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Build It | How to Make a Lathe Turned Bowl

Ask This Old House general contractor Tom Silva teaches host Kevin O’Connor the basics of using a lathe and then they turn a bowl together.

Steps for making a lathe turned bowl:

  1. Before getting started, Tom recommends wearing a certain level of PPE to prevent any wood chips from getting in your eyes or in your clothes. A face shield and an apron or a fully zipped vest should be worn while using a lathe.
  2. Determine the rough center on both ends of the material being turned and mark it with a pencil.
  3. Remove the spur from the lathe and replace it with a face plate.
  4. Screw the face plate to the material roughly in the center.
  5. Place the face plate back into the lathe and adjust the tail stop so that it holds the other end of the material. Be certain to lock the tail stop in place once it’s properly adjusted.
  6. Adjust the banjo so that the tool rest falls just slightly past the material being turned. This will ensure that the tool doesn’t slip off the rest during turning.
  7. Power on the lathe and slowly bring the speed up. Keep an eye on the material to make sure it’s properly centered on the face plate and the tail stop and will safely spin at a higher speed.
  8. Bring the lathe up to a higher speed to begin turning. The faster it spins, the easier turning will be.
  9. Place the bowl gauge against the tool rest on the banjo and gently ease it into the material. Slide the gauge along the tool rest until it reaches the edge of the material.
  10. Repeat this process until the bowl takes its shape. This will require making some adjustments to the banjo as more material is removed. Be sure to turn off the lathe whenever the banjo needs adjusting.
  11. At the bottom of the bowl closest to the tail stop, switch to a parting tool and form a tenon.
  12. While the lathe is still spinning, sand the bowl using 100, 150, and 240 grit sandpaper. Simply hold the sandpaper against the bowl and let the lathe do the work.
  13. Clean off any sawdust on the bowl. Then, apply Danish oil to the outside of the bowl using the lathe and a rag.
  14. Remove the tail stop from the bowl.
  15. Secure the jaws that come with the lathe over the tenon formed in step 11. It comes with a screw and a special wrench to ensure it can be tightly secured.
  16. Remove the bowl from the face plate, flip the bowl around, and secure the jaws into the lathe instead.
  17. Power the lathe back on and carve out the inside of the bowl using the bowl gauge and the same techniques on the tool rest.
  18. Once the inside of the bowl has been turned, sand the inside using 100, 150, and 240 grit sandpaper.
  19. Clean off any sawdust in the bowl. Then, apply a wipe-on polyurethane to the inside of the bowl with a rag. Let the polyurethane completely dry.
  20. To remove the tenon at the bottom of the bowl, place a roll of duct tape and a rag on the inside of the bowl to protect it. Push the bowl from the opposite side back onto the jaws.
  21. Adjust the tail stop to press against the tenon of the bowl.
  22. Turn the lathe back on. Using the bowl gauge, cut down the tenon as much as possible while still being careful to not loosen it from the lathe.
  23. Once the tenon is a manageable size, remove the bowl from the lathe and hammer off the rest of the tenon with a hammer and chisel.
  24. Finish the bottom of the bowl with a little bit of sanding and Danish oil.
  25. Apply a beeswax coating to the entire bowl with a rag.

Spring 2021, Around the House, Tom Silva turning a lathe to make a wooden bowl
Spring 2021, Around the House, wooden bowl

Tom Silva’s Woodshop Wares

“Woodworking is mesmerizing,” says TOH’s general contractor, who got his wood-turning start in high-school shop class and now hones his craft off-hours working his 1995 Delta long-bed lathe. Turning wood is less about heavy lifting, Tom says, and more about “body motion and how you hold the tool—and having the time, patience, and a real sharp tool.” He may think of this precision craft as “play,” but the outcome is pure art. Consider the bowl (inset) he recently made using a cherry burl, colored epoxy, clear poly, and beeswax as a gift for Kevin O’Connor. The result is always a surprise in some ways, Tom says, adding, “I’m just having fun.”


Tom used a REVO 12|16 110V lathe, which is manufactured by Laguna Tools. The tools Tom used to actually turn the bowl can be found at any specialty woodworking store.

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