How I go about re-carving a bowl

It’s a bit challenging re-carving a bowl. I started these in ages past by essentially winging it. Then getting to watch Dave Fisher make bowls for the past 4 years told me two things. I’ll never make bowls as nicely as Dave. And I can get them better than these were when I shelved them. If you want to see him work, Fine Woodworking recorded a lot of video of his bowl carving. I subscribed just for that and it’s worth the price. Then everything else on the site is gravy.

I didn’t shoot the whole step-by-step; but here’s some of what I did. The main area I needed to address on these bowls was the bulky over-thick bottoms and end grain. First I needed a new lengthwise centerline. I snug the bowl between two boards, then shift these around so they are parallel and touching the widest part of the bowl. Take a couple measurements, fiddle around a bit, then mark out a centerline. From there, I can follow Dave’s layout for an oval on the bottom.

I didn’t shoot a true “before” image; but you can see the new layout on the oversized, too-rectangular bottom of this butternut bowl.

The whole premise of this week-long exercise was to quickly determine if these were worth saving. So large tool, in this case a Swiss-made #5, about 35mm wide. And a heavy mallet. Big chunks coming off quickly is the goal. If I’m going to ruin things, I want to do it right away.

After roughing it out with the mallet, I switch to hand pressure to fine-tune some of the shape.

Different bowl, same area, same problem. In this case, I have a large #2 gouge, thus almost flat. I’m using it bevel-up to round over the underside of this tulip poplar bowl. You can only go so far with this tool. Once the cut begins its approach to concave instead of convex, you need to flip it over to bevel-down again. And then I use a bent gouge, with more “sweep” or curve to the blade. Usually a #5 when I’m using the Swiss tools.

Here’s a detail of that cutting action.


Here my left hand is snugged inside the bowl, and my thumb is pushing the tool down into the wood. This helps keep it in the cut as I push forward with my right hand.

The butternut bowl. I did have a “before” photo after all – before I whacked off that sapwood rim.

Now its shape is defined, and I want to go back over it to fine-tune the texture.

There’s still a few bowls left to work on, but one is for-sure gone for good:

I worked on five different bowls this week, and all of them are at the “just-about-done” stage. Soon I’ll have them for sale, along with some spoons, boxes and I don’t know what else. They can’t go back in the loft.

why did this take so long?

First it was walnut. Then Alaska yellow cedar. Now this. Maple? What’s next? What happened to oak? Nothin’ – it’s just not a suitable wood for this item. This project is another case of “why did this take so long?” – not so long to make, but so long to get around to.


I have hated this cutting board for as long as we’ve had it.


Clunky, boring – just awful. I made a small plain cutting/serving board years ago, and my wife & I both use it regularly. But it’s as simple as can be…it’s better than the one above…but…that’s not much of a yardstick.


When it’s in use, or needing cleaning, the other one is the store-bought thick piece of junk. In September I spent a couple of weeks watching Jogge Sundqvist work, and was inspired to finally rectify my displeasure with this kitchen beast. I didn’t want to copy Jogge’s cutting and serving boards verbatim – so time went by and I sort of let the notion go.

new one

Yesterday I finished up some carved panels a bit early, and had some time leftover. So I planed up this long-waiting piece of Norway maple (Acer platanoides). And carved the back of it. So when it hangs on the wall, it’s a showpiece, then when you get it down to work with it, you flip it over & chop away. It’s radially-riven stock. I usually keep some around for making applied turnings for case furniture. 

So like the spoon rack that was on the blog the other night, this is a mish-mash. 17th-century English design, on non-oak wood, for a simple cutting board. Who decorates this stuff? The English for one – here’s a particularly goofy item:

16th century trencher, Metropolitan Museum of Art

 It’s a round trencher with painted design and poetry on the “back” side…the story is these were used for small servings after meals, then the people at the table would flip them over & recite the inscriptions. They weren’t for display, when not in use they were stored in a turned lidded box.

Historical precedent or not, now we have a new cutting board at home. And I can take the other one to the dump. One more hand-made item in, one more mass-produced item out. I feel better…

new skewed



Two spoons left, along with baskets and boxes,  There’ll be more in a week or so.