Woodturning Project … How To Finish Wood Bowl Bottoms

How To Finish
Woodturned Bowl Bottoms

Ok, maybe I got the title of this article wrong. It should be “how I finished the bottoms of some of my first bowls“!

In fact it isn’t so much about how I finished some woodturned bowl bottoms, but “that” I finished some bowl bottoms.

To be honest when I first started turning bowls, I started turning bowls. I made one, it was almost done and then I made another one… that was my MO. I did that for quite a while. I simply did not know how to finish the bottom of a bowl. I could mount a hunk of wood to a faceplate. Then I could mount a wood blank to a wood scroll…. but finish the bottom…. I needed some help. So, I collected a few bowls that were almost finished… just not the bottoms ๐Ÿ™‚

I had some of my first wood turned bowls with recesses, tenons, and faceplate mounts. I turned the wood bowls and then really didn’t know how to finish the bottom of a wood bowl correctly. So, I finished as much as I could and set the bowls aside. I didn’t think they were worth much anyway.

After a few people said,”hey that bowl looks really cool…I’ll take it”, I decided to see what I could do for finishing the woodbowl bottoms, I thought some might make decent gifts, some might stay in the house….one or two, might hold small parts in the shop ๐Ÿ™‚

Finishing Wood bowl bottoms when turning wood bowls on a lathe
Here you’ll see various wood bowl bottoms that need to be finished, recess, tenon and faceplate mounts.

Wood Bowl Bottoms and Finishes

The finishes on the bowls and cups varied from OB Shine Juice, Shellac, Deft Glossy Lacquer, Epoxy, Sanding Sealer and Salad Bowl Finsh by General. I kept all finishes the same except for OB Shine Juice. I applied Salad Bowl Finish over the OB shine juice and so far it seems to be a fine match. It has hardened (cured) correctly. I thought I heard Cap’n Eddie say that you can apply just about anything of OB Shine Juice or just leave it. I was looking for a little more of a shine so I tried the Salad Bowl Finish.

Finishing a Wood Bowl Bottom With A Recess

A recess is used when you have a wood scroll chuck. A small 2″ or so hole is drilled our gouged out in the center of the wood you want to turn and the jaws of the scroll chuck expand to hold to hold the soon to be new bowl.

When it comes to a recess, some wood turners will completely remove the recess, making the bottom of the bowl slightly concave. That looks great but you end up loosing 1/8″ to 3/8″ off

woodturning a recess in a woodbowl for wood scroll chuck
Recess in wood bowl bottom for scroll chuck

the bottom of the bowl, depending how deep your recess is. Some wood turners will just leave the recess, sanding the bottom of the recess and rounding off the edge. Then sometimes, they will then sign and date the bowl. This works pretty good if the recess is fairly shallow. In my opinion it looks a little funky if the recess is deep. Still, the wood turning purist will not accept this type recess finish for a bowl bottom.

finishing wood bowl bottom when using recess for Nova Scroll chuck
How to finish a wood bowl bottom when using a recess for the scroll chuck

An easy way to finish a wood bowl recess is to ease the sharp edges of the recess toward the outside of the bowl. That is, cut out the 90 degree edge of the recess and blend it into the bottom of the bowl.ย  So, in essence, you have a large dimple or concave shaped center. You might then have a center mark from the tailstock to deal with (fill with CA and sawdust). Again in my opinion, this type of finish looks the best and looks like theย  bottom center of the bowl shape was intentional!

