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Best size for large bowls

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I have a section of a large cherry tree. The log is about 26” in diameter and 50” long. I want to make some large bowl blanks of it. What do you guys find to be a good size for “large” bowls? Yes, I *could* turn a 16” bowl, but I found that bowls that big aren’t that practical. What are your thoughts?
 
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Most of what I turn is limited by the size of the logs I've got access to - I haven't found that large bowls are impractical or particularly hard to find homes for necessarily - but size is dictated by the grain of the log. The larger bowls are generally more open forms perfectly suited to display the contents - like fruit bowls. They do require a larger space, but I see them used on countertops often and are used by interior designers in larger architectural spaces or even hung as wall display pieces.
When the grain is centered in the final piece it will warp more symetically (I do both greenwood and twice turned bowls) so I plan the work to center. This sometimes limits size slightly if the pith isn't centered and anything outside of the blank is sawed into spindle squares if large enough. Nearly everything gets cored so I end up with a range of sizes (usually three or four) from the same blank.
 

Randy Anderson

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I have to remind myself of the phrase I heard an experience turner say once - decide if you want to make a good bowl or a big bowl. Sometimes they're not compatible and conflict. The desire to not waste wood is hard to fight. I've turned away a lot of a log to get a very nice bowl or hollow form with nice grain and then I've made some 15"+ (I'm limited to 16") and accepted some features like knots or bug activity. It depends sometimes on how much of the wood I have to experiment with. I do find that larger bowls don't sell as well at my markets but are a good "eye candy" item to bring people over to my booth. They all want to pick it up, look it over and then often end up buying a 9-12" size. The big ones do sell but not at the volume. Not sure if you're making it for a gift, yourself or to sell. I've been tempted to turn a really big one like Paul mentions but don't have a tool rest option yet for that kind of turning off the end of my lathe.
 
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Bowls over about 14 inch diameter don't sell well for me. They are for very big families, or people who do a lot of entertaining. For a piece of cherry that size. Also, the big ones don't fit in a lot of cabinets. I would take a couple of center/quarter sawn slabs for plates and platters, and that would leave a good size blank for family sized salad bowls. In my years of doing the arts and craft shows, I figure I sold equal $ amounts of large and small bowls and plates. So, far more of the smaller pieces than the larger ones. I did make one 22 inch bowl, and ended up giving it to a nephew as a house warming present.

robo hippy
 

Breck Whitworth

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Large bowls from 15" to 19" sell very well for me. It depends on the customer. I always have very large bowls for that specific customer. Anything over 19" most customers pass them by. But there is always one that wants the biggest you have. Depth is important in a large bowl to some and not for others. Like what has been said what ever you are comfortable making do so. I have a Robust American Beauty and can make upwards to a 25" bowl. I've only made one and it is drying we will see if it sells.
 
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One of those 'every one is different, and some are more different than others' things that has perplexed me over the years of doing shows. One person comes in and picks up a shallow bowl and says they prefer it because it is easier to toss a salad in it. The next person comes in and picks up a deeper bowl and says they prefer it because it is easier to toss a salad in. Me, I never toss a salad because all the good stuff falls to the bottom of the bowl.....

robo hippy
 
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I spend most of yesterday cutting up one length of this cherry trunk at 14" long, giving me 21 blanks! I think that 14 is about as big as I want to go. That's a BIG salad bowl! I'm excited to see how these dry and if the sapwood will balance with the heartwood well. A few small blanks made only of sapwood. Think that they'll turn out ok?

22BF380C-D9A7-49E9-82D9-1F5968BF5D45_1_105_c.jpeg

B968C261-0402-4E2F-A415-D2C85C9CED26_1_105_c.jpeg
 

hockenbery

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Looks like you have a nice set to dry
if the sapwood will balance with the heartwood well.
Not sure what you meant by this. When I cut a blank, i know within a fraction of an inch how the sapwood and grain will balance. while roughing between centers I have the option of improving the grain balance over the sawn blank.
I think you must mean something else here.

the finished surface of four blanks on the top row caught my eye. 3 have rather smooth surfaces and should be easy to return when dried, the one on the tailstock has some obvious steps and grooves on the surface that could make it difficult to return.
It has been my experience that returning a dried bowl with a smooth surface is much easier than one with a rough surface.
You might consider turning a smooth surface on that bowl. It looks to have a nice curve. 2 passes from foot to rin should leave the nice curve and eliminate the grooves.

big bowls are harder to do because our body has to move smoothly through a longer curve.

i lock the tool handle to my side point my left foot in the direction I will cut a comfortable distance away, put most of my weight on my right foot, begin the cut, Shift my weight gradually to the left foot turning my shoulders to form the curve, and end the cut with most of my weight on the left foot That was at the comfortable distance away.
I have students find good foot positions by making shadow cuts with the lathe off sifting their feet until they find positions that cover curve. ( the above is for the foot at the tailstock. If the foot is at the headstock your weight will be on the left foot to. Start)
 
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Not sure what you meant by this.
On other cherry bowls, I've found the sapwood to be softer than the heartwood. I haven't incorporated so much sapwood in the design before. I was asking if the sapwood will dry at a different rate than the hardwood, or if the differences between them would compromise the finished bowl's integrity? I played around with orienting the grain on most of the bowls to get the visual balance which I think you were suggesting.

