Lidded Bowl and Chopsticks for a Sticky Rice Feast


Lidded Bowl and Chopsticks:
Colwin Way creates a beautifully-designed rice bowl with the added features of a lid to keep your food hot and a place to hold your chopsticks

Colwin Way creates a beautifully-designed rice bowl with the added features of a lid to keep your food hot and a place to hold your chopsticks

This rice bowl and its accompanying chopsticks use all the basic turning skills. We’re going to be somewhere in the middle of the difficulty range, so adjust the design by adding features or taking them away to suit your ability. For instance, you could leave off the lid if you wanted to. Or to make the project harder, why not make a matching set? The choice is yours!
I hope my articles inspire you to have a go as much as I am inspired by other turners and their creations. Two people in particular gave me the idea to re-visit this classic project.
My old friend and work colleague Jason Breach makes wonderful rice serving bowls with chopsticks incorporated into the bowl, either by cut away or strategically-placed holes. I’ve also watched Mark Sanger turn a couple of lidded rice bowls in less than 20 minutes for a speed turning competition, thinking to myself at the time that he had created a lovely design.
The length of your chopsticks is a very personal thing and I was told it referred to your position in the family hierarchy; for instance children would have smaller chopsticks. However, with a little research I later discovered it is as simple as the size of your hands, with two measurements being most common. Either measure the length of your hand from wrist to finger tip then add 4cm. Alternatively, point your index finger and cock your thumb back; your chopstick length should be 1½ times the span between the two. In simple terms, between 230–255cm long will suit most people. My personal choice of rice bowl size is something I can fit in one hand and bring to my mouth, and it is much smaller than a cereal bowl. 

Plans and equipment
Equipment and materials used
• Bowl blank of suitable size in a food-safe timber
• Chopstick blanks 6 x 6 x 255mm
• 25mm skew chisel
• 10mm bowl gouge
• 3mm parting tool
• Callipers
• Power sanding pad
• Chuck jaws
• Matching ring centres
• Four-prong drive
• 3mm drill bit and drill
• Rotary tool
• Small drum sander
• Abrasives 100 to 600 grit

1. Select some timber for the bowl and the chopsticks. Cut the chopstick blanks to 6mm square. I’ve found a fantastic piece of claro walnut (Juglans hindsii) for my bowl which has a fantastic colour and a nice tight grain that turns really well. For the chopsticks, I’m using some sonokeling, or East Indian rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia), which also has a fantastic colour and is extremely strong, so turns well in small diameters. I had selected another piece of timber for the lid of the rice bowl, but as the project went on I realised that the claro blank was large enough to include the lid

Making the chopsticks

2. Decide whether to make round or square chopsticks. I couldn’t make up my mind so thought I would turn both for you as an example. Round chopsticks can be turned straight from the square and are the easiest to make if you’ve never attempted turning a small diameter before. If you want your chopsticks square in the handle, then sand the flat faces at one end of the blank before mounting the blank on the lathe. I’m using a small piece of scrap wood as a sanding block in order to clean the faces square. If you need any inspiration on chopstick design, have a look on the Internet for some amazing creations

3. Hold the chopsticks with a pair of matching ring centres, driving with a friction drive which tapers down small enough for the chopstick blank. Turn the chopsticks using a 25mm standard skew chisel with a small 2mm secondary bevel ground on the cutting edge. Keep the lathe speed high for such a small piece of timber, at around 2300 rpm. I’m right-handed and find my natural preference with the skew is from left to right, so am tapering in this direction; the top of the chopstick (the handle) is at the headstock end. Take small cuts to avoid too much chatter and support with your fingers when smooth, to firm up the chopstick in the later stages

4. For a square-handled chopstick, take a slight skim from the corners to soften them

5. Once you’ve turned the chopsticks to diameter, you can clean up the ends before sanding. Leave some strength at the top and bottom otherwise you can shear the piece off from the pressure of sanding. Round over the top slightly but leave a little waste. Do the same to the bottom of the chopstick but leave it more square

6. Now it’s time for sanding: start off with the lathe running and carefully sand up to and gently over the square handle, resulting in a slight softening of this square edge. Stop the lathe periodically and sand by hand up the length of the chopstick to blend in the square to the round. Work through the grades of abrasive as normal, up to 600 grit in the case of dense timber. When sanded, take both ends down as far as you can before parting off with the skew from the tailstock end. Clean up both ends with a small power sanding pad held in the chuck and a 400 grit abrasive disc