Finishing a Wood Bowl Bottom With A Tenon

The tenon is easily removed when using the tailstock to push the bowl up against a jam block, or jam chuck, which is basically a hunk of wood with some cushion on it. Turn the bowl at slow speed and cut the tenon off,

How to finish a wood bowl with a tenon on bottom
Woodturning a wood bowl with a tenon on the bottom

reposition the tailstock and then scrap the bottom center of the bowl to make it flat. Actually, you’d be better making the center slightly concave. Sand, sign and use your favorite finish. I like to take the thinnest parting tool I have and put a ring or two on the bottom of the wood bowl. I’ve found this to be one of the easiest and cleanest ways to finish a wood bowl bottom.

used a tenon for the nova chuck to turn this bowl
Finishing wood bowl bottom that had a tenon for the scroll chuck

Finishing a Wood Bowl Bottom
Attached To A Faceplate

In the beginning, when woodturning a bowl,ย  I always had a hard time figuring out which end was going to be the top of the bowl and which end would be the bottom of the bowl

My first wood bowl woodturning projects started with a couple of bowls that I started to turn with the wood blank (wood I was turning) screwed directly to the wood lathe faceplate. Usually the face that is screwed to the faceplate will be the top of the bowl and consequently, the screw holes would be removed when you gouge out the bowl. So the correct way to use a faceplate, when turning a wood bowl,ย  would be turn a recess or tenon for the scroll chuck on the end opposite of the faceplate. The end that the tenon or recess is on would then be the bottom of the bowl.ย  But what if you didn’t have a wood lathe scroll chuck? ************ Then get a couple of good woodturnig faceplates and make those work until you can invest in a good scroll chuck like the Nova Wood Scroll chuck

Had A Faceplate But Not a Scroll Chuck

Well, I didn’t have a scroll chuck. I thought I would just deal with the screw holes. I should have used a glue block after getting one side/end straight and flipped it around so the screw holes were not on top of the bowl. The glue block end would be the bottom. Plenty of youtube videos on how to deal with a glue block.

The easiest way to turn a wood bowl is to attach a faceplate, turn the opposite end as the top of the bowl and the end that the faceplace would be the bottom of the bowl. You can finish everything, the bowl bottom would end up with flat with screw holes. Of course you could take the faceplate off and use a jam chuck method to clean up the bottom. If not, just sand the bottom and apply finish.ย  This method is a little rough but if you are just getting started, you can turn your first bowl without a bunch of hoops to crawl through and you will have your wood firmly attached to the lathe. Something I think most new woodturners freak out over. Nothing scarier than a hunk of wood rotating at 600 rpms and the lathe walking across the floor ๐Ÿ™‚

How to finish a wood bowl bottom when using a faceplate and screws.
Finishing the wood bowl bottom when using a faceplate with screws.


But….I just left the faceplate attached and had some nasty screw holes on the bottom of my bowl. It was actually a pretty nice bowl except for the bottom. I could have filled all the holes and sanded them down. The screwholes would show if I filled them so I just left them and scraped the bottom level, then put a concave scrape so the center was up and out of the way. I filled the hole from the tailstock, then applied the finish. Added a couple of rings that detracted somewhat from the screwholes. Nice bowl for a realative ๐Ÿ™‚

Woodturners have been turning bowls for a long time before the advent of Wood Scroll Chucks. Having a scroll chuck is a really nice tool and makes turning really easy in my opinion. However, it wouldn’t hurt to learn how to use a glue block and faceplate. It really isn’t tgat difficult, just a few more steps!

No Wood Turning ….Gets Me Mad!!!

No Wood Turning ….
Gets Me Mad!!!

I don’t know about you, if you turn wood or consider yourself as a woodturner, do you …do you just want to go out and start turning bowls, tool handles, candle sticks, lamps, baseball bats or under the seat “personal protection device”? And if a day goes by and you’re not turning wood…..Do you get angry at yourself for not getting into the shop???

Woodturning Passion?

I do. That is, I get mad if I miss a day of doing some woodturning. I guess it’s my addictive, compulsive personality. When I fall in love with something, I want it all the time. Probably a bad character trait, but maybe it’s the difinition of “passion”!

I’ve become addicted to the hobby of woodturning. I guess you could say I’m addicted to turning wood. I was a little apprehensive at first, you need a lathe, lathe accessories and some turning tools and off you go. Putting everything together took some time and I purchased probably some of the cheapest stuff out there, harbor freight lathe, harbor freight woodturning gouges and a lot of DIY type tools. Not the best but my setup could turn a branch or log and I made a wood bowl!

