A wooden bowl isn’t just something cute to put on a shelf, or to wrap up for an old timey present. Wooden bowls allow you to transport water, and even boil water by dropping in hot stones. They also give you a container from which you can eat, and they serve as a storage receptacle in a backwoods emergency. Should you get stuck in the wild for a week or more, knowing how to make wood bowls can make a significant difference in the lifestyle you’d be living.
Burn with Coals
Begin by carefully taking coals from the fire with wooden tongs, and placing them on a chunk of wood. This piece can be a block of wood that you split with a hatchet, a piece of chunky driftwood or the side of a log that’s lying in your camp. Blow on the coals lightly. You can use a straw or reed to help you blow on the coals. It takes a few minutes for the wood to begin to burn. Don’t let the coals flame up, as this extra heat may crack the wood. When the coals are almost burned up, or you have burned into the wood and made a layer of charcoal, the coals can be dumped back into the fire. Let any burning charcoal go out in the walls of the bowl, then use a shell or stone to scrape away the char to reveal the browned wood underneath. Repeat this burn and scrape process until you have burned out the wooden object to your satisfaction. It may take several hours to burn out a large cavity or to burn into hardwood, but this is a good low-light activity to keep you busy around the campfire in the evening. To keep any spots on the bowl from burning (like the rim), wet the area or smear mud over the area that you are trying to protect.
Chop with a Hatchet
Yes, it’s a rough job, but you can chop out a quick cavity in a chunk of soft wood if you happen to have a hatchet with you. Start in the center of the wood chunk making small chops on a 45 degree angle and moving the wood in a circle. Keep chopping to remove chips of wood until you reach the desired cavity size. But don’t get greedy. Leave the walls of the bowl several inches thick and avoid that final perfectionist chop, which tends to split the bowl in half. You could combine this technique with coal burning by chopping out a rough cavity to get you started, and then burning it deeper and smoother.
Carve with a “Crooked” Knife
A crooked knife is exactly what it sounds like, it’s a knife that is curved into a hook-shaped tool. With a sharp edge on the side, you can “scoop” shavings of wