How to Carve a Wood Bowl – when you’ve never carved one before

By Brittni • Updated on 08/11/2023

Wood carving for beginners (like me)…

small wooden bowl on dresser with vase and beauty products

About 6 months ago, I got really into the idea of making small things with wood – spoons, bowls, trays, cutting boards. But never actually committed to buying the tools to get started.

So my brother gifted me a few wood gouges and spoon blanks, which was so nice. But I lost motivation and felt kind of intimidated to try something new, even though I have some experience with wood. Until yesterday! I finally had some time and felt like making something small, so I jumped in and made this tiny little wood bowl. It’s very simple and nothing crazy. But I was excited to finally carve something and start learning a new skill.

The process of wood carving was fun and pretty easy. Nothing to be intimidated by, especially when using a soft wood like balsa or basswood. I would not suggest using a hardwood for your first ever project. Much more difficult to carve, at least for a beginner like me. 

Anyway! I thought I’d share my little wood bowl DIY, in case wood carving sounds like something you’d want to try. Here’s what you’ll need and how to carve a wood bowl.

Materials / Tools for Carving a Wood Bowl

  • balsa wood or basswood block – I got a block of balsa at a craft store, but you can order it online as well. Bothe balsa and basswood are great woods to use for a beginner bowl project like this because of how soft the woods are.
  • wood carving tool(s) – I only used one tool for all of the carving – a PFEIL “Swiss Made” #7 Gouge, 14mm. But there are tons of different kinds of gouges and chisels available (found a bunch on Amazon).
  • power sander – I used my orbital sander, but you could use almost any sander….not a belt sander though.
  • vise – you can use a table vise, bench vise, etc
  • sanding sponge or sandpaper (finer grit 120-220)
  • handsaw, pull saw, or power saw
  • wood finish / sealer – I like to use Rubio Monocoat Oil Plus 2c because it serves as color and wood protection. Plus its 0% VOC. It does have a smell to it, FYI. But definitely zero VOC.
  • rag and gloves (optional)

small wooden bowl with ripple vase and colorful artwork

block of balsa wood with carving tool and wood shavings on a table

How to Carve a Wood Bowl (beginner level)

I should probably preface this by saying that this is my first time carving a wooden bowl. It was an easier project than I thought it would be, and while I’m sure there are better ways to do it, it was fun. Could definitely see getting into this as more of a hobby, with just a few more tools.

1. Cut the large block down to size.

The first step is cutting the larger block of balsa down to the approximate size of the bowl you want to make.

You can do with a miter saw (or any kind of power saw really) OR a vise and handsaw. I used a pull saw – this is one I used. 

2. Clamp the block and start carving.

Next, attach the block to a vise, if it isn’t already, and start carving. You can start with carving the inside hole for the bowl or the exterior. I started with the interior bowl. I used only one chisel for the entire carving process. I know there is a chisel or gouge for every imaginable scenario, but I’m a beginner, and am not going to invest in a ton of tools just yet. 

Because I am only using one tool (and not the one that would be the best match for the inside of bowl, which I believe would be a spoon gouge or a bent gouge), it took more work and it required much more sanding down the line. I’ll get to that part later. BUT, it worked! Totally possible to make a bowl like this with just one carving tool.

3. Carve the sides into a round shape.

Next, carve pieces off of the sides of the block on all sides until it starts to resemble a circular shape on the exterior. I did some carving at the top first so I knew how far to go in, before flipping the block over and doing the same on the underside.

4. Smooth all the rough areas with a sander.

Once I had the basic shape I was going for on the exterior and interior, I used a sander to smooth the exterior and shape it a bit more (used 120 grit sandpaper). And then for the interior of the bowl, I sanded by hand with 120 grit again.

I kept the shape relatively organic (not perfectly circular). I like the look and also takes the pressure off of making things perfect your very first time.

5. Hand sand additional areas if needed.

Then I used a fine grit sandpaper (220) for the interior and exterior. And wiped off any debris.

6. Seal the wood.

The final step is to add a wood finish / sealant. As I mentioned in the supply list, I like Rubio. If you use the accelerator, it cures much faster. But it’s not required. I didn’t use it for this particular piece.

Obviously, use whatever finish and/or sealant you would like.

Once the piece is cured, it’s ready to use! Because my bowl is so small, I’m planning to use it in the bathroom for small items – like rings and earrings.

Other videos that might be helpful to watch before you carve a wood bowl…

I made a video of the process on Instagram, that you can take a look at. And I also watched these 2 videos on YouTube that I found pretty helpful before starting. They’re not beginner videos, by any means, but they show the general process and I found it helpful to see that.