I was addicted after that first bowl!

Somebody said, “that new woodturners are always so impatient“. That was me. I tried and tried to make my projects look like a piece of art, or just a nice looking bowl. But most didn’t turn out. I watched videos on new tools, new woodturning techniques and I practiced…. and I practiced.

I’m a better woodturner
after I’ve practiced.

But I still need more practice, I love learning new wood turning techniques. I love making your own tools. And I now really enjoy trying out real, professional or high quality wood turning tools like the new Sorby 1/2″ Bowl Gouge.

I was like a kid at Christmas, I just couldn’t wait to try that Sorby Bowl Gouge and when I as I used it, I was just as excited. I also picked up a quart of Food Safe Salad Bowl Finish by General from the new Woodcraft store in Buffalo Grove, IL …..can’t wait to try that out. I have a couple of blanks ready to finish so maybe I’ll be able to finish with my new bowl gouge and try the Salad Bowl Finish …..will keep you posted on how that goes.

general food safe salad bowl finish
Food Safe Salad Bowl Finish By General

I tell you all this because I wanted to share the fact that I really try not to let a day go by without doing some woodturning. Sometimes a week will go by because I’m to sick to go out, but …..I watch videos or read about woodturning.

And….. a whole day has gone by, it’s too late to do anything except to type a few words, to diclose the fact that I did not turn anything today and I was really “disappointed or upset” that I didn’t get to lathe today!

Another Day Gone….No Woodturning!

I actually wrote this yesterday and sadly another day has gone by without any turning due to a bad reaction to some new medicine I was taking …..sometimes, life just sucks! I literally thought I was gonna die, started shaking, hard time breathing, hallucinations, couldn’t walk ….should have woke up my wife but it was 3 am and I wrote her a note in case I didn’t make it through the night. But I did …that’s my life, hope you don’t mind me sharing the good and bad of it ….along with some good woodturning tricks, tips and thoughts!

As they say, there’s always tomorrow (sometimes) ๐Ÿ™‚ But I was pretty scared last night so I share this word of God with you Psalm 103:15As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.” The older I get the more inevitable it is that life is really short. God says our life is like the grass and flowers of the field, here for a couple of days, weeks….beautiful and healthy and then gone. So are we. Question you need to ask yourself is are you ready?

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Food Safe Wood Bowl Salad Bowl Finish by General for Woodturning Projects

Food Safe Wood Bowl
Salad Bowl Finish by General

If I’ve seen this addressed once, I’ve seen it commented on at least a hundred times, that is, “What is a food safe finish for wood bowls?”

I could make this article 10,000 words or more but I just want to comment on one finish I recently ran across called “Salad Bowl Finish” by General and you can get it at Rockler http://shrsl.com/k8bm for the best price ….around $18 for a quart, it’s $28 on Amazon and more at other online stores. If you go to the General website there is a store locator that might help you find the product locally. Click on General Finishesย  and you’ll find more specs regarding the food safe salad bowl finish.


general food safe salad bowl finishCreate a beautiful and safe finish on wooden bowls, cups, spoons, and countertops. Easy to apply – just wipe on with a soft clean rag. Achieves the sheen and resistance of a varnish. Dried film is non-toxic for food contact 72 hours after drying. Additional coats can be reapplied at any time if maintenance of item becomes necessary. Right from the label!


When I first started turning I discovered many turners talking about their work being for display only because of the finishes. I thought that was ashame, why couldn’t you use the beautiful wood bowl that you turned to display your evening’s dinner?

I purchased some butcher’s block finishes and they seemed to work out for salad bowls. But in reality I believe they were mostly mineral oil and some also contained beeswax. These finishes did not last too long but were functional and I felt safe using them with food.

