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Do I Half to Do It?

Should you cut your work in half? In her latest blog post, Mary Tripoli writes about how she's become a better woodturner by dissecting the bowls and cups she's made. 

Posted on November 28, 2023
by Mary Tripoli

Resident Artisans have several opportunities to assist in classes over the course of our time here.  Last week I got to help out Jarrod Dahl in pole lathe and electric lathe bowl turning. Over four days students were encouraged to cut at least one bowl in half. Gasps! I have turned a lot of bowls on my pole lathe and more recently on my electric lathe, but I haven’t been in the habit of cutting work in half.  

This past weekend I turned a pole lathe bowl, and four smaller bowls on the electric lathe. And guess what? I cut them ALL in half. You can look at a bowl from the outside and think, oh that looks nice in profile, but you don’t really understand what’s going on until you see the bowl’s cross-section.  

Four wooden bowls that Mary Tripoli cut in half

Last night, I took a bowl that I liked and sawed it in half. I like the outside of this bowl. It has high sides and as it dried, it warped in a pleasing way. I think the foot didn’t turn out quite right. Using my fingers, I can tell the sides are a little thick. Let’s cut it in half!  

A wooden bowl by woodturner Mary Tripoli

You can see the pencil marks I made where I think I could have turned the inside a little more to make the inside shape a little more curved (rather than straight inside walls). It doesn’t NEED to match the outside profile, but just a little more curviness to the inside would make it more pleasing and less weighty at the bottom. And I was right about the foot. A taller and smaller foot would lift the bowl up a little bit and make the bowl a little lighter looking. The shape of the foot could be more defined as well. Also, the very bottom was too thin. I guessed this without cutting it in half, but actually seeing the curves and imperfections in cross-section confirms my thoughts, and it will help me visualize and work on these aspects on my next bowl.

A bowl turned by Mary that's cut in half. The bowl is thin at the bottom and has pencil marks

After practicing a few new techniques and using different turning tools I don’t usually have access to, I knew my fourth bowl in class was better than the others. I was surprised that I actually WANTED to take it to the band saw.  I needed to see if my practice improved over the weekend. And it did! 

A wooden cup by woodturner Mary Tripoli

Doing this is helpful at whatever stage of learning you are in. I tried a few end grain cups for the first time a few weeks ago. Turning cups in end grain orientation uses different methods than bowls (including spinning the lathe in reverse!). I cut one of these in half. Unlike the bowl above, I like the inside curve of this little cup—I would make adjustments to the exterior shape. 

Wooden cups cut in half by woodturner Mary Tripoli

Learning and analyzing work in this way when you are new at a technique can be quite eye-opening and really beneficial.  It might seem like a waste, but I’ve realized that to improve at anything it helps to see the situation from all angles, and in bowl turning that means literally inside out! 

A saw cuts a wooden cup in half

Later this winter, I am planning to turn the same bowl shape for a week and cut them all in half to monitor my skills, dial in a nice form, and see what I learn. Stay tuned!!