Rough turning the huge yew bowl

17 May 2012, Woodturning in practice, Would you like to leave a comment?

On my last blog post, I’d just finished chainsawing a rather large yew bowl blank ready for rough turning. It now needs to be prepared for mounting onto the lathe.

I start by grinding off a recess to accept a large faceplate. This has to be fastned very securely, since the blank is very heavy.



The faceplate mounted – with plenty of screws! It will take two people to lift it onto the lathe.


Mounted onto the lathe. It looks a bit imposing and will need to be turned very slow!


Rough turning the outside. I’m using a 0.75” bowl gouge to remove the bulk of the timber. The final shaping is done with 0.5” bowl gouge. I’ve turned the base flat to accept the same faceplate – it’s far too big to fit on a chuck.


Here I'm using the Rolly Munro hollowing tool to reach inside the bowl. I could really benefit from using a deep hollowing tool rest and may buy one in the future.


The rough turned yew blank. A piece this size will take a good two years to dry out. 


Jonathan Leech

Written by Jonathan Leech

Jonathan Leech is a woodturner working and living in Cumbria. He specialises in making bowls, dishes and platters from local sustainably sourced timber. Read more or about Jonathan or see a selection of his work.

Your comments

  1. Gravatar of Carol Carr-Dew
    Carol Carr-Dew8 August 2012 14:00

    I have just received a spectacular yew bowl created by Jonathan Leech. It will be a lasting trophy to be allocated annually to the winner of Mid Valleys East (A.W) Art Soc annual competition.It is a stunning artwork in its own right. Many Thanks Jonathan!

  2. Gravatar of Steve Hall
    Steve Hall31 August 2012 22:28

    Beautiful piece Jonathan. I think if I put that on my Axminster lathe it would walk it out of the shed!!! Did you put any sort of finish on it or will you do it once it's dry, and in what contitions will you store it?

  3. Gravatar of Jonathan Leech
    Jonathan Leech5 September 2012 20:53

    Hi Steve, I will leave the bowl unfinished for now, but will use some mineral oil after the final turning is complete. All my blanks are stored in an old animal shed which is nice and cool and away from direct sunlight. So far the big one hasn't cracked - touch wood!

  4. Gravatar of Gerald Habershon
    Gerald Habershon6 September 2012 10:37

    Dear Mr Leech
    I have made a large salad bowl out of Yew. What can I use to finish it ie. Danish oil ... etc etc.
    Best Regards

  5. Gravatar of Jonathan Leech
    Jonathan Leech6 September 2012 11:00

    Hi Gerald, This sounds like a really nice piece. I would probably use mineral oil, which is the same as food safe oil as sold by axminster tools and other wood turning supply shops. It is also possible to use olive oil, although this can degrade over time. Whichever finish you use, you will not be able to stop the staining which happens when liquids contact wood. However, I will soon be experimenting with epoxy resin and this is supposed to be one of the best finishes available. I would not advise using Danish or lemon oil, since there are chemicals present in these which may escape into the food. Are there any natural cracks or small holes present in your bowl?

  6. Gravatar of Gerald Habershon
    Gerald Habershon6 September 2012 12:23

    Hi Jonathan - Thank you for your reply. I have three large 12"x8" pieces of Yew, there are some cracks in them, can I use superglue to prevent the crack getting larger? I have recently bought some COLRON Refined Finishing Oil, A superior blend of resins and Tung oil from B&Q it gives an amazing glass like shine, would this be good to use or is it as you say there may be chemicals present which may escape into the food.

  7. Gravatar of Jonathan Leech
    Jonathan Leech10 September 2012 10:48

    Hi Gerald, I would use super glue to stabalise the cracks, but would maybe market them as fruit bowls instead of salad ones. The cracks can soak up salad dressing etc and may be a problem with bacteria - it may be worth testing one for a couple of months to see what happens. The oil you have bought should indicate that it is safe for food somewhere on its label - if not, it may contain toxins and will be okay for dry contents, but not salads. I do hope this is of help.

  8. Gravatar of Gerald Habershon
    Gerald Habershon10 September 2012 16:31

    Thank you for this, I think you have covered everything, I have turned a beautiful YEW salad bowl 12"x5" - I have used Olive oil I keep giving it a new coat when a coat has dried out it has a very nice orange/gold colour to it, I still have another 2 pieces of YEW to turn. Again Thank you very much for your advise.

  9. Gravatar of David Osorio
    David Osorio18 August 2015 23:20

    Yew is said to be toxic. Is it safe to use the bowl for food?

  10. Gravatar of Jonathan Leech
    Jonathan Leech20 August 2015 20:08

    Hi David,
    I've looked into this a few times and am quite sure it is safe to use a yew bowl for food. There is a chemical called taxine, which I believe is present in the sap and not in the dry wood - I've actually ingested yew sap a few times when preparing timber and seem to be okay so far!

    Best wishes

Leave a comment

Post comment

Featured work

Hand, made, spalted, beech, wooden, platter

Posts by month