How to Make a Turned Wood Bowl

Use a lathe to turn out a one-of-a-kind decorative bowl.


Materials and Tools:

2-inch-thick dried milled-surfaced poplar (available at most lumber-supply stores)
wood glue
milk paint
foam brush
drawing compass
power drill
drywall screws
band saw
turning tools: 4-jaw chuck, faceplate, bowl gouge, bedan tool


1. Set two pieces of milled-surfaced poplar on top of each other and glue them together to create a deep bowl. You can also use a piece of 2-inch or 3-inch wood stock for a smaller bowl.

2. After gluing with wood glue, clamp the two pieces of milled poplar together and allow to dry for four to six hours.

3. Unclamp the dried poplar and, using a compass, draw a circle the size of the exterior of your bowl on the top surface of the poplar. Mark an "X" at the center point of the circle.

4. Carefully cut the poplar into a circle with the band saw, using the drawn lines as a guideline.

5. Center the faceplate on the top surface of the poplar and screw it down with a drill and drywall screws. Use the "X" mark as a guide for placement of the faceplate. Note: Don't use long screws that will penetrate to the other side of the poplar.

6. Mount the material on the lathe using the faceplate, and adjust the lathe's gauge to a low speed.

7. Move the tool rest close to the mounted poplar and slightly below the center axis.

8. Turn the lathe on and, using a bowl gouge, center the mounted poplar. The lathe will be a little wobbly until the material becomes balanced.

9. Once the bowl has been centered and balanced, shape the bottom of the bowl, including the foot base.

10. Once the final shape of the bottom of the bowl has been turned, move the tool rest out of the way and sand the bowl to 220-grit, starting with 80-grit or 100-grit.

11. Detach the bowl from the lathe and unscrew the drywall screws from the faceplate.

12. Mount the bowl in the four-jaw chuck, opening the jaws of the chuck on the inside of the turned foot. Make sure to provide enough resistance to securely and safely grip the poplar.

13. Once the bowl is secured and level, mount the bowl and chuck in the lathe.

14. Move the tool rest close to the poplar and slightly below the center axis.

15. Turn on the lathe and, using a bowl gouge, even off the top surface. This will be the rim of the bowl.

16. Once the rim has been turned, scoop out the inside of the bowl with a bowl gouge. Be careful to pay attention to the thickness of the walls of the bowl.

17. Move the tool rest out of the way and sand the inside of the bowl the same way the exterior was sanded.

18. Brush off any loose dust.

19. Mix the milk paint according to the packet directions, using equal parts paint and water. Strain.

20. Slowly turn the lathe by hand or set to a low speed and apply paint. Be careful that the speed is not so high that it splatters paint.

21. Allow the paint to dry and apply another coat.

22. Once the layers of paint have dried, adjust the lathe to a slightly higher speed and sand the surface with "0000" steel wool. This burnishes the surface to a satin finish.

23. Carefully detach the painted bowl from the four-jaw chuck carefully. Paint the inside of the foot.

24. Embellish the bowl's surface with the desired motifs, using pencils or permanent markers.

25. To seal the surface, apply thin coats of clear-coat shellac or lacquer at first and slowly build up the layers. This protects the bowl and reveals a shiny finish.

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