Beautiful Bowls from the Scroll Saw

By Carole Rothman

Looking for a different type of project? Want something that really gets attention? Then join the growing ranks of woodworkers who have discovered an important secret: you don’t need a lathe to make a bowl! With only a scroll saw and sanders, you can create gallery-quality bowls and vases, quickly and economically. The basic scrolled bowl looks like this. Made of aspen, it’s attractive and functional. But it’s just the beginning.
You can laminate some wood for an eye-catching swirl.
Or glue in some strips to make colorful swags.
You can even change the shape, without fuss or bother. Try making this on the lathe!
The variety of projects—both simple and elaborate—is vast, and opens new doors for scrollers, turners, and carvers alike.

Here are some commonly asked questions about bowls made with the scroll saw.
  • What is a scrolled bowl?
    It’s a bowl that is cut from a flat piece of wood, most commonly ½” to 1” thick. This wood is cut at a steep angle into concentric rings that are glued together, then shaped and smoothed using various types of sanders.
  • Why not just use a lathe?
    For starters, you may not own a lathe. And even if you do, you may be tired of seeing that big block of wood end up mostly as shavings on your shop floor. And how about different shapes? Unless you’re an accomplished turner, you’re pretty much limited to round bowls and other conventional shapes. By contrast, a scrolled bowl can be almost any shape you want.
  • How do you determine the cutting angle?
    For concentric rings to stack and form a bowl, they must be cut at a specific angle. The cutting angle is determined by two factors: the thickness of the wood and the width of each ring. A change in either one will cause a change in the angle needed. Charts and formulas are available to help you quickly determine the appropriate angle (see below for resources).
  • Are all the rings for a bowl cut at the same angle?
    Not necessarily. If all rings are cut at the same angle, the result will be a bowl with straight sides. If the cutting angle is increased from one ring to the next, the bowl will have curved sides. A small change will result in a gradual curve, and a large change will result in a more dramatic one.
  • How about vases and boxes?
    Vases, boxes, and bowls that curve inward are formed from glued-up rings cut from two or three pieces of wood. These pieces of wood, or blanks, can be the same or contrasting, plain or laminated. This vessel was made from two ¾” thick laminated blanks.
    This box was made from three ½” thick pieces of the same wood.

  • What tools do I need to get started?
    In addition to a scroll saw with a tilting table, you need sanding tools for the inner and outer faces of the rings. Spindle and belt sanders can be used for simple straight-sided bowls, but a bowl with curved sides or more intricate shape is best sanded with a round inflatable sander, or with a hook and loop pad sander, chucked into a drill press, or used with a flex shaft. Insider Tip: Reduce sanding time and effort by choosing a high quality saw and good blades. They make it easier to cut accurately, and let you work with the wood, not fight it.

Where can I get more information?

For information about Carole Rothman's book
Wooden Bowls from the Scroll Saw

click here.

  • Videos about bowl-making with the scroll saw are available on YouTube (enter “scrollergirl” in the search box).
  • Additional information can be found at www.scrollsawbowls.blogspot.com.
  • For answers to specific questions, contact Carole at scrollsawbowls@yahoo.com.