Woodworker's Central
Woodworker's Gazette
Gazette Archive 4/28/02

A Book Review by Dave Beach

Title: Turning Bowls

Richard Raffan

Published by: Taunton Press

P.O. Box 5506
Newtown, CT 06470-5506
ISBN 1561585084
Price Softcover: $24.95
192 color pages

I was anxious to receive Turning Bowls since I had heard many good references to it in the past from fellow wood workers. I can say honestly that I was not disappointed. To begin, the quality of this book - the full color photos, detailed sketches and well written text - really stand out from other turning books I have read. While I have not turned bowls myself, I have always had an interest in this type of work and the artistic aspects of a well turned bowl or plate.

I found this book to be very easy reading - well written with lots of personal anecdotes to keep it interesting. One of the most interesting aspects was the large number of pictures showing bowls which had been sawed in half to show the correct cross section and wall thickness - it was a lot of work creating all these pieces and it really helps illustrate the points Raffan makes.

The first chapter deals with the general aspects of bowl turning - what makes a good bowl, some artistic viewpoints, and some basic tool handling background. From there, the book moves into sections on lathe and tool selection, proper tool sharpening and preparation. The section on the preparation and seasoning of blanks was very interesting. Raffan goes into a lot of detail about the different ways a blank can be cut from a log to produce different effects in the grain of the finished bowl.

Moving on in the process, the next chapter discusses different methods of mounting the blank to the lathe - including the screw chuck and faceplate. The use of chucks was described very briefly in this section - additional information is presented throughout the book . (It seems that there is a lot of attention to the various lathe chuck systems and accessories - I thought Raffan should have spent more time with this topic.) With the blank mounted, the methods and techniques used to rough turn the exterior profile of the bowl are discussed - this includes some very good detailed descriptions of gouge use and tool presentation. Also discussed are methods of dealing with defects such as cracks and bark sections.

The next chapter discusses rough hollowing in detail. This process begins with remounting the bowl in the opposite direction, cleaning up the rim, and then following one of several procedures listed to obtain the rough inside profile. The most simple approach Raffan describes is the use of the gouge and multiple cuts to create the interior hollow. A discussion of bowl coring systems (to yield multiple bowl blanks from the same chunk of wood - like stacking Russian dolls - where the bowls keep getting smaller). Two particular systems - the Stewart Slicer and the McNaughton Bowl Saver are discussed in detail.

The next three chapters discuss the final shaping of the bowl - presumably after the rough bowl has seasoned for a period of time and dried out. Since the bowls may warp during the drying process, several methods for remounting them are discussed. Different methods are described to complete the interior and exterior profiles - methods of dealing with cracks and voids are again discussed. A lot of emphasis is placed on the artistic qualities of the profile and the wall thickness. The base of the bowl is completed in the last section - with a discussion of various base profiles and different mounting methods. Jam and vacuum chucks are described in some detail along with the use of the expanding jaw chuck and accessories.

The final two chapters discuss the aspects of sanding and finishing the bowls - along with the addition of surface decoration. Hand, power and rotary sanding are discussed with details on when the different methods are most appropriate. The use of oil and wax finishes is discussed - with little mention of alternatives. The surface decoration section includes a discussion of beads, grooves and natural rimmed bowls. Good presentations of bead cutting and rim profiles are included.

The final section of the book is directed toward the artistic qualities of a well executed bowl and the marketplace. This includes a lot of good photos of cross sectioned bowls and a discussion of the profiles and wall thicknesses. Tips for marketing and selling your turnings are also discussed - including an interesting formula to price your bowls based on their dimensions (which Raffan explains should relate directly to the amount of time required to turn them). In all, I found this book to be enjoyable and very informative. I would recommend it to anyone interested in learning the techniques of bowl turning - or even people interested in the artistic qualities of a well turned piece of wood.

Dave Beach

Editor's Note: The Taunton Press has graciously donated several books for review which are passed on to our members free of charge in exchange for thoughtful, honest reviews. Here is the link to their page on this book. And you can usually find their titles at a discount from Barnes And Noble

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