Drying rough wood turned bowls has always been a struggle even for the most experienced wood turners. Although we all want to complete the piece as soon as it touches our tool, it’s important to have patience for it to dry. Otherwise, you may suffer the consequences for cracks, bulging and distortion. Various methods have been tested throughout the years; our goal is to go over the best of them and demystify the process as well as the technique for drying your green bowls.
Although many different wood turners have tried microwaving, soap soaking, boiling and other methods, we are of the opinion that soaking your green bowls in alcohol is definitely the way to go. This technique has been reported to work extremely well by many and has withstood the test of time for over a decade. Nothing else yields quite like it. If you are proud of your next piece and want to make sure it doesn’t crack while drying. We recommend going for the alcohol or the slow natural route if you don’t mind waiting a few months.
Alcohol Soaking Method for Drying Rough Wood Turned Bowls
Based on the size of your bowl, it is recommended to have a larger thickness of the walls. For bowls under 8″ in diameter, it is recommended to have at least 1/2″ thick walls. For bowls exceeding that dimension, it’s important to have walls of 3/4 of an inch.
Once the bowl is completed, the first step of the process is to place is in denatured alcohol for a period of at least 4 hours. Depending on the size of your bowl, you may need to extend the time. The alcohol must completely penetrate the wood. Based on tests completed by several woodworkers, no damage was caused by longer soaking periods.
Preserving the Wood
Once the bowl is completely soaked, you need to get it wrapped in heavy duty paper. A grocery bag or one of those papers they wrap meat in at the butcher will work very well. Secure the paper onto the bowl folding it all the way on the inside. Place the bowl upside down in a well ventilated place making sure that air can circulate into the cavity. Note that you should have the inside of the bowl exposed while the backside is covered in paper. This allows the inside to dry a lot faster, which in turn leads to better shape of the final product.
Types of Alcohol for Rough Bowl Drying
Many types of alcohols have been tested for bowl drying. However, due to side effects of using these products for DIY projects, it’s recommended to take extra precautions when handling the liquids and making sure to read all of the labels before using them. That being said, the most common alcohol used for drying rough wood turned bowls is denatured ethanol alcohol. It is typically much less harmful to our health and doesn’t smell as bad. Although it may be tempting to get rid of the used alcohol after a soaking, it’s perfectly fine to keep re-using the mixture. Make sure to refill what has been absorbed by the wood and evaporated into thin air.
Warning on Using Alcohol
- Do not use metal containers for storage – Most alcohol containers will come with this warning, but it isn’t always obvious. Try to store the unused liquid in the same container it came in originally.
- Cover the top of the soaking container – Alcohol evaporates quickly if left standing. Make sure to cover the container you’re using in order to prevent unneeded loss. This can be achieved with a lid or simply a plastic film.
- Do not inhale alcohol fumes – This will also be on the label, but should be repeated. Make sure you place your container in a well ventilated area and avoid breathing in the fumes.
Drying the Old Fashioned Way
If you’re not impatient and want to get your bowl dried the old fashioned way, we will go over this method as well. The idea behind this method is that you would re-utilize all of the wood obtained through the process and slow dry the bowl by leaving it outside.
Turning the Bowl and Saving the Shavings
As you work on your bowl, save all the shavings in a paper or cotton bag. Make sure that it’s not plastic as it will suffocate the bowl and prevent the moisture from escaping. When you’re finished with your bowl carving, stick it right into the bag. Make sure that some of the wood shavings are covering the bowl on all sides. This is easily achieved by lifting the bag and shaking it vigorously. When finished, simply close the bag with some tape and place it in a dry well ventilated location.
Conclusion on Drying your Bowls
Although you can easily find most of the methods we have enumerated at the beginning of this article, we have not had much luck with them. That being said, you should go out there and see what works for you. Perhaps you will discover the next best thing when it comes to drying your bowls and share it with the rest of us.