March 2018


This View Article page is a limited distribution complimentary copy and not for distribution other than by the author.
Please consider subscribing to our monthly woodturning magazine.


Read a Free Sample Edition

Click ad to visit our sponsor


Painted Natural Edge Bowls

by John Lucas

Have you ever started a bark edge bowl and had trouble keeping the bark on? Maybe the blank was too old, or bugs got into the cambium layer, or maybe you just got too aggressive with the gouge and tore it off. Happens to us all. Early on after having this problem I learned to either color the edge with a permanent marker, or burn the edge. Of course you had to remove all the bark to do this. In this article I will show you the techniques for removing the bark and what I think is a more unusual and maybe better alternative to burning. 

I had a walnut rough-turned blank that was quite old. I don’t remember why the bark was mostly gone but it was the perfect project for this technique.   

Photo 1


I chip off as much bark as I can sometimes using a knife or chisel to pry it off. 

Photo 2


When I have that done, I use my Dremel with a carbide cutter to remove all the rest along with the cambium layer.

Photo 3


I try to retain the natural edge shape. In this case there was a small limb protrusion that didn’t look very good, so I ground it off as well.   I use a Dremel sanding mop to clean up all the tool marks left from the burr and to refine the shape. Here is a photo of those tools.  I purchased the burr from

Photo 4


My bowl had one bug hole.

Photo 5


I patched it with colored epoxy. Since I’m going to paint the rim, this will not show (except on the side) so the colored epoxy will work. I simply mix black shoe dye into the epoxy while I stir it to mix the two parts together. I used blue masking tape as a sort of dam to keep the epoxy in place. Once it's cured, I level it with the same cutters.  

Photo 6


Now the fun begins. I use sponge painting techniques. Quite simply, you take a natural sponge, dip it in paint, and then press it against the wood. To get good results it’s a little more complicated--but not much. First you need a selection of paints. I find that a few colors that are close, mixed in with some wildly contrasting colors, seems to work well. Here is a photo of one selection I used for the walnut bowl. 

Photo 7


Then you need a selection of natural sponges. Your hobby shop may have these. I found them at a lot of sources. You want a good selection because every surface is different and I find a variety of textures works better for this technique. You can tear the sponges apart to get more variety.   

Photo 8


I usually start by laying down a solid color with a brush. I call this a base color. It will be mostly covered by all the other colors but gives a good background. 

Photo 9


Then more fun! Pour some color out on a paper plate and dab the sponge into it. Then I stamp the sponge on the plate a few times until I can see that it’s producing a textured pattern.

Photo 10


Now, just stamp a random pattern onto the bowl. You will have to pick up more paint frequently and may wish to change that area on the sponge that picks up the paint so you get a more random pattern. 

Photo 11


Here is the first color applied.   

Photo 12


I use water-based paints for easy clean up. Keep a wet paper towel handy so if you print any over the edges you can wipe those areas clean. Since I applied finish and wax to the bowl before I started this process, it is easy to clean up any spilled or overprinted areas using the paper towel. The water-based paints make it easy to clean up the sponge as well. 

Now I applied some silver and copper.

Photo 13


Don’t worry about getting too much color at this time. We will tone it down with the next colors. I often use some really contrasting colors just for interest. Now I apply another more neutral color to hide some of the bright colors. In this case it was a brown. 

Photo 14


Now here is the trick to make it look more natural and less gaudy. I go back with the first two colors and just sort of touch up all the areas that really stand out too strongly. Ideally, you want to see the bright colors to add interest but you don’t want them to slap you in the face. 

Photo 15


Here is a look at the paper plate to get an idea of how I test the sponge pattern before applying it to the bowl.  

Photo 16


Here is a detail of the finished edge.  

Photo 17


The final bowl all finished.     

Photo 18


  Here are a few more.  This one has a more or less red appearance.  

Photo 19


Here is a bowl with just a burned edge. 

Photo 20


Here are a few more examples.  

Photo 21


I use Minwax wipe-on poly as my final finish over the painted or burned edges. I just dab it on rather than wipe. This seems to work well over the water based paints and holds up well.

I hope you have fun with this technique. The good thing is, if it doesn’t look right just paint over it and try again! 

Click here to read about the author, John Lucas.