The first creative step in wood turning is with cutting down a tree and getting it loaded on the trailer with a focus on getting the most from each piece of wood. If you cut a tree down and lop it into firewood size pieces, you limit what can be turned from that wood. So I have to make good decisions if I want to produce the most from a given tree.
The second creative step is determining how to slice up a log in order to create a single bowl or a whole collection of bowls. That’s what I want to address here. Take a look at Sketch 1 below where we will examine the end of the log.
We want to stay away from the pith of the tree. The pith is the center of the tree and is easily identified when you look at the growth rings. Sometimes the pith is not really in the center of the tree, but can be off-center. The pith can cause challenges when the wood dries, so new turners might want to avoid the pith until they gain more skill. We may also want to avoid the bark of the tree. Imagine that the log in Sketch 1 is 12 inches in diameter. If we avoid the bark we might be able to extract 2 bowls that are 10 inches in diameter. If this were a 9 inch log, the bowl blanks may only be 7 or 7 1/2 inches in diameter.
Now imagine that the log in Sketch 2 is 20 inches in diameter. Bowl #1 might be a 13 inch bowl 4 1/2 inches deep; bowl #2 might be 16 inches in diameter and 5 inches deep; bowl #3 might be about 5 inches in diameter and just under 3 inches deep; and bowls #4 and #5 might be 7 inches in diameter and 2 1/2 – 3 inches deep. Not a bad yield from one section of log. Do realize that if I come across a log like that in Sketch 2 and it is 20 inches in diameter and I want to achieve bowl #2 at 16 inches in diameter, I need that section of log to be cut at least 16 inches long. If it has been cut at 14 inches for firewood, we won’t be able to get our 16 inch bowl from it.
My goal is to get the most from each piece of wood. I don’t simply go out and cut trees for turning. The wood I turn comes from trees that have already fallen, those that have to be taken down due to their declining health and trees that are threatening building structures. The great thing about wood is that it is plentiful. Our property is 10.5 acres … I’ve had so much wood available from other people’s properties that I haven’t used any wood from our property in over 2 years.
Other Examples of Bowl Blanks
Here are a few more images to give you a broader idea of how bowl blanks might be obtained from a log.
Terms Used on This Page
In case you were wondering:
- Bark – The outer protective layer of the tree. The outer layer is the dead bark and the inner layer is the live bark.
- Blank – A blank or a turning blank is a piece of wood readied for turning on the lathe.
- Growth Ring – An annual formation of wood in plants / trees, consisting of two concentric layers, one of spring-wood and one of summer-wood.
- Natural Edge Bowl with Bark – A natural edge bowl is one where the rim of the bowl utilizes the wood in its natural state.
- Natural Edge Bowl without Bark – A natural edge bowl is one where the rim of the bowl utilizes the wood in its natural state below the bark. These bowls no longer retain the bark, but the natural surface of the log below the bark. There can be neat surprises underneath the bark.
- Pith – The growth-center of the trunk or branch of the tree.
- Traditional Bowl – I define a traditional bowl as a bowl that is turned and finished on the top and bottom, where it no longer includes the natural flow of the outside section of the tree.