≡ Menu

Preparing Bowl Blanks with a Chainsaw

Some of us have a visual learning style. So in this section I would like to take you step by step using mostly pictures to view the process of going from a round log section to a finished bowl blank ready to mount on the lathe.

Hearing and eye protection

Hearing and eye protectors

It is always good to start with safety first. Here are my hearing protector ear muffs and safety glasses with side panels. It is too late to prevent a problem after it occurs.

Marking out the heart slab

Marking out the heart slab

Now I am marking out guide lines to remove the heart slab on this piece of the trunk of a mulberry log. Fine splits or checks are already present around the center of the heart and they will always cause a problem. However, the slab produced in removing the heart will produce very fine quarter sawn pieces when cut in half through the pith. This quarter sawn wood will not warp or cup when it dries and has many uses such as for platters or cutting boards.

Marking outside of log for sawing

Marking outside of log for sawing

Now I extend these lines from the end grain to the outside of the log. This is to be able to see the mark when cutting with the chain saw.

Placing wood to be cut on waste slabs

Placing wood to be cut on waste slabs

Please note carefully. I am placing the log to be cut on two supporting waste longs. This is so important. There is space between the bottom of the log  to be cut and the ground so that when the saw cuts through the bottom of the log it will not get into the dirt. Just the smallest amount of dirt will dull the chain and cause excessive wear. I had to learn this the hard way buy trial and error for years. I would like to offer you this short cut on that learning curve.

First cut

First cut

Here I begin to cut the log. I have read that cutting parallel to the length of the trunk produces lost of stringy shavings and these can bind up the saw. This author said it was better to cut the end grain by standing the log on end. This will produce a fine sawdust. I have tried it both ways. Sawing on end grain is slower and harder on the saw. I prefer to cut as pictured above. It does produce lots of stringy shavings but I have not found that a problem with my saw and it is ever so much easier and faster to cut this way.

Second cut

Now I am making the second cut parallel to the first. This will remove the center of the heart. Notice that I did not complete the first cut. This allows me to make the second cut with the log still intact. It is much easier this way.

Finishing the second cut

Finishing the second cut

Now I have completed my second cut and will go back and finish the first cut.

Finishing the first cut

Finishing the first cut

Here I am finishing my first cut. I have propped up the log to be cut on the waste log underneath.

Completion of both cuts

Completion of both cuts

Now the first cut is complete. This gives two halves for bowl blanks and an center slab of quarter sawn wood.

Template for layout of bowl blank

Template for layout of bowl blank

At this point I am preparing to lay out a blank to mount on the lathe. For this I  have made a set of templates of varying diameters with a hole in the exact center of the template. Then I use either a felt tip marking pen if it is a light wood such as this mulberry or chalk if it is a dark wood like walnut.

Checking (crack) in end of blank

Checking (crack) in end of blank

Note that there is a small check or crack on the heart area of the end of the log. It will be necessary to see just how deep this goes and to design your bowl so that this checked area is sawn or turned away if possible. If not, then it is better to discard this blank and use the that portion of this blank which is not checked for other purposes.

Tracing the circle

Tracing the circle

Hold the template steady with one hand and trace around the edge with the pen and mark the center as this will be important when you mount the blank on a faceplate. An off center mounting of the face plate will waste wood and give you a smaller than intended bowl.

Completed blank pattern

Completed blank pattern

Here is the completed outline to guide the rough cutting prior to mounting on the lathe and the center is clearly marked. This will allow you to center the faceplate correctly. Notice how I have positioned the template to avoid the checked area on the left side of the log.

Marking larger blank

Marking larger blank

Now I am marking the other half of the log we prepared. Note that I am using a larger template on the same sized log as the first. This side of the trunk round had no check in it so I was free to use the entire length in a bowl. So I used a 14 inch template in place of the 10 inch template used on the previous half. This means that the ends of the blank will be 14 inches but the sides will be considerably less. In a finished bowl the sides of this bowl will be much lower than the ends and result in a bowl which looks oblong. At trade shows customers are always asking how I could turn an oblong bowl on a lathe. Done properly it is eye catching.

