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Dennis Lillis

Dennis turns a calabash

Oct 4, 2018

Dennis Lillis

lillis 2018-10

Dennis Lillis shows us how he turns a calabash bowl.

This article appeared in our 2018 October issue of Chips & Chatter.

Our own Dennis Lillis returned to the demonstration lathe to show how he turns a calabash style bowl. Before he made chips fly on the lathe he showed a number of turned calabash bowls and talked about Hawaiian style bowls, noting that there are numerous styles, each with its own name and purpose. Dennis wasn’t ready to latch onto a bowl gouge just yet; he brought a 4/4 flat timber to graphically illustrate the concept of “going with the grain” versus “against the grain” and “cross grain” cuts compared to “bias or skewed” cuts. He used a block plane to represent a turning gouge and performed cuts on the board in each orientation. It was readily apparent which cuts were easier to perform and which yielded superior results. 


Being the well prepared demonstrator that he is, he illustrated the same grain orientation situations on the lathe using a teaching aide he previously fabricated. 


Dennis drew the shape he was after on a prepared blank of spalted maple he had brought for his bowl and proceeded to start shaping the bottom of his calabash. Once satisfied with the bottom profile he shaped the top half, taking pains to blend the two continuous curves into one flowing, pleasing silhouette. 


Now satisfied with the outside, he remounted the blank in preparation for hollowing the inte rior. After cleaning up the rim Dennis began the hollowing process taking easy cuts, not “hogging” out the waste. “We’re not produc tion turners and we shouldn’t be in a rush” he quipped. As he worked down the inside he kept a sharp eye, and his calibrated finger calipers, on the wall thickness and uniformity. 


As he went deeper he switched tools from a bowl gouge with a somewhat swept grind to a steeply ground “bottom feeder” gouge and also employed a heavy bowl scraper. He also utilized a spear point scraper to touch up and refine the outside curve. 


The end result was a well turned calabash style bowl, ready for sanding and finishing.