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Turning a Madrone Burl Bowl

by Dale Larson

How to turn a madrone bowl like this one.This 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, I’ve 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 it.

Cut the Wood

Burl with a sawn bowl blank and a chain saw.
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!"

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.

Rough Turning
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 grain woods.

Go to: Turning a Madrone Burl Bowl - Part 2