Wood Bowl Making – Thickness Considerations for the Turner

By making wooden bowls, the turner enters a world of creation that is thousands of years old. People have been using bowls for a long time and making them just as long. The same design questions faced by the potter are also faced by the turner. One of these is how thin or thick the walls of the glass should be made. It is necessary to answer some questions to give some guidelines.

First, there is the intended use of the bowl. Will it be functional like a salad bowl or is it intended to be visual like a work of art? Generally, a functional bowl will be thicker to give stability and a sense of security. Artistic twists can be extremely thin to give a feeling of lightness and perhaps an ephemeral quality. On the other hand, a different artistic twist can be very thick and heavy to present other feelings and qualities to the viewer.

A third category may be a bowl made to impress and perhaps to impress turners in particular. In that case, it can be so thin that it allows light to pass through the oiled wood. To make one of these, turners hang lights behind the turntable and thin the bowl to allow for even distribution of light across the walls. It’s a good test of skill and a learning experience.

Functional bowls should have walls that are thin enough to work for the intent of the piece and thick enough to look just right. As a general rule of thumb, one eighth of an inch in thickness for every inch in diameter seems about right with a little more for six inches and under and a little less for bowls larger than sixteen inches. So an eight-inch bowl might be a quarter of an inch thick, while a six-inch bowl might be three-sixteenths, and a sixteen-inch bowl three-eighths. Most of the time, the best thing to do is not worry so much about exact measurement as about appearance.

Where the container will be used is also a consideration. Restaurants may have a certain criteria they want to follow, whereas a bowl converted for the outdoor terrace on a summer night may have inch-thick walls. The popcorn may fly, but the bowl will still be there.

Most of the time the best thing you can do is relax and make the bowl. If the lines look good and the bowl feels good, the design is probably good. Sometimes all the practice pays off and the bowl looks absolutely fabulous. The hunt makes the whole twist that bit more special.

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