  1. carving a wood bowl with hand tools 
  2. how to carve a bowl

Other wood projects you might like…

  • DIY built in bookshelves – The wall to wall built in bookshelves in our detached office has to be one of my favorite projects ever. Made with white oak and has a mid-century vibe to it.
  • The plywood shelves in my old studio space have a similar vibe to the built ins. And helped a ton with storage.
  • wooden serving board DIY – Found a really affordable serving board that had some deep engravings on it that wasn’t my style. So I sanded it down and made it more minimal.
  • My DIY wooden wall hanging is reversible! 
  • how to make DIY circle shelves – I used these in Hayes’ nursery and they were so cute (and easy to make).
  • how to make unique tassels (using wood and leather) – Not big on tassels in general, but THESE tassels? I’m very into.  

tiny wooden bowl with jewelry inside, sitting on a table with a vase and other jewelry pieces

wood carving tool with wood shavings on table with wooden bowl

closeup overhead view of small wooden bowl with jewelry inside

 wooden bowl sitting on a table with other organic modern decor accessories

How to Carve a Wood Bowl (beginner level)

The process of wood craving was fun and pretty easy. Nothing to be intimidated by, especially when using a soft wood like balsa or basswood. I would not suggest using a hardwood for your first ever project. Much more difficult to carve, at least for a beginner like me.  Anyway! I thought I'd share my little wood bowl DIY, in case wood carving sounds like something you'd want to try. Here's what you'll need and how to carve a wood bowl.
Total Time1 hour
Keyword: diy, home decor, wood bowl, wood carving
Servings: 1 wood bowl
Author: Brittni
Cost: $20-75 (depending on tools)

Equipment

  • wood carving tool(s) I only used one tool for all of the carving - a PFEIL "Swiss Made" #7 Gouge, 14mm. But there are tons of different kinds of gouges and chisels available (found a bunch on Amazon).
  • power sander I used my orbital sander, but you could use almost any sander....not a belt sander though.
  • vise you can use a table vise, bench vise, etc
  • handsaw, pull saw, or power saw

Ingredients

  • balsa wood or basswood block I got a block of balsa at a craft store, but you can order it online as well. Bothe balsa and basswood are great woods to use for a beginner bowl project like this because of how soft the woods are.
  • sanding sponge or sandpaper (finer grit 120-220)
  • wood finish / sealer I like to use Rubio Monocoat Oil Plus 2c because it serves as color and wood protection. Plus its 0% VOC. It does have a smell to it, FYI. But definitely zero VOC.
  • rag and gloves (optional)

Instructions

  • I should probably preface this by saying that this is my first time carving a wooden bowl. It was an easier project than I thought it would be, and while I'm sure there are better ways to do it, it was fun. Could definitely see getting into this as more of a hobby, with just a few more tools.
  • The first step is cutting the larger block of balsa down to the approximate size of the bowl you want to make. You can do with a miter saw (or any kind of power saw really) OR a vise and handsaw. I used a pull saw - this is one I used.
  • Next, attach the block to a vise, if it isn't already, and start carving. You can start with carving the inside hole for the bowl or the exterior. I started with the interior bowl. I used only one chisel for the entire carving process. I know there is a chisel or gouge for every imaginable scenario, but I'm a beginner, and am not going to invest in a ton of tools just yet.
    Because I am only using one tool (and not the one that would be the best match for the inside of bowl, which I believe would be a spoon gouge or a bent gouge), it took more work and it required much more sanding down the line. I'll get to that part later. BUT, it worked! Totally possible to make a bowl like this with just one carving tool.
  • Next, carve pieces off of the sides of the block on all sides until it starts to resemble a circular shape on the exterior. I did some carving at the top first so I knew how far to go in, before flipping the block over and doing the same on the underside.
  • Once I had the basic shape I was going for on the exterior and interior, I used a sander to smooth the exterior and shape it a bit more (used 120 grit sandpaper). And then for the interior of the bowl, I sanded by hand with 120 grit again.
    I kept the shape relatively organic (not perfectly circular). I like the look and also takes the pressure off of making things perfect your very first time.
  • Then I used a fine grit sandpaper (220) for the interior and exterior. And wiped off any debris.
  • The final step is to add a wood finish / sealant. As I mentioned in the supply list, I like Rubio. If you use the accelerator, it cures much faster. But it's not required. I didn't use it for this particular piece.
    Obviously, use whatever finish and/or sealant you would like.
  • Once the piece is cured, it's ready to use! Because my bowl is so small, I'm planning to use it in the bathroom for small items - like rings and earrings.
Tried this recipe?Mention @paperandstitch or tag #paperandstitch!
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