View Full Version : Having heck learning to turn bowls/plates

8th Mar 2011, 03:35 AM
I am in need of some good advice. I am trying to learn to turn bowls and plates. I keep breaking them before I get them finished. Could it be my wood, or do I need to turn the bowls with a different grain orientation? I have tried Walnut and Cedar, and have had very little luck, other than making lots of sawdust!

I have cut the tree limbs across the grain and rounded them with a saw. Should I be cutting them with the grain (opposite of what I do for pens)? Have had great luch with pen turning, but am getting frustrated trying bowls. I have a small lathe, so I am using bowl blanks that are 8 inches in diameter or so.

Thanks for all your help!

Robert in New Mexico, USA

8th Mar 2011, 05:49 AM
Hi Robert,
Check out a site called ''around the woods''. I cant add links as I am on the computer at work. All sorts of good info to get you turning like a pro.

8th Mar 2011, 07:24 AM
learningturning.com I figured out that I was being too aggressive in places and not enough in others. I think I will give that piece of cured walnut another go. I am wanting to turn a small bowl, about 4-5 inches in diameter with a saucer turned at the base so they are one piece. Now that I have watched the video series, I think I can turn it without shattering the wood. Hope to have pictures in a few days.

I just gave the site you suggest a look for additional pointers. Great photos and tips!



8th Mar 2011, 09:29 AM
Hi Robert,

If you can get along to your wood turning chapter for some free advise and demos it will be of great advantage to you.

Basically take it slow with simple open bowl shapes on throw away timber so it does not matter if you stuff up. No hard stuff, make it easy on your self :U and remember no matter how good the experts are, they all started where you are. :2tsup:

joe greiner
8th Mar 2011, 10:12 PM
What he said. There's an AAW chapter in Midland TX, which seems to be closest to you. For more, visit https://www.woodturner.org/ and select "Find a Chapter."


8th Mar 2011, 10:43 PM
Cheers mate, there is nothing better than hanging out with a turner, in my case my brother in law. Richard Raffan has books that break things down to basics. Pens are usually end grain and bowls are cross grain. Really some demo's beat all the reading. Hang in there. Small bowls are great for learning. You need to look at how you have ground your chisels, different grinds mean different techniques. If I only I was in New Mex I would love to visit.

10th Mar 2011, 04:46 PM
If I am reading this correctly I think you are trying to make endgrain bowls . Not impossable ,but not the normal way of doing it . The direction of the grain should no be across the lathe , not in line with it.

11th Mar 2011, 05:00 AM
These are all very helpful. I wish I had a turners chapter closer. The Midland and Lubbock Texas chapters are both Over 100 miles from here. Lovington, NM is rather remote. Maybe I can find some turners closer that are available to share their skills. Otherwise I will make lots of sawdust until I learn. videos are great, but you can't ask them questions!

I will continue to ask questions here also. You Aussies are a very helpful lot!


11th Mar 2011, 01:47 PM
Maybe I can find some turners closer that are available to share their skills. Otherwise I will make lots of sawdust until I learn.

The making of lots of sawdust is the secret. Many hours of lathe time trying various things.

Quote "I am wanting to turn a small bowl, about 4-5 inches in diameter with a saucer turned at the base so they are one piece."

That narrow place between the bowl and saucer can be very tricky. A catch there will rip out a chunk, and might pull the piece out of the lathe. I would practice on a piece of junk wood first.

If you are able to make pens, you have tool control. The forces with bowls are much greater so you must keep the tool rest close to the bowl, and you really need longer and stronger tools than pen sized. Also turn at at 5 - 600 rpm with an 8 inch blank.

Get some cut off ends from a 2 X 8 at a construction site and just play with that. Make a plate, or a shallow bowl, or a cheese board.

It is amazing what 10 hours of turning time at a lathe will do for your skill level. Not all at one session. An hour or two then do something else, another hour or two, then next day.

Pay attention to what makes shavings fly easily, what causes rough and smooth cutting.

Keep your tools sharp. Carbon and high speed steel tools work nicely on cherry, walnut, pine etc.

I tried red cedar early in my turning and had a lot of trouble with tear out. Two years and hundreds of hours of lathe time later I have less trouble.

Turning is like learning to ride a bicycle or driving a standard shift car. One struggles and thinks "I'll never get this", if we persist, one day it just comes together and you do it.

12th Mar 2011, 03:37 AM
This is really helpful. I do use only HSS tools with fairly long handles (about 1 ft. or so). They seem like overkill for pens, but I am very comfortable with them. I sharpen regularly since I turn lots of deer antlers.

I decided to give bowls a rest until the weekend, and turned a couple of pens yesterday evening. I have to stop a sundown since I do not have lights in my little shop yet. I turned one from acacia and one from black walnut. The walnut had a worm hole, so I filled it with shavings and medium thickness CA glue. I will let that one cure for a couple of days before I finish turning and sanding the "patch".

The acacia pen is a gift from my Masonic Lodge to our incoming Grand Master of Masons in New Mexico. In Masonic lore, the burial site of the Grand Master, Hiram Abif, was marked with a sprig of acacia. We FreeMasons have a reverence for that particular wood. Our new Grand Master is from our neighboring town, so we are giving the pen to him next week at his installation.

That is one of my greatest enjoyments with turning.