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Sub Zero Temps, a Warm Shop, and Turning New Aspen Burl Bowls - Life is Good

I love winter on the north shore of Lake Superior. My shop is warm and full of the smells of fresh turned wood. Winter in northern Minnesota is long, snowy, and cold but the clear crisp nights are energizing. It is a time to hunker down and a time to slowly get caught up with my wood turning. I am focusing on aspen burl right now. Aspen burl bowls are my favorite. The wood has amazing grain figuring, is difficult to turn and sand, and is very rare. I love the challenge to turn these rare burls and this year I have been lucky to get a good supply. This post will feature three new aspen burl bowls, the first in 2024. The following images show three trimmed aspen burls.

Each of these was turned with the goal of producing bowls that have interesting shapes, jagged bark edges, and great grain figuring. I generally study a burl for several days before trimming it for the lathe. The burls above have been trimmed and I unfortunately do not have photos of the original burls. You can probably see my turning plan for each of these burls. The next three galleries show the finished (turned, dried, sanded, oiled) three bowls made from the burls shown above. See if you can match the finished bowls with the trimmed burls.

gallery 1 (bowl dimensions: 9- 11" diameter at top, 2" height, 3/16" wall thickness)

gallery 2 (bowl dimensions: 11-12" diameter at top, 3.25" height, 3/16" wall thickness)

gallery 3 (bowl dimensions: 6.75" diameter at top, 4.75" height, 3/16" wall thickness)

If you are having difficulty deciding, look at these bowls in my store for the answers!

Turning these bowls takes a lot of time due to fragile bark, many soft areas, and grain separation. All required frequent application of thin cyanoacrylate and dark wood dust to soft and unstable areas during turning and again during sanding. The bowls look quite boring until applying the pure tung oil when the colors, chatoyance, and swirling patterns really pop. I love the process of planning, trimming, and attaching the burl to the lathe with a faceplate. Once that is done, the turning plan is mostly locked in, but of course there are often surprises that require changes to the visualized shapes. I focus a lot of attention on the natural edge and keeping the bark in tact. This requires a very steady hand and very sharp tools that are shaped to cut cleanly and slowly. Most of all, extreme patience is needed so I often take two days to turn each bowl. Of course, I am old and get tired so turning one bowl in two days works well for me. A good time to stop is just after turning the outer profile is completed. I store the half turned bowl on the lathe, sealed in a plastic bag to minimize drying and warping.


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