If you’re making wood cups, you’ll want to find metal inserts ….wood simply won’t hold liquid very well. I even thought soup bowls would be cool, but finding a finish that won’t kill you eventually has been a challenge!

(Time out….had a couple of fishing lines out, gotta check em)

OK …I’m back.

So….why can’t I use polyurethane, shellac, CA or OB shine juice for a food safe finish?

I’m not sure you can’t!

Now this isn’t legal advice and I think that’s the whole issue with food safe finishes. It’s called cover your butt. No one wants to say use our finish for food vessels because it isn’t FDA approved.

Cap’n Eddie on
Food Safe Wood Turning Finishes

I think it was Cap’n Eddie who gave the best advice. He was commenting on “food safe finishes” and to sum it up basically he said that almost all finishes are food safe once they are cured. That is once the chemical process of the finish has completed and VOL’s are no longer being gassed off the finish is safe to use for food.

Now, I’m not telling you to use these finishes for food vessels but logically it makes sense. I would recommend that you use Salad Bowl Finish by General for all your wood salad bowls.

Cap’n Eddie said to use common sense, you’re not gonna want to use the wood bowl finished in lacquer to eat your spaghetti, think about it, your fork scrapes the bottom of the finish and you get a 1/2 teaspoon of lacquer by the time your done. Wood has its limitations!

Watch the Salad Bowl Finish being applied!

Salad Bowl Finish Comments

Here’s a few comments on Salad Bowl Finish from General

Comments from Rockler.com

Makes Excellent Finish
I have used this on 5 salad bowls and every one loves the finish.
I apply while the bowl is on the lathe spinning at a very low speed and leave is spinning until finish sets.
this avoids runs. I usually use 3 to 5 light coats.

I have been overjoyed with this product, not only did I refinish the cutting boards I also refinished all wood type cooking utensils.

salad bowl finish
This finish is great to use. Cures to a hard surface and food safe. Brings out the beautiful grain in the material. Great finish.

Salad bowl finish
I used this product to seal and protect an end grain cutting board I made. I love this product and recommend it to anyone making cutting boards.

Ease to use
I’ve used this and it goes on like pure Tung oil, let it soak in and it hardens. Then you can sand it to smooth urethane like finish. If you read the MSDS sheets for this and their Toy finish they have the exact same things in the exact same proportions so I’m not sure what why they are labeled differently but they should both be “safe” for mouth exposure.

I like this finish.
I like this finish I put it on most of my bowls I turn. I do light coats with soft cloth for me works the best. I lightly sand with 4×0 steel wool and most of the time I buff final coat with a buffing system to a very nice high gloss.

Great finish
I use this for all my cutting boards that I make….a go to finish.

Finesse is success!!
The product is awesome for finishing end grain butcher blocks of all varieties of wood. I tried several different salad bowl finishes this hands down the best for my uncontrolled climate in Fl. The experience with Rockler has been to say Good is soft spoken they are pro’s from on spot packing to immediate shipping –I am a customer for life and have used them for several years now –Hats off to all the employees and staff–Thank you!!!

General Finish Salad Bowl Finish
Great product! Easy to use and exceptional finish. It is all I use now for my bowls.

Great product
I use this on my salad bowl turnings, it dries fast and lasts
Salad Bowl Finish by General

Salad bowl finish
I have used this finish for at least 25 yrs. and have always been very satisfied with it. Have discovered that by using a piece of cloth to apply it, have had no problems with runs.

It looks great and came out with a very smooth finish.

Salad Bowl FinishSalad Bowl Finish from General






Good stuff
I having been using General Finishes Salad bowl finish for a couple years now. Most of my bowls are pine. I wet sand the first coat with 320 grit to cover any lingering blemishes, then fine sand prior to another two or three coats. At least 12 hours between coats, more when its cold in the shop. I get a beautiful smooth final finish with a lot of depth.

I’ve used this product for several rears with great results! I use a minimum of 3 coats, lightt sand in between on all my bowles, platters and hollow forms.

