A New Approach to Beautiful Bowls
Article - November 21, 2009
This is a blog post by guest author, Carole Rothman, Ph.D. She recently wrote a book called Wooden Bowls from the Scroll Saw and as you’ll see in her pictures, her work is unique and stunning! And there isn’t a lathe in sight!
I’ve always had mixed feelings about lathe-turned bowls: loved the bowls, hated the waste. When I learned that a wide variety of attractive bowls could be made from small amounts of thin wood, using the stacked-ring approach and a scroll saw, I had to give it a try. My first bowl, a simple one created from plans drawn on graph paper, convinced me of the potential of this approach. Wanting to learn more, I searched for a book to guide me. The only one I found relied heavily on the hand-held router, required many shop-made tools and jigs, and demanded extraordinary levels of skills. That was a turnoff. However, the book did make me aware that scroll saw bowls could be any shapeÃ¢â?¬â?square, oval, and multi-lobed, for example. More important, they could rival lathe-turned bowls in beauty and elegance.
I work in a community woodshop, where the scroll saw is not considered a serious tool. (Its location, by the slop sink, says it all.) Partly in protest, but mostly as a personal challenge, I decided from the outset that I would use only the scroll saw and a variety of sanders. Believing that fine woodworking needn’t be difficult, I looked for simple ways to accomplish complex tasks. My first challenge was to locate sanders for bowl interiors. A thorough search of the “turning” section of woodworking catalogs yielded the tools I needed. The second challenge was more difficult. I found no information anywhere about how to compute the cutting angle, which I knew varied with wood thickness and ring width. Fortunately, when I looked carefully at my diagrams, I realized that a standard tangent chart contained all the information I needed. (Thank goodness for high school trigonometry!) Now I could move full-speed ahead, tapping into a lifetime’s knowledge from various craftsÃ¢â?¬â?woodworking, sewing, and cake decoratingÃ¢â?¬â?to create plans for projects that could stand proudly with those turned on a lathe by “serious” woodworkers leaving mountains of wood chips on the floor.
Using common wood from the “cutoffs” bin of my local lumberyard, and small pieces of colorful exotics, I began creating bowls with gingham checks and plaids, bowls that looked like baskets, and bowls with swags and swirls. I made bowls with straight sides and bowls with curved sides. I began stacking sets of rings to create vases and other vessels. I developed new techniques as I needed them, and mustered up the confidence to obtain a contract to write the book I had looked for but hadn’t been able to find: a user-friendly guide to making truly beautiful vessels from wood, using only the scroll saw and sanders. The book would be easy enough for the novice, yet challenging enough for the more accomplished woodworker. Wooden Bowls from the Scroll Saw, published by Fox Chapel, is now a reality, and it’s exciting to see others use my instructions and patterns to make beautiful bowls. To be as helpful as possible, I regularly post hints, tips, and videos on my blog, Scroll Saw Bowls, and answer questions that come my way.
Although the book is finished, I continue to explore the limits of this approach. I’ve added a variety of laminations to my newer bowls, along with decorative center rings, and open segmentation. I’ve begun creating new shapes and edge effects, many of which could not be made on a lathe at all. I’ve started adding whimsical details: my “ribbons and bows box” reflects my background as a professional cake decorator as much as my compound cutting skills. Even as I progress, I never lose sight of my goal: to help woodworkers with ordinary skills make projects that are extraordinary.