Dealing with Interlocked Grain


Trees do funny things.  This cherry was taken down a few months ago in a friend’s yard.  This section has a 4 1/2″ radius and 55 growth rings.  We tend to think of the fibers going straight up the trunk as the tree grows, but sometimes they grow in a spiral.  And sometimes the tree changes its mind and reverses the spiral for a few years, creating interlocked grain.   Some species, such as elm, normally reverse the spiral regularly throughout the tree’s life, making the wood more resistant to splitting.

You can see evidence of the interlocked grain in the above photo of the split log.  The deep furrows at upper right and lower left are areas where the fibers spiral contrary to the direction of the fibers in the rest of the log.  For some reason, from about 1977-1989, this cherry tree flipped out a bit.  Makes sense I guess; I remember my dad even had a “perm” for a while then, and I wore parachute pants.

Interlocked grain creates challenges for working the wood, especially when planing or cutting on the quartered face, or ray plane, of a piece with interlocked grain.  Grain direction in a bowl is usually pretty straightforward, but areas of this piece were a little tricky.

So how to deal with it?  I used a chunk of this same tree in my livestream demo I did on Mary May’s Twitch channel a couple weeks ago.  Afterward, I decided to finish carving the piece.  The challenges with the interlocked grain showed up mainly after drying when I was trying to cut a nice final surface.


The grain was no problem for the fluted ends, especially since that doesn’t involve cutting on the quartered face.  The photo above shows how I set up for that procedure.  The combination of the arrangement of the holdfasts and the V-notched board worked well and didn’t risk any damage to the gouge at the end of the cuts.


The two outer points of contact provide stability across the arched end and the pine allows the gouge to exit harm free.


The interlocked grain did present a challenge on the exterior and interior sidewalls.  Here on the exterior, I pared the entire sidewall surface with a wide straight carving chisel across the grain (at a slight angle) from foot to rim.  Light cuts.

Another possibility is to use a finely set block plane or spokeshave.  Pete Galbert presented a brilliant webinar on spokeshaves last week through Fine Woodworking.  You can still watch it here.


Same idea on the inside, working from rim to center with a freshly and finely sharpened gouge.  Very light cuts are key in this situation.  The underlying fibers release a wispy shaving cleanly from their hold more easily than they do a thick one.  The same idea goes for when you’re cleaning up the area in the center of any bowl since the grain direction transitions there.


So here is the finished bowl.  This design is based on a classic trough style, but the arched top adds some additional dimension.   It serves well, and particular aspects of the design make it quite accessible even for beginners.  These include the relatively shallow and open hollow, the fact that the handles aren’t deeply undercut, and the outer edge doesn’t flare back out at the handles.


One decorative touch I added to this one is the narrow band of gouge chip cuts just under the edge of the rim.  To make a canvas for them, I just carved a small flat from the corner of the rim and sidewall after all else was done.


I’ve already got a few sample bowls in this general style for me, so if you’re interested in this one, I’ll ship it to you.  It’s 14 1/4″ long, 6 1/8″ wide, and 3 1/8″ high.  Update: SOLD

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16 Responses to Dealing with Interlocked Grain

  1. Ben Strano says:

    This probably my favorite text in anything ever written about woodworking.

    “For some reason, from about 1977-1989, this cherry tree flipped out a bit. Makes sense I guess; I remember my dad even had a “perm” for a while then, and I wore parachute pants.”

    That’s a steal of a price for that bowl. You’re making it very difficult to be responsible.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. John Fielding says:

    We’d like to buy it, Dave…just sent you an email


  3. Bob Easton says:

    Gorgeous … and at a bargain price too!

    BTW, a hurricane passed through here a couple of weeks ago. It left us with a few days without power or internet and lots of downed trees. I can easily find material for hundreds of bowls, but the overwhelming majority of it is maple. Another hi-priority project means I can’t get to those potential bowls for a few months … and I don’t know how to prevent the maple from staining while it waits. Is there a way to keep it green for a while, but not stained?

    Unfortunately, no beautiful cherry.


    • Dave Fisher says:

      Yep, maple is tough to hold on to in warm weather, Bob. Of course, some people want it to stain, or spalt, to some extent. But let that go too far and you still have rotten wood. If you want to avoid staining as much as possible, you probably have a couple main options. You can process material into rough blanks, cutting to length, even going so far as flattening the bottom and shaping the top. Basically, you’re trying to get as much material gone as you can reasonably quickly to save space, because you’re then going to seal the blank in a plastic bag and put it in the freezer. How much you can save depends on the room in your freezer. Start eating! Actually, you can save a lot of spoon blanks that way — save the crooks first!
      Another option is to do all the green carving on as many pieces as you can, then you can come back to them later down the road where you will find them unstained.

      Regarding the price, that’s always a tough thing. I guess for this one it had been a demonstration piece in my mind that I just happened to finish. Shouldn’t matter I suppose, but I’m happy with the bargain. This design is also more straightforward in many ways than some of my other bowls. Those design aspects I mentioned in my post make a significant difference in time involvement compared to other designs that may seem quite similar.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. treenworks says:

    Ahh parachute pants….

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Larry Zarra says:

    Hi Dave,

    I am interested if it is still available.

    Larry (the wood turner)


    Liked by 1 person

  6. francedozois says:

    lots of interest still–


  7. Richard McCarty says:

    Dave, I love the nice edge detail on this piece… gouge chip cuts… Do you discuss any details on doing this in any of your posts…. ? Would like to give it a try…. AS ALWAYS…. Many thanks, Richard


  8. Dave Fisher says:

    Hmmm… maybe I haven’t, Richard. I’ll try to do a post about that soon, but it’s pretty straightforward. I find that a #8 sweep gouge is ideal for these “fingernail” gouge chip cuts. The first cut is just a vertical plunge cut, then the same gouge is used to make an angled cut toward the base of the plunge cut, releasing the chip. By combining these in various ways, all sorts of patterns can be created. Give it a try. I’ll see what I can do about the post.


    • Richard says:

      Excellent…. I look forward to it…. I have searched for some info on the “fingernail” cut… I see some fingernail or thumbnail gouges that offer some relief on the gouge edges – I suppose to cut deeper in the center of the vertical cut… The cuts on the bowl in this post appear to vary in size…. all done with the same width gouge…? Thanks so much for Reply….


      • Dave Fisher says:

        Yes, you can shape the cutting edge to have the corners way back so that the vertical cut is deeper in the center, but I don’t find that to be necessary. Also, if you use that same rounded-edge gouge for the back cut, it can be difficult to cut into the upper corners of the vertical cut. But it works either way.
        The cuts on this bowl are all the same, just a matter of perspective in the photograph. It was a #8 4mm gouge.
        I’ve seen these cuts called both, but “thumbnail” is more common I think.


  9. Pingback: 6 Main Disadvantages Of Padauk Wood - WoodWorkly

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