American Specialty Hardwoods rolling pin
This is a great product. I have been looking for a long time to replace polyurethane and finally found it.
Great high gloss finish.
INSERT PICS saladbowlfinish-Rockler-5.jpg saladbowlfinish-Rockler-6.jpg *******************

General Salad Bowl FinishGeneral Food safe salad bowl finish

I made some bowls out of…
I made some bowls out of maple and walnut and was amazed at how this product brought out the beautiful grain of the wood once applied. I applied according to directions: four applications six hours apart “sanding” with 0000 steel wool in between applications. Then I let it “cure” for 72 hours. I’m very pleased with the result and will use it on all of my bowls and trays that I am making.

Many, many more testimonials at http://shrsl.com/k8bm **************

From Amazon.com

How would this work on carved wooden spoons that are actually intended to be used regularly for serving food? I am concerned it will wear too quickly.

I own 2 sawmills in Texas. We use even the smallest drop-offs making cutting boards ,or “cheese boards” & have found this finish to be extremely tough & durable with 2 coats once cured. Additional coats produces a slightly gloss finish. Stands up to daily rinses in hot soapy water. Hope that helps. Peppercreek Creations
By Capt DK on July 21, 2017

I use it to restore restaurant cutting boards used daily and not well cared for by staff. The finish is highly durable and an occasional re-coat maintains the luster.
By Steven W. Rust on July 21, 2017

It wears well– FDA approved I believe– also I have used it on cutting boards but no as a cutting surface a serving surface and has outstanding gloss –spoons should wear well–several coats making sure dry times– saturating deep in the grain of the wood.

By moemadebb481 on July 20, 2017
Never used on spoons but on cutting boards and after a year the finish is still good. Safe to use and should be great on anything used around food.
By Bjohns on July 20, 2017

More comments from Amazon.com

ByPeteon October 13, 2016
Verified Purchase
I really like the finish on my bowls after at least four coats of salad bowl finish they get a nice gloss to them you can just see the difference on them after each new layer put on. Very good finish and easy to put on

Great finish and easy to apply
ByMC NHon January 23, 2015
Verified Purchase
Great finish and easy to apply. I used multiple thin coats applied with a cloth to a large salad bowel and the results were excellent. It was best to let dry overnight before subsequent coats (also used 400 grit sanding between coats).

It is a good product for applications that come in contact with food …
Bought and used this a few times. It is a good product for applications that come in contact with food or food utensils.

Best I’ve used
Excellent product I have used this varnish many times for utensils to be used in food preparation and serving. It’s durability far exceeds any other I have used.

Easy to use and great results
BySalli & Geneon August 18, 2017
Verified Purchase
This is a great finish. There was a bit of a learning curve for me however. Not that the piece didn’t turn out ok but it required more coats than were necessary. I have learned to spend extra time with the first coat. Keep wiping it on when you see it has absorbed into the wood, primarily end grain. I just keep wiping more on until it stays wet evenly, then do a final wipe to even it out. Leave extra time for the first coat to dry, I do both sides the first time. I sand with 400 between coats and alternate sides, every 3 or 4 hours seems to work of me. If I see a spot that still soaks in I just apply more until all is wet then do a final wipe to even out just like with the first coat. Last coat gets 0000 steel wool instead of sanding. The more you put on the glossier it gets. Last coat is just a thin wipe.

INSERT PICS saladbowlfinish-1.jpg saladbowlfinish-2.jpg ***************

food safe salad bowl finish from generalgeneral food safe salad bowl finish

I am experimenting with using this as a sealer coat before using oil or wax. The second picture shows a comparison of 2 ELM bowls with 5 coats of SBQT on one ant the other with one coat SBQT/sanded with 400/and wax. The sanding removes all finish on the surface. Using Mahoney’s wax. Really like this result. I Think this is a great solution for an open grain wood where you do not want a gloss finish but also do not want just Walnut Oil and wax.

This is a very versatile and easy to apply finish that gives great results.