There are numerous extant turned Medieval wood bowls in museum collections in Europe. The best preserved examples are at the Mary Rose museum in Portsmouth, England. The museum’s web page includes a “virtual museum” which features 3d views of several artifacts recovered from the shipwreck, one of which is a turned wood bowl.
Many more examples are shown in photos in The Wooden Bowl by Robin Wood (p. 75-79) dating from the 13th through the 16th centuries. The style varies very little between European locations and dates within this time period; typically 6-8” in diameter and ¼” - ⅜” thick, including an integral formed base, and showing visible tool marks.
Spring Pole Lathe - The lathe was my entry in the 2019 Tri Baronial A&S competition. The design was based on period illustrations of foot pedal lathes from the 14th to 16th centuries. It was entirely hand made without power tools.
Steel gouges and chisels. Modern, but essentially unchanged in form from their medieval counterparts.
Hand Axe - Used for splitting the log, removing bark, and for evening up the cut face.
Hand Saw - Used instead of an axe for the majority of the bowl blank prep; still a period tool, but far easier on my wrist.
Drill press. Used only for making the hole that mounts the mandrel to the bowl blank. My hand drill broke early during Covid and I had trouble replacing it. The only power tool used in the project.
Green wood logs. A local arborist gives away their cut logs, and I've been lucky to find some nice wood - a birch log and an aspen log were the best ones for turning. I tried a cottonwood log, but wasn't happy with the results. It didn't turn easily, it cracked often, and it smelled bad.
(See attached documentation for photos of the steps.)
Start with a half a split log with length and diameter approximately the same.
Scribe a circle on the flat face and 45 degree corners.
Saw off corners to make an octagon.
Saw off bark face ends at an angle to start shaping into a bowl blank.
Saw and chisel edges between cuts to smooth into a rough hemisphere shape.
Drill 1” hole into center of flat face and hammer mandrel into hole.
Mount bowl with mandrel on lathe as centered as possible.
Starting with largest gouge, spin lathe and remove wood until bowl blank is balanced.
Switch to smaller gouge and roughly shape the bowl exterior.
Move to flat face and start to remove wood to create the interior of the bowl.
This part will take many, many passes. (It’s the fun part.)
When sides of bowl are almost thin enough, return to exterior and do final passes for shaping sides and bottom of bowl.
Return to the interior and do final passes on inside of bowl and tapering of center.
When sides are thin enough, desired shape is reached and center is as thin as you can get it, remove from lathe.
Break out center across the grain.
With chisel, remove stub from bottom of bowl.
With gouge, smooth inside of bowl where center was broken off.
Dry bowl slowly in a paper bag full of wood shaving for approximately 1 month to prevent cracking.
(1) The Wooden Bowl by Robin Wood, published 2005 by Stobart Davies, Ltd, Pontyclerc, Penybanc Road, Ammanford, Carmarthenshire, UK
(2) The Mary Rose Virtual Museum web page, 3D artefacts, https://maryrose.org/3d-artefacts/
Extant beech wood bowl, identified as being turned on a spring pole lathe, 1545. One of over 60 similar bowls recovered from the wreckage in the 1980s.