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How a Woodturning Master Makes Handmade Bowls

Ashley Harwood walks through the year-long process of making wooden bowls by hand

“There’s a certain misconception that you have to be really strong and muscular,” says Ashley Harwood, a woodturner creating stunning handmade wooden bowls out of her shop in South Carolina. “Woodturning is more about finesse than anything, and really having the feeling of the cut more than strength.”

Woodturning, put simply, is a process of making wood round, and it’s a tradition that goes back to ancient times. For her bowls, Harwood works with locally salvaged wood, embarking on a process that can take up to a year. After choosing a log, her first step on the lathe, a rotating machine, is “rough turning,” or taking a slab and hollowing it into a bowl shape. After carving the shape she desires, Harwood puts wax on the bowl to minimize cracking as the wood dries. She notes that it can take several months to a year for the wood in a bowl to completely dry. Once the bowl has been completely turned and sanded, a simple food-safe finish is applied to bring out the natural colors of the wood.

Harwood learned this trade during an apprenticeship in England, from a third-generation woodturner named Stuart Batty. “I would not have lasted as a woodturner had I not learned a good set of techniques. I think it just makes sense to learn from somebody, to seek out somebody who you respect and admire in the field, somebody who you think does good work, and try to learn from them however you can.”

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