Interesting comment on re-turning rough vs smooth bowls. Why are smooth, rough turned bowls easier to re-turn? Do you think roughly turned bowls also warp more?

None of the bowls are finished as smoothly as a they would be if they were in a final form, but I thought that they're good, and good enough. I think that the bigger the grooves that you're referencing on the large bowl on the tailstock are actually pen marks which I used to visualize the cut for my McNaughton bowl coring knives.

Thanks for the advice!
 
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I also am not sure what hockenbery is talking about since you’ll be turning away ~1/4” from both sides of a dried 10” blank. I wouldn’t think the gouge would care if the green surface was smooth or not? On the other hand, that’s a pretty thick base on one or two that I would be concerned about affecting drying stresses. Looks like a lot of fun in a few months :)
 

hockenbery

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Interesting comment on re-turning rough vs smooth bowls. Why are smooth, rough turned bowls easier to re-turn? Do you think roughly turned bowls also warp more?
roughness should not affect warping.

when I turn bowls I usually cut blanks that are centered on the center of the tree. This will warp symmetrically.
if I center them perfectly in remounting there may be a line on the side grain that needs almost no wood taken off.

I want to take light cuts removing no more than 1/8” over this area. hard to do if I have 1/8” bumps and dips or worse.
also if I left any tear out in the roughed out bowl that has to be cut away too.
the more wood removed from the outside changes the curve. If I worked at getting a nice curve on the rough out I want to keep that curve.

if I have a smooth rough out the returning goes faster and I get a bigger bowl with a nicer curve.

a good bevel riding push cut will put a surface that can be sanded with 120. with practice all the rough outs come out this way. It’s just they way we progress over time.
 

hockenbery

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nteresting comment on re-turning rough vs smooth bowls. Why are smooth, rough turned bowls easier to re-turn? Do you think roughly turned bowls also warp more?
A picture is better
a couple screen shots from a demo video
these are the two sides showing the side grain the unturned darker area shown how even the mounting was.
not perfect but close8ECC53B5-9F70-4574-AD01-45EE2F2F4317.jpgDBB92F67-9C52-455E-968F-B192EA2B414F.jpg

in the demo I point to the line where the rough surface is the finished surface86A3F239-3D89-4BA6-9925-C5A801A96D5D.jpg
 

hockenbery

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since you’ll be turning away ~1/4” from both sides of a dried 10” b
Remember the bowl warps. i always end up cutting more off the endgrain on the outside
more off the side grain on the inside.

on a severely warped 11” bowl i want to cut very little off the side grain. 15BA708D-2A5E-4E9E-BF00-834146841760.jpeg
 
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Understand Al, I probably leave my blanks a little bit thick. Don’t think I’ve ever not been able to take 1/8” off anywhere.

With that said, I may be paying the price with a highly figured piece of walnut I roughed a few weeks ago. I left the rim at 1 5/8” on a 14.5” shallow rough out (3.5”). I already detected some cracking (2 coats anchor seal) that goes down ~1”. I quickly threw some stretch wrap around it and hope the crack doesn’t go further.
 
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A picture is better

I agree about centering on the trunk of the tree, or the limb in this case. This one is pretty symmetrical. Took a lot of work to get it there!

I have one white oak blank that warped into an oval. I don't know if I'll be able to salvage it.

A few of the blanks were from either side of the pith, so they're not symmetrical. Sapwood is on about 1/4 of the bowl. You might be able to see that on the stack just in front of the tailstock, second bowl from the bottom. Will be interested to see how that one dries.

I quickly threw some stretch wrap around it
That's a good reminder for me to keep an eye on the bigger bowls as they dry!


IMG_7973.jpg
 

hockenbery

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Ken, you know that 14" of log will ultimately produce an 11-12" finished bowl, right?
brought back bad memories of the commission from hell.
I once had to educate a customer that I could not make 9” diameter plates from 8” diameter logs.

i had taken over a a commission for award plates that I had passed on to a friend who asked me to take over for them when day a job trip make it unlikely they could do the job on time. It was to make award presentation plates out of Osage orange left over from the reconstruction of the Sultana - a British Navy schooner that enforced the tea tax in colonial america.
came home an found 9” and 8” diameter logs in my driveway. I had been given a 9” prototype plate (made by some unknown turner who Passed away) with the task of turning 11 identical to it.

customer agreed to accept 8-7” diameter plates.

doesn’t end there. I made all the plates 1” high as specified. The engravers laser machine - we did a test to see if the engraver would work on waterlox- had a height limit of 3/4”. Fortunately I could cut all the turned plates down to the needed height.
 
