Turning a Madrone Burl Bowl
by Dale Larson
article is used by the permission of Dale Larson and Woodturning
Design" magazine. The article was first published by Woodturning
Design" in August of 2004.
I like turning one piece, functional bowls. And,
I think that a nicely turned wooden bowl is beautiful as well as
functional. While I enjoy collecting and making art" bowls,
I much prefer to make utilitarian items. I suspect that this comes
from growing up on a farm where things need to be functional!
In 1995, I started to experiment with Pacific
madrone. It is a notoriously difficult wood to dry because it has
a tendency to crack and warp severely during the drying process.
Over the years, Ive learned that if I boil the wet madrone,
I am able to dry it much more successfully. Madrone is such a beautiful
wood to turn that the extra steps involved in boiling it are well
worth the effort. I have also discovered that the boiling process
works equally well with other woods that are difficult to dry and
have used it to dry both apple and cherry wood successfully.
It takes me about 2 ½ hours total
to turn a bowl from start to finish. The process is divided into
two distinct steps: roughing out and finish turning. I estimate
that it takes me about an hour to cut the blank and to rough turn
the bowl. Then it takes approximately an hour and one-half to finish
Cut the Wood
I get my madrone from the Grants Pass, Oregon
area of the Pacific Northwest. I like to purchase the entire stump
(see Fig 1) because I want to cut it myself. Rarely will I purchase
a bowl blank that someone else has harvested because I want to determine
how the blank is cut. After all, "He who controls the cuts controls
the major artistic decisions!"
Burl with a sawn bowl blank and
a chain saw.
I use a chainsaw to cut the burl into blanks
for turning. There are always dirt and rocks present in these stumps
and learning to sharpen your chains properly becomes important.
After cutting the blanks, I store the ones I
am not going to rough turn the next day underwater in a large plastic
stock tank. Madrone will spalt very quickly (often in a few days
or less) and will evolve into a dull brown color, which I personally
do not like. Therefore, I add household bleach to the water to stop
any bacteria from forming, which in turn arrests the spalting process.
When I am ready to rough turn the blanks,
I take them out of the water and bandsaw them round. I mount the
blanks between centers on my lathe with the bottom of what will
eventually become the bowl oriented toward
Roughing out the outside of the
green bowl blank is done between centers with a 5/8"
deep bowl gouge. .
the tailstock of the lathe (see Fig. 2). Mounting
the piece between centers gives me the ability to move the piece
around so I get the best shape and grain pattern in the finished
bowl. If I locked the blank onto a faceplate or a chuck at this
stage, that advantage is lost. I use a 5/8" deep bowl gouge to turn
the blanks to rough shape.
Once roughed out, I mark the diameter for the
chuck on the bottom of the piece. I use a scraper to turn the bottom
flat and a small spear point scraper to form a square shoulder on
the corner of the bottom for the chuck to hold. I do this to all
the bowls that I am going to rough out for the day.
I attach a Stronghold chuck on the outboard side
of my lathe and mount a blank in the chuck. If the bowl blank is
large enough, I core out a smaller bowl blank from its interior
with a McNaughton Small Curve Tool. I think it does a nice job on
burls, but I find it a little more difficult to use on some long
Go to: Turning
a Madrone Burl Bowl - Part 2