A Small Bowl turned Without a Chuck – A Tutorial

Originally posted 6 August 2011

I was visiting with a young friend from work who also turns. He has turned a number of pens, but wanted to start turning bowls.  He did not have a chuck at the time, but has since purchased one. It made me wonder if I could turn a bowl without a chuck, so I decided to try it, and while I was at it, I took a number of pictures.

A bit of a disclaimer here:

  • I am pretty new at this myself.  This is more a documentation of my learning process than it is a ‘how to’.
  • The bowl you see turned here is quite small in diameter – less than 4 inches if I recall correctly.  Some of the setups, particularly turning off the foot would require a different approach than the one shown here.

I started with a small zebrawood bowl blank that my daughter had given me for either Christmas or a birthday a year or two ago. I had already cut it round on the bandsaw.

I had marked the center of it before I rounded off the corners, so I centered the faceplate over my center mark and marked the screw holes.

I used the drill press to drill the pilot holes for the screws. A hand drill would work fine.  Just watch that you don’t drill to deeply or you may run the risk of having a hole that you can’t turn out of the side of the bowl.

I used a screw that extended about 3/4 inch from the faceplate. For this small bowl blank that was plenty.  A larger blank may require a longer screw, but, again, be careful not to use too long a screw or you can run into problems turning the bowl.

I used my cordless drill to drive the screws into the faceplate.

Next, I simply screwed the faceplate onto the headstock of my Delta Midi-lathe.  I used the tail stock to hold the bowl blank as I turned it round and began to shaoe the foot.  On this small bowl it may not have been necessary, however, it can prevent putting a lot of stress on the mounting screws if the blank is out of balance or if you have a catch.

Once I had the shape of the bowl about where I wanted it, I cleaned the end of the blank up. By that I mean I turned off a layer of the wood including any wax that was on the bowl blank, plus I make sure the end of the bowl that will be the bottom is square to the center-line of the bowl. To checked for flatness I used the side of my bowl gouge, laid across the end of the bowl.  On larger bowls, a straightedge, or even the side of a carpenters square could be used.

The reason for making sure the bottom of the blank is flat, is that we glued a waste block to the bottom end of the bowl. I wanted to make sure the waste block was flat and square, so I trued it up on the disk sander.

I glued the waste block to the bottom of the bowl and used the tail stock to hold it in place and apply a little pressure.

I mounted the face plate onto the waste-block.  It is important to get it as centered as you can. This one was not perfect and when I got it on the lathe it was out of round by 1/16 inch or so.  A little seems like a lot in these situations.  It took one light pass with the gouge to true it up.

I turned the bowl end-for-end and mounted the waste block end onto the headstock of the lathe.

I began to hollow out the bowl. We rely only upon the glue joint and the screws from the faceplate to hold the bowl when hollowing. No tail stock for this end, except, perhaps, rounding down the waste block before hollowing out the bowl, if one wants to do so.

I started to hollow out the bowl.  it is really important to have the cutting edge of the tool as close to the center line of the bowl as you can get it.  I adjusted the height of the tool rest a number of times, depending on how far the tool was extended over the tool rest, and the angle at which I was cutting.

For me this is the most fun part of it.

This Delta lathe is belt driven and I am hollowing at about 1500 RPM on this small diameter bowl.  On larger bowls it would be much slower.

Once the bowl is turned down, I switch to about 500 RPM for sanding the bowl.

I hollowed out the bowl and sanded down the inside and as much of the outside as I could.

Next, I started parting off the bowl.  This is another reason we don’t want the screws too long.  If they were, we might run into them with the parting tool.  I parted it down as far as shown here or a little further, then used a hand saw to cut the last inch or so off (sorry about the fuzzy picture).

For this small bowl, I used the waste block as a jam chuck to final turn the bottom of the bowl. I used the parting tool to shape the waste-block to fit the inside of the bowl. It’s a perfect fit when the bowl fits over the waste-block without wiggling back and forth with hand pressure.

Place the open end of the bowl on the jam chuck and old it in place with the tail stock. I used an extension on the tail stock to protect my tools.

I turned off the remainder of the waste block and began to shape the bottom of the bowl. I would shape this differently if I had it to do over again.  Unfortunately, once these are done there is no going back.

I took the last bit off with a skew and cleaned the last of it up with sandpaper.

These last couple pictures show the completed bowl with a coat of Minwax Tung Oil on it.

My mother is in an assisted living apartment with limited space so I gave this to her for her birthday.