Large Bowls

One unique aspect of this craft is that almost any kind of wood can be used. In northern Sweden, bowls are commonly carved from conifers and also aspen. Most of my bowls have been hewed from tulip poplar, one of the softer deciduous trees, that happens to be the dominant species in our woods. Tulip poplar is easy to work: its fine-textured grain takes details nicely. The sapwood has an ivory color. Freshly cut, the heartwood is usually greenish, but with time it turns to a tawny brown. I've also carved bowls from black walnut, ash, birch, butternut, and catalpa. 
In general, soft woods are easier to carve, but the wood itself may not be particularly attractive. Some conifers can impart a smell or taste, a consideration if the bowl is used for serving food. Wood from the harder deciduous species can also be used. The main difference is that the physical work of carving a bowl from hardwood is more difficult, but the results may be worth the effort. 
My bowls are usually carved from wood with a high moisture content. Hewing green wood is easier than working dry stock. Older logs often develop endgrain checks, the result of tangential shrinkage during drying. On the other hand, care must be taken with green material to prevent checking during the drying process. This is generally done by following these guidelines:
1) Never incorporate the pith into a bowl. This first year's growth is punky material, and it inevitably leads to radial checking. Position the bowl a good 1/2" from the pith.
2) Dry the finished bowl slowly. Traditional bowl carvers controlled drying by burying their finished bowls in a pile of wood shavings. You can get better control by storing the newly-made bowl in a plastic bag, taking it out to air for awhile once a day. The surface of the bowl dries out quickly. Turn the bag inside-out. (It will be very wet.) When the bowl is put back into the dry bag, moisture from within the wood wicks outward towards the dry surface. Repeat this procedure until the inner bag no longer accumulates appreciable moisture. At this point, you should be beyond the danger point.
3) If you make the walls and bottom relatively thin, the bowl can warp as it dries. When the wood warps, there won't be stress leading to checking.
After the wood dries, most of these bowls get an oil finish. In Sweden, linseed oil is traditional. For several years I've been using food-grade walnut oil, which can usually be purchased in health food stores. Walnut oil is colorless, it doesn't become rancid, and it gradually hardens.
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Drew Langsner
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