A Contemporary Bowl


A Contemporary Bowl
Andy Coates applies a contemporary take on the traditional bowl shape, using pyrography and colour

Andy Coates applies a contemporary take on the traditional bowl shape, using pyrography and colour

Bowls must comprise the largest percentage of all the objects commonly made on a woodturning lathe. What can we do to make our bowls stand out from others? We can spend a little more money to get that extra special blank from the wood supplier and we can take great pains to ensure that the shape and finish are as good as we can make them. However, if this is all we do, the likelihood is that your bowl will still blend in to a table full of other plain bowls. It would take somebody with an understanding of the craft to discern the difference between the ‘ordinary’ and the ‘exceptional’.
Probably the most effective thing we can do to make bowls stand out is to decorate them in some fashion. There is still some resistance to decorating turned work, and that’s okay; we each have our own preferences and none are wrong. For me, decorating is not only the obvious choice, but it’s also good fun. A bowl is a simple object to turn for the experienced woodturner and there is diminishing satisfaction in simply knocking out the same object time and time again; decorating can add a new dimension to your hobby.

Kiln dried elm (Ulmus procera) – 170 x 80mm
Small scrap of elm 60 x 30 x 5–8mm
10mm long grind bowl gouge
10mm spindle gouge
10mm parting and beading tool
Multi-tip scraper
Abrasives 180 to 400 grits
Cellulose sealer
Danish oil
Stains, acrylics, dyes, etc.
PPE: Face mask, gloves, dust mask/respirator

Information and plans

1. Before you mount your blank on a screw chuck, look at the blank for faults such as splits and voids that might cause a safety issue. Once you have checked your blank, drill an appropriately sized hole and mount the blank on the screw chuck. In this store-bought blank, I found three nails! This helped to determine which face was the top

2. True up the face of the blank using a bowl gouge. A good habit to adopt is to mark the centre of the blank. A revolving ring centre is perfect for this as it provides an accurate reference later. You may wish to true the side of the blank if it is unbalanced

3. Cut the tenon to the appropriate diameter for your chuck. Begin roughing out the shape using pull cuts on the wing of the long-ground bowl gouge. The bowl should have a narrow base and a high wall to ensure the decoration is visible upon completion

4. Before you finalise the shape it can often help to take a 10mm parting tool and face off the first 15mm or so off the inner face. This provides a datum for the ultimate rim of the bowl and allows for the final shape to be retained

5. Having taken this step, complete the shaping of the bowl. Next you need to abrade the outer wall. Start at a grade appropriate for the quality of your tooled finish and work through to 320 or 400 grit. A powered arbor helps to get a good quality finish

6. Take a pencil and, choosing a line of grain about 25 to 35mm down from the rim, draw a pencil line, following the grain around the bowl. You will repeat this on the inside wall later on. Don’t worry about the pencil line; it will be removed later during the decoration process

7. Now apply cellulose sealer from the base up to the pencil line. Apply sparingly and buff dry. De-nib with a nylon mesh pad and apply a second, and possibly third, coat of sealer. Do not go over the pencil line if you intend to decorate the rim section

8. Remount the bowl on the prepared tenon. Begin hollowing the bowl using the bowl gouge. Novices can use these cuts as practice cuts rather than rush to remove the waste. Stop the hollowing process when the wall reaches about 20mm thickness

9. Now take the small scrap piece of wood you have prepared and mark the thickness on to the rim of the vessel. Ideally this dimension will be in the region of 5 to 8mm. Complete the hollowing process to this mark. If you keep your wall thickness even throughout, you will not go through the base

10. If necessary you can use a bowl scraper to achieve the final tool finish. I prefer a half-round scraper as this provides superb control of the tool. Your presentation should be ‘trailing’: that is with the tool handle slightly higher than the tip and the tip held at about 45° to the surface

11. Abrade the inner bowl just as you did for the outside. Take your time and get the finish just right. Now locate the same line of grain that you marked on the outside of the bowl and mark it around the bowl with a pencil

12. As all the remaining work is to be off the lathe, we need to finish the bowl by removing the tenon. I find the easiest way to achieve this is with an old fashioned shop-made jam chuck. The mark left by the revolving ring centre provides the perfect reference for remounting

13. Wind the tailstock quill in gently. Apply only enough pressure to provide a friction drive. Reduce the lathe speed to about 800rpm and using a 10mm spindle gouge, remove the tenon with light cuts. Make the base slightly concave and leave the central stub slightly wider than your tail centre

14. Use a craft knife or carving tool to remove the remaining stub. Abrade the base to a fine finish and seal with cellulose sealer. Buff to a finish. I tend not to wax or oil the base of a bowl

15. Now take the small off-cut ‘board’, and using a fretsaw, cut a small triangle about 20 x 15 x 15mm out of it. Place the triangle on the wall of the bowl within the marked pencil boundary and the rim (you can do this outside or inside) and draw inside the triangle template with a pencil. Drill through the three corners on the inside of the pencil lines, using a small drill bit in a rotary tool

16. Then continue drilling around the three lines until the waste is almost freed. You may need to use a burr to finally remove the waste

17. Clean up the resulting inner faces using a burr until you can just force your cut triangle in to the hole. Don’t worry if it is not a perfect fit; we can adjust this at the next stage, but ultimately it must push into the hole

18. The decoration on this bowl is in two forms: pyrographed detail and colouring. The tip you use will depend upon the pyrography machine you have. Some come with pre-formed tips and others with nichrome wire tips you form yourself. I find both types useful depending on what I want to achieve

19. You now need to decide on a repetitive pattern to burn on the bowl. I am using a triangular pattern that mimics the wooden triangle I used for the infill piece. You could choose any shape you wish. If you are not familiar with using the pyrography machine, practice on a piece of plywood first

20. First, take your triangle and using the edge of the wire tip, burn straight lines across the edges all the way around. This is a small piece so take care near your fingers! On the two faces, pyrograph your preferred pattern

21. Now burn straight lines across the inner edges of the drilled-out hole. Make sure you leave no bare wood. If your triangle was too tight a fit, you can adjust this now by burning away the excess. Aim for a ‘comfortable’ fit: not too tight, not too loose

22. Next we begin pyrographing the bowl. Here I am marking out a random triangular pattern and then infilling the triangles with a series of opposing straight lines. Work all around the bowl, occasionally breaching the pencil line perimeter to add a note of randomness

23. Once the outside is complete, pyrograph lines from the outer shapes across the rim. Now move to the inside of the bowl and repeat the process using to lines on the rim as the starting points of each subsequent shape.

24. Now you need to decide whether you want to add colour to the piece or not. If you do not want to apply colour, wipe the pyrographed surface with a soft cloth to remove the carbon residue and then apply a coat of Danish oil finish over the whole vessel

25. If you choose to add colour, there are plenty of options. You can use alcohol stains, spirit stains, dyes, acrylic paints, milk paints, or whatever you have to hand. I decided to use a verdigris finish and augment this with a gilt cream highlight

26. This is my finished bowl with the coloured effects that I have chosen

Other ideas

Here are a stack of similar bowls, each with a slightly different colouring and style. I am certain that you can come up with something of your own, but this should give you a starting point to work from. Strong, bright colours work well with the natural wood and the style allows for colours that might otherwise not work on turned objects


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