Back to Basics Bowls


I’ve been wanting to have some bowls to keep around as examples of forms that are aesthetically pleasing, yet more straightforward in execution than other bowls I make.  One consideration is size.  These bowls range from 14-18 inches long, 7-9 inches wide, and 3-4 inches high.  That size and proportion is ideal for starting out with an axe and an adze.

From left to right, these bowls were carved from tulip poplar, red maple, and sassafras.  Through a few other photos, I’ll share some thoughts on some of the design elements.  And the paint is just an option you could easily forego, but I had fun with it.  That’s just one example of the endless variations possible.



Using a relatively soft hardwood encourages bold, yet crisply cut surfaces.  The hollow was finished with paring cuts with a sharp bent gouge.

The open pores of sassafras aren’t ideal for a bowl used with liquids, but it would serve well as a fruit or bread bowl.


The shape of the exterior tapering down to the narrow handles makes for relatively simple axe work.  Decisive cuts with a gouge refine the surface and leave a distinct ridge flowing from the points at the end of the foot through the ends of the handles.  Very few tools are needed; Even the leaf design on the foot was carved with just a knife.


The sides of this blue bowl flow to the corners of the handles without flaring back out in an s-curve, and the end walls slope simply in a slightly convex curve mirroring the interior hollow.  A lip under the handles adds a little more challenge.  If the handles were extended the form of the end walls could be adjusted, resulting in a shallower slope, easier to cut.

The surface was painted with artists oils, a base coat of brighter blue, followed by a much thinner coat of very dark blue which was rubbed back.



The form of the yellow bowl is a bit more complex.  The end walls are s curves from foot to handle and scooped out beneath the curved handles, but still not as dramatically as they are in other designs.  The exterior surface is fluted, but in this case they are carved relatively loosely and freely with the gouge.  Again, painted with artists oils.


The necklace around the rim really catches light and shadow.  It’s made up of smaller chip cuts from a knife, rather than the more demanding design I’ve done many times, most recently on this just-finished walnut bowl:


It makes a lot of sense to start with a relatively simple design and strive to execute it well.  Even if you’re beyond starting out, there’s plenty of challenge, beauty, and joy to be found in these forms.

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19 Responses to Back to Basics Bowls

  1. nrhiller says:

    Always inspiring and a treat for my eyes.


  2. Gene Felder says:

    Always enjoy reviewing the basics…I often go back to your video on Fine Woodworking. Hope you are well and have a happy and healthy holiday and new year.


  3. hiscarpentry says:

    The blue bowl is so striking. I love how the gouged texture really accentuates the depth of the two shades of blue.


  4. hiscarpentry says:

    I really can’t stop staring at that bowl!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. John Fielding says:

    Great that you emphasize the elegance of these basic forms, Dave. And, interesting how your use of colors highlights the natural character of the wood. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Robert Sherlock says:

    blockquote, div.yahoo_quoted { margin-left: 0 !important; border-left:1px #715FFA solid !important; padding-left:1ex !important; background-color:white !important; } I tried carving a bowl from a eucalyptus log came out awful.  Actually it would be more accurate saying it was a disaster.  Do you carve your projects from green wood, while it’s the wood is still soft?

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPad


    • Dave Fisher says:

      Yes, I carve all of the bulk while the wood is still green, then do the final shaping and surfacing after it’s dry. I’ve never carved eucalyptus. Give it another try with a different wood species.


  7. JReed says:

    They are beautiful David, the blue bowl is extremely striking! Did you create the chamfer around the top edge after you did the paint work?


  8. John Breiby says:

    Dave, I just discovered your most excellent blog and YouTube videos. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen bowls more nicely designed or carved before. I’ve been carving for several years, but not nearly as accomplished as you, and so far haven’t been able to get a decent adze, so the few bowls I’ve made have been via axe and chisels. A question for you, please. I live in South-central Alaska where our only decent carving wood is birch, which I enjoy working on very much. But I hate to cut down a tree just for a bowl or two, so wait until I’m getting in firewood, then usually only have time to do a piece or two before it begins to dry out. How do you store your wood so it stays green, without drying, spalting or checking. I’ve tried keeping some smaller pieces for spoons in our freezer, but think my wife might be a bit miffed if I were to store large chunks of wood in there. Thanks in advance for your help! John
    PS: I tried to post this a while ago, but for some reason my wifi was off, then, when that was fixed, it went for a long time saying “posting.” Hope it goes this time.


    • Dave Fisher says:

      Thanks, John. This time of year, you probably don’t need to worry about spalting, as you have a natural giant outdoor freezer. If you keep the birch logs whole with the bark intact, you can paint the ends and retain the moisture in the log. Alternatively, you can keep pieces in garbage bags. I’ve wrtitten more about greenwood storage in this post

      Best wishes for your carving.


      • John Breiby says:

        Thank you for the suggestions, Dave. They’re good! I’m pretty sure you do a whole lot more carving than I’ve been able to do lately, so rather than waste a whole tree for a couple of blanks, i’ll probably beg a round or two off of friends.


  9. onerubbersoul says:

    Great examples to draw inspiration from, Dave. Even the bottoms can’t escape your creative touch. I love the Yin and Yan leaves on the sassafras bowl.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Jim Kirchoff says:

    I always enjoy seeing your work and reading your posts. Thanks Dave and a great 2019 to you!

    Liked by 1 person

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