How to turn a piece of firewood into a lathe: bowls and other faceplate work

Turners who want to make bowls or other faceplate work have a difficult time accessing the proper wood for turning. Most of it at any supplier will be too small, too expensive, or split in the drying process. Firewood suppliers are an excellent source and it is relatively easy to prepare it for the wood lathe.

Wood that you get for the fireplace or wood stove is rarely ideal for turning, especially after it dries. It is generally supplied in sixteen-inch lengths and is divided into quarters. Generally, half sections will be desired for faceplate work, although wood for vases can be sourced from quarters. It may be possible to obtain firewood divided into halves.

If so, a sixteen-inch-long half section will generally give an eight-inch bowl, as the first four inches of a sixteen-inch section half of an eight- or ten-inch tree will likely split and need to be cut before riding on a lathe. This resulting eight-inch long piece will only fit a twelve-inch lathe, as the diagonal is the deciding factor. Cutting the corners with a chainsaw or band saw can go a long way in turning the bowl.

Better to have firewood delivered to you in eight-foot lengths and then cut it yourself with a chainsaw. Once four inches are cut from the end to eliminate fractures, a section as long as the diameter can be cut. For example, a ten inch long log section from a ten inch diameter log. It can then be placed on a saw and the center cut to form two blank bowls. Once the corners are cut, the part can be mounted on the lathe. The downside to this, of course, is that any wood intended for the stove or fireplace will have to be cut to size, split, and dried yourself.

A good way to mount the wood on the lathe is to estimate the center of the flat side and the curved side. The flat side will face the headstock and the curve the tailstock. Once the center of the spur and the center of the tail are inserted into the wood, the piece can be adjusted for a better twist. The flat side should be ninety degrees to the lathe paths and the entire piece centered as best as possible, after which the center of the tail should be advanced to seat both centers well in the wood.

With the wood cleaning the tool holder and lathe on low speed for this unbalanced section, the outside of the bowl can be scraped off with a bowl gouge. As the bottom of the future bowl is set, a tenon can be turned to make a mandrel or it can just be turned flat. In any case, a tenon is left at the bottom and then removed from the lathe. If a tenon is not turned for a chuck, the blank can be reversed on the lathe and the future top of the bowl is flattened between the centers. The bowl can then be hollowed out between the centers leaving a center dowel that will later be removed from the lathe.

Whichever method is used to turn the bowl over, firewood is an excellent choice for obtaining bowl blanks. Provides a renewable source of local hardwoods that can be turned into crafts and art. Clippings, mistakes and waste can be burned without regrets. After all, it started out as firewood and can end the same way.

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