How to Make Wood Bowls

By Marjorie Gilbert

The history of making bowls of wood is a long one, probably dating back to the time when man discovered he could shape the wood around him into useful objects, such as bowls. The wooden bowl was actually a favorite bowl for bread makers for, as author and self-taught woodworker Bob Elgin writes, "Wooden bowls were preferred as the wood held the heat generated by the fermentation of the yeast." With some time, tools and wood, you can continue the tradition yourself by making a wooden bowl.

Pick out a log from which to make your wood bowl. The wood should be green and as straight as possible to help preserve the finished shape of the bowl. Woods that work well are cherry wood, birch and buckeye, as well as maple. Inspect the wood to make sure it's free of flaws like knots and other defects. Wrap your wood in plastic to keep it from drying out.

Mark with a pencil where you need to carve to create the shape you wish for your wood bowl. If you would like, you can do this on a piece of paper first, drawing top and side views, then transfer it to the log. Clamp the log to your vise.

Make a hole in the the middle of the log with a double bit axe. Hollow out the hole still further with a hollowing adz. The hollowing adz with a long blade works best for this application. Continue hollowing out the bowl until you come to about three-eighths of an inch of what you wish your finished thickness to be.

Work on the outside of the wooden bowl with a mallet and a bent gouge, shaping the sides until you come within one-sixteenth of an inch of the middle. Smooth the inside of the wood bowl with a adz that has a short bit, also known as a bowl adz. Use a bent knife to refine the inside curve of the wood bowl even more.

Cut the wood bowl from the block of wood and check to make sure the bowl is the depth you want. If it is, turn it upside down and clamp it in place, then use the axe to chop away any extraneous wood. Use the broad hatchet as well as the adz with the straight bit and flat blade to refine the outside of the wood bowl even more.

Put the wood bowl in an end vise and smooth the inside with a scrub plane and a smooth plane. Turn the bowl over and put it in a Chinese vise. Smooth the outside with a spoke shave and a straight adz. Measure the bowl with a caliper and make any adjustments as needed. Do the final smoothing with a scraper and fine-grit sand paper. Check to make sure your wood bowl sits squarely on your surface; if it does not, shave the bottom away until it does.

Tip

Keeping the wood green while you carve is important. Every time you take out the wood from the bag, dry it and the bag off, then return it to the bag when you are done. This helps the wood to dry slowly and evenly, thus helping to ensure that your wood bowls retain their shape even after they're dry.

About the Author

Marjorie Gilbert is a freelance writer and published author. An avid researcher, Gilbert has created an Empire gown (circa 1795 to 1805) from scratch, including drafting the gown's patterns by hand.