wood that requires time and patience in order to get a quality finished product.

The first step I take with a nice piece of wood is to rough-turn a shape. In the photo below, I’ve rough-turned a bowl out of a good piece of cherry. I then seal the wood with a product called Anchor Seal to keep it from drying too quickly and cracking.

After the bowl is sealed, I put it in a paper bag for a while. Air blowing over the wood would dry it too quickly, making it crack. By putting it in the bag, I can slow the drying process. After a few weeks, I take the rough-turned bowl out of the bag and set it aside in a cool, dry place for anywhere from six months to a year, depending on the size. Obviously, the bigger and thicker the wood, the longer it takes to dry. I have stacks of rough-turned bowls and vessels in many stages of drying, so that I always have a project ready to turn.

The bowl in this photo has been drying for over a year. As you can see, it has warped into a slightly oval shape as it dried, and I want it to be round. Some of the bowls I’m drying have warped significantly more than this one.

I’ve deliberately left the sides of the rough-turned bowl thick so I can turn it into a nice, round bowl. Now that it’s dry, it will keep the final shape.

This is a cherry bowl that went through the same process as the one above. It’s about six inches across and two inches deep, a good size for holding candy or nuts or setting on a desk or dresser for miscellaneous items. My wife and I use wooden bowls of various sizes all through our house. They last forever and require only an occasional coat of mineral oil to keep them healthy and gleaming. They can even be used for salad bowls; simply clean with a damp cloth (don’t put them in the dishwasher), and re-coat occasionally with oil. The price on a bowl of this size is $50 — a bargain for a functional piece that will hold up to years of use.

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