Completed lay out of larger bowl

Completed lay out of larger bowl

Here is the completed lay out.

Trimming the blank with the chainsaw

Trimming the blank with the chainsaw

Now I am trimming the blank with the chain saw. It can be done with a large band saw but because the bottom is not flat, I find it safer to do with the chain saw.

Trimming  corners

Trimming corners

Here I am trimming the corners.

Completed bowl blank ready to mount to lathe faceplate

Completed bowl blank ready to mount to lathe faceplate

Here is the trimmed blank ready for mounting on a face plate or mounting between centers to get the proper level of the ends and sides of the bowl so that a new face can be turned for mounting the face plate.

Every bolt of wood cut from a trunk or large limb should yield two bowl blanks and a heart slab with two halves which are quarter sawn. It is easy to calculate how many and what sized bowl blanks you can get from a given length and girth of a tree trunk or large limb.

It always makes me feel good to know that I have saved wood from the trash or fireplace and turned it into something useful or beautiful or, hopefully, both. A well turned object extends the useful life of this tree for many more decades. Further, if if came from someone who lived with the tree, they are thrilled to get a finished product to remind them of the tree they lost.

Special thanks goes to Todd Smith, my number one (and only) son of toddsmithphotography.com for the photographs and the design of this website.

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Ana March 31, 2011, 11:18 pm

    Thank you so much for your stories! You share your love for wood with the world, and with the whole “go-green” movement becoming viral, it is nice to see someone who loves the earth just for the sheer beauty of it, and dedicates their life to preserving and sharing that beauty with others. You are a truly talented artist, with wood and words.

  • D. Edwards Smith April 1, 2011, 6:47 am

    Dear Anastasia:

    That was the nicest comment I have ever gotten. Thank you so much for your generous feelings and words. Some people take from life and others give. I think you are one who gives. It is my joy to share what I know and love with others. I come from the southern story telling tradition and ancestry. To me, telling a story is the easiest way to teach and learn. We remember what we relate to and what touches the heart. Fine feeling is a more elevated functioning of our being than intellect which can only discriminate.

    Sincerely yours,
    Edwards Smith

  • Ken Fisher June 28, 2012, 5:58 am

    I really appreciated seeing your series of photos and great explanation of each step in the process of cutting blanks from logs. I am a total beginner and your information was very helpful. Thanks again.

    P.S. In the one photo, I noticed you were wearing loafers- wouldn’t a pair of heavy boots be safer! Chainsaws and loafers are not a good match!!! Believe me, I know!

  • Edwards Smith June 28, 2012, 6:36 am

    Dear Ken:

    Everything is easy once you know how. There is so much wonderful wood that is free for the asking. It otherwise would go to waste. A chain saw is invaluable in reclaiming that wood. It and the band saw are the two most useful tools for a woodturner after the lathe.

    You are absolutely correct. Loafers are not good attire for using a chain saw. It only takes a second for an accident to happen. With long experience we tend to get careless. I will take your advice to heart. While we are on the subject of safety, I had to learn the hard way about chaps. These are protective devices for the legs. I cut a gash in my knee because I was not wearing them. Now I do. Hindsight is twenty/twenty vision they say. So it is good to be really safe and “prevent the danger which is not yet come.” Prevention is so much better than cure.

    Good luck with procuring wood. Send me a photo of your finished products some time. The internet is such a wonderful tool for sharing ideas.

    Sincerely,
    Edwards Smith

  • John Poole September 21, 2012, 7:46 pm

    Your feet and hands need protection too. Please wear gloves (kevlar is great) and better protection shoes. The weirdest kinds of motion can suddenly occur when using a chain saw, do not be lulled into complacency by the superb Stihl safety features.

  • steven December 23, 2012, 9:34 am

    its nice to know every body learns in ways like you did here , thank you i learn by watching , yes now i know what peace of the walnut tree i can use , i tried to sell it for my dad but know one wanted it 72″ around and over 60 ft. tall i will be busy this spring thank you aging steve

  • Edwards Smith December 23, 2012, 12:18 pm

    Dear Steven:

    It was so nice to hear from you and learn that what I have presented is of some use to you. I am very much aware that many of us are visual learners and this is why I use lots of pictures.