Making the rice bowl

7. Hold the bowl blank between centres, using a large four-prong drive and a revolving ring centre in the tailstock. The finished bowl will measure 120mm diameter x 70mm deep. However, the blank starts off at 100mm deep as it also holds the timber that will make the lid

8. Gently rough down with a 10mm bowl gouge until you have a true round and achieve the final diameter. To help stop break out and tearing, drop the handle of your bowl gouge down and shear with the gouge

9. With a pair of callipers, size the internal grip of your chuck jaws. Use this measurement to turn a foot on the bottom of the bowl, which will be used to hold the bowl when taking out the core. You will re-turn or take off this foot at the end of the project

10. Now start the final shaping ready for sanding. Drop the tool handle and shear cut, pointing the flute in the direction of travel to achieve a really clean cut

11. Add some detail to the shaped bowl, not forgetting to leave enough spare material to form a lid at the top. Use the long point of the skew to form as many lines as you like, gently scraping with the skew on its side. When you are happy with the shape, sand the bowl to a finish, starting with 100 grit and working through to 600 grit

12. Take the bowl off the lathe and attach the chuck ready for hollowing out the bowl. You can see the amount of spare timber left for the lid, which measures 30mm. Taking the lid from the same piece of timber means that the grain and colour match perfectly

13. Re-mount the bowl on the lathe using a four jaw chuck. Now start the parting off process to remove the lid timber from the bowl blank. Use a standard 3mm parting tool and part at a slight angle toward the bowl. To make sure the tool doesn’t bind and snag, give the tool plenty of room by taking several overtaking cuts: make a cut about 10mm deep, then remove the tool and make another cut beside the first but overlapping by half the width of the tool, this time to a depth of 20mm. Repeat this process until you have about 12mm of timber left in the centre

14. Here you can see down into the parting cut and appreciate the width. Create another foot on the right hand side of the lid, which can be used to hold the lid when shaping

15. Part the lid off completely. Leave the lathe running and support with your left hand while parting with your right. Alternatively, part down to 12mm then stop the lathe and give the lid a gentle tap with
a mallet; the lid should fall off easily

16. Start hollowing out the bowl. Aim for a wall thickness of about 5mm to make the bowl nice and light in the hand and a good thickness for the diameter of the bowl. Use a 10mm bowl gouge and don’t forget to point the flute of the gouge in the direction of travel: in the inside of the bowl this means to roughly 2 o’clock. After hollowing the bowl to about two thirds of the desired thickness, start to size the first half of the bowl. The top rim section needs to be cut to size before the centre of the bowl to avoid excess chatter

17. Finish hollowing out the bowl, leaving a small rounded rebate near the top. It is better to have the lid sitting on the bowl rather than with a tight fit, which could stick with sticky rice or if a vacuum builds up with hot food. Now sand the bowl

Turning the lid

18.The tenon previously cut on one side of the lid can now be used to hold the lid in the chuck. Once mounted, cut a tenon on the opposite side of the lid. This second tenon is actually on the top of the lid, but we are going to start by turning the underside, so we need this tenon to begin the process

19. Turn the lid around and shape the inside into a funnel shape, leading up to a point at which you can drill a small hole at a later stage. This hole will let moisture escape and prevent a vacuum being formed inside the bowl

20. Cut the front of the lid as far as you can while it is still in the chuck. This will mean that when you reverse the lid to finish its front, the holding method won’t be in the way of the turning you need to do as the outside edge will already be finished

21. Sand the inside edge and the turned section of the front. Before taking the lid out of the chuck, drill a 3mm hole through the centre of the lid

22. Hold the lid to finish its top using button jaws, wood plate jaws or a friction plate. Alternatively, use the bowl itself which the lid has been sized to match. Place a layer of polishing tissue between the bowl and the lid, then bring up the tailstock using the hole running through the lid as a centre point for a single pointed tailstock centre. This gives you access to turn the lid. Add a small beaded top to use when lifting the lid off the bowl. When you are happy with the shape of the lid, sand to a finish

23. Finish the bowl by removing the foot or changing its shape. A traditional foot seen on a lot of china bowls is nicely rounded surrounding a recess which will sit comfortably in the hand. Hold the bowl in
a set of button jaws to gain good access to the bottom of the bowl

24. Cut a small crescent shape from the edge of the lid with a rotary tool then use a small drum sander held in the chuck to sand it. This will make a space for the chopsticks when the lid is in place

25. Here is the finished bowl and chopstick combination. I think a nice touch is given by incorporating the chopsticks through the lid. This project would be improved by producing a pair of bowls and even a serving tray. Who knows how far you will take it, but above all have fun and enjoy your turning


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