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Ron, can you elaborate? Which give you concern and why?
Wood needs to be a consistent thickness to dry evenly - thicker base will dry more slowly while the rest of bowl dries faster.. more likely to have cracking, as well as the added stresses in the base, which when you turn that away, get released, leading to many potential problems.. I'm guessing that is what he means... so unless the inside is turned to match the base (so the bowl has consistent wall thickness) , the bowl may end up going in the firewood pile... In other words, you need to also consider your tenon thickness in addition to any base, plus bowl wall thickness, when roughing a bowl for twice turning..

At least that is how I understand it..
 
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Ken, my thoughts are pretty much what Brian said. You picture looks like you have a couple with extended tenons. In general I try to have ~consistent thickness although a ~3/8” tenon adds to the bottom, but often I hollow the tenon out a little. I always make the tenon on the mid-larger side of what my jaws hold knowing that I’ll be turning it round after it dries, so don’t hollow it too much :)
 
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All good advice. Thanks for recognizing these details.

I put tall feet on the bowls in the second and third pictures (about 5" diameter) with the idea that I'd replicate a form by Jonathan Renton (the first photo is from his IG). One foot is taller and one foot is wider than needed so I'd have some room to play with the form, but you've got me wondering if I should abandon that idea and make them smaller.

The last photo shows a larger, 10" bowl with a wide foot. I kept it wide because I thought that the tenon should be 50% of the bowl width. To Brian's point, should the thickness of the bottom of the bowl include the tenon and be 10% of the bowl width.

1617676899179.pngEE32CA85-1C77-4BE7-8A3F-BF69A158AF39_1_105_c.jpegIMG_7976.jpgIMG_7977.jpg
 
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Ken, Looks like you put some sealant on these bowls so that’s good because cherry is a fruit wood that can crack easily. Sometimes I boili in water or soak my cherry blanks in denatured alcohol to help reduce the cracking. You have some nice pieces started. If the cherry starts cracking then you might consider turning some bowls more than twice during the drying period. Just put some sealant back on between turnings.

If you are going to leave the foot thick then try dishing out the center part of the foot. A foot about 1/3 the bowl width is a good place to start, but you have lot’s of wood so keep playing around with different sizes. A tall foot is also great for carving a 3 footed bowl.
 
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Ken, I believe you are supposed to size the tenon just to fit the chuck you are using (and generally for much bigger bowls, I think recommendation is to move to larger diameter chuck) but you do not want your tenon to bottom out in the chuck , you want the base of tenon (which becomes bottom of foot, basically) to be flat and square and fit flush to tenon jaws which helps keep blank square to chuck and running true.. my tenons are generally around 1/4 inch thick, not much more than that, and my chuck takes a dovetail tenon... as to the diameter, should match your chuck when your chuck jaws (the part that grips tenon) are closed to the point they form a perfect circle..but not so far that they won't grip tightly... which on mine, means around 2-1/4 inch diameter...... Since that means your chuck jaws are on the tenon with maximum surface contact area for the "teeth" of the jaws (I say teeth even if they're smooth jawed most dovetails have a bit of a "underbite" lip.. straight jaws seem to have serrations or ridges, etc...) .. only once have I had a tenon split off - when I didn't pay attention to grain and tenon incorporated mostly pith grain on a ring porous ash blank.. since the wood already splits so easily, conclusion was foregone.. :)

But if you are gonna have such a big tenon, it does affect your thickness calculations.. got to consider the thickness of the wood overall as it comes to drying.. Cherry does crack very easily (I've even had bowls come apart on the lathe while turning cherry as they developed their cracks while drying as it was being turned) However for your tall feet, I wonder if you could perhaps do any sort of hollowing in-between the tenon and the foot.... it might be enough to allow the meat of the bowl itself to dry well enough without cracking and distortion.. but definitely use anchor seal or other end grain sealer liberally over your tenon and the supporting "waste block" part of it if you can keep that from drying while allowing rest of bowl to dry, I think you'd be in great shape...
 

Randy Anderson

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I'm working through a pallet of black cherry myself. Must be the season. I've turned down more since I got this load. I've had good luck with it in the past with limited warping and cracking if you stick to keeping wall thickness consistent. I suspect you've already cut it up and processed it but if you have some left it also makes nice natural edge pieces. The bark is sturdy and has a lot of character. Just finished these 4 for someone to pick up. It will darken quite a bit once it's finished and ages a bit. When you're doing your finishing work it really reacts to metal dust from your tools and will create black spots and streaks if not careful. You can see it on the roughed out pieces you already have.
 