    Sounds like you have a real treasure in that walnut tree. You can turn lots of bowl blanks but don’t forget to rough out some 2X 2, 3 X 3 and 4X 4 lengths to dry and use for spindle turning. That way you will still be enjoying that walnut tree many years down the road. I find that swinging from bowl turning back to spindle turning keeps my perspective fresh and relieves monotony. That walnut is Nature’s treasure and she organized for you to have it all. I know you will enjoy it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me.

    Sincerely,
    Edwards Smith

  • Ken McCormack October 28, 2013, 12:10 pm

    Edwards

    Your description along with the photos were exactly what I needed to get my brain around using my chainsaw to rough cut my logs to become bowl blanks. I have seen several videos however your presentation makes tbe process easier to put into practice.
    Can’t wait to cut my first blank and turn my first bowl.

    Keep up tbe great tutorials.
    All the best,
    Ken

  • Edwards Smith October 28, 2013, 12:30 pm

    Dear Ken McCormack:

    Thank you for your generous comments. Wood is everywhere. Get your chain saw sharp and go to it.
    If I can be of more help with any specific question I would be glad to help.

    Sincerely,
    Edwards Smith

  • true religon uk April 24, 2017, 7:00 pm

    I really wanted to write down a comment in order to appreciate you for the superb techniques you are posting at this website. My long internet research has finally been compensated with professional facts and strategies to talk about with my best friends. I ‘d tell you that many of us site visitors actually are truly blessed to be in a wonderful place with so many awesome individuals with great basics. I feel very much privileged to have encountered the site and look forward to many more thrilling moments reading here. Thanks a lot once again for a lot of things.

  • ultra boost April 26, 2017, 5:54 am

    I would like to show appreciation to this writer for bailing me out of this particular predicament. Just after browsing throughout the world wide web and meeting views that were not powerful, I believed my life was well over. Living without the strategies to the problems you’ve fixed all through this website is a critical case, and the kind that could have in a wrong way affected my career if I hadn’t encountered your web page. Your actual training and kindness in touching a lot of stuff was valuable. I am not sure what I would have done if I had not encountered such a step like this. I can at this time look ahead to my future. Thank you so much for this high quality and amazing guide. I will not hesitate to recommend your web site to any individual who needs support about this issue.

  • yeezy boost April 28, 2017, 11:16 am

    I wish to express some thanks to you just for rescuing me from this trouble. As a result of scouting through the online world and coming across ideas which are not helpful, I thought my life was well over. Existing minus the solutions to the difficulties you’ve solved by way of your guideline is a crucial case, and the kind that would have in a wrong way affected my entire career if I hadn’t discovered your web page. Your own personal expertise and kindness in taking care of all things was invaluable. I’m not sure what I would’ve done if I had not come across such a subject like this. I’m able to at this time relish my future. Thanks for your time very much for the impressive and result oriented help. I won’t be reluctant to suggest the website to any individual who should have assistance about this topic.

  • true religion outlet April 28, 2017, 3:12 pm

    I not to mention my guys ended up digesting the best tips found on your web blog then quickly got a terrible feeling I had not expressed respect to you for those strategies. Most of the ladies became certainly stimulated to learn them and have now in fact been enjoying those things. Many thanks for truly being well thoughtful and also for making a decision on varieties of really good resources most people are really needing to be informed on. My very own sincere apologies for not expressing gratitude to you earlier.

  • cheap jordans April 29, 2017, 12:51 am

    I precisely wanted to say thanks all over again. I am not sure the things that I might have tried in the absence of the ways documented by you about this topic. Completely was a real distressing difficulty for me, nevertheless taking a look at the professional way you processed that made me to leap for gladness. Now i am thankful for the work and even hope you find out what a powerful job you are always undertaking instructing some other people thru your webpage. More than likely you have never met any of us.

Leave a Comment