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Ken, to me:
First pic looks great.
Second and third concern me for cracking. If it was me, and I wanted to keep those shapes for some reason I’d: work hard to slow drying, maybe dish out or even drill with Forster bit in the middle of of the thick base to relieve stress, be prepared that they might crack some.
Last pic looks good but I might dish center of foot a little. I tend to make most bowls with 1/3-40% foot; a little larger for functional ones, smaller for more artistic.
My two cents...
Enjoy
 
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The 50% rule is a guide line. You can go down to 1/3 without too much risk, though the smaller you go, the more risk there is if you have a big catch. At 50%, you can survive a pretty big catch...

Side note, all those little black freckles are from sharpening dust, which can be on your tools and your hands. No problem on twice turned bowls. On once turned bowls, best to get rid of them as soon as they come off the lathe. Concentrated lemon juice works best. Lime does not seem to work. If you wait a day or two, they take longer to come off, and the lemon juice can bleach out the colors. Doesn't seem to bother it when the wood is still wet.

robo hippy
 
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This discussion has certainly gone through a lot of the process, far from the original post, and I'm thankful to hear from everyone's experiences.

On the topic of spotting left by iron dust, I've noticed that with some sycamore bowls and tried the lemon juice trick. It certainly helped. Didn't think that it would be relevant for the darker cherry wood, so I'll keep that in mind when I next finish-turn a bowl. I just put the juice on a rag and flooded the bowl, let it dry and then lightly sanded the raised grain. Any other technique to it?
 
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I have sold a couple of 14 - 15" bowls this year that I made on request....I have one more to do for a friend.
I don't like turning that big so I only do it on request. I'm sure I can sell more of them, but I would need to store them and drag them to shows (once we can do them again) and would probably have them for a while...not worth the effort.
 
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I spend most of yesterday cutting up one length of this cherry trunk at 14" long, giving me 21 blanks! I think that 14 is about as big as I want to go. That's a BIG salad bowl! I'm excited to see how these dry and if the sapwood will balance with the heartwood well. A few small blanks made only of sapwood. Think that they'll turn out ok?

View attachment 38052

View attachment 38053
Great looking work, Ken. Once you work your way through this cluster of blanks, you'll know exactly what needs to be done to continuously improve your craftsmanship. I sincerely love to work in Virginia's Wild/Black Cherry and a couple of these blanks will look so good that they will keep you tethered to the lathe well into the future. Now you have to think about what finish you are going to use to show off all that cherry to its best advantage. We have had some great discussions about finishes here in this forum.
 
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Over time, I have learned to wipe hands and tool off with wet shavings so there is no metal dust spots on my pieces, most of the time.... Main metal stains are the insides of the recess. I just put a few drops of the LJ in the recess and swirl it around. If there are freckles, then I put a drop on my fingers to dab at the spots. If it is a full finger print, then I put a drop or two on it and then spread it around with my fingers...

robo hippy
 
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Now you have to think about what finish you are going to use to show off all that cherry to its best advantage.
I've been using Tried and True Danish oil for the last year. Have tried T&T Varnish, Watco Tung Oil, and Mahoney's Walnut Oil. Didn't like the Varnish because it seems to come out of the wood if it gets warmed. Walnut Oil is certainly safe and nothing against it, except that it doesn't seem to be as durable/hard. I know that it's supposed to be renewed, but I think that new owners of the bowls don't want to be bothered.

Certainly open to others' thoughts. And I'll look more into the Finishes posts here.
 
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What I didn't like about the wipe on poly types of finishes was the off gassing. It takes at least a week for most of the smell to go away, and a month or so to totally cure all the way through. I also ran into some one at a show who was sensitive to the driers. Yes, they are 'supposed' to be 'inert materials' when fully cured, but she said she still reacted to them. That is part of why I don't want to put anything I can't eat straight out of the can onto my wood bowls and plates. The 'soft' oils are very simple to apply, even by the owner. Surface finishes tend to crack, chip, and peel off eventually and the average owner can't repair that. I have heard many times that olive oil 'will' go rancid. Then, of course, I run into some one at a show who only used extra virgin olive oil. From him I learned that any build up on your wood ware is what can cause things to go sour. So, if you are feeling some gunk on the bowl or plate, scrub it off. Soap does not seem to hurt the wood, but it will pull some oil out of the wood. You can also use table salt and lemon, which both disinfect and emulsify the oils on your wood ware. Some don't put anything on their bowls and plates...

robo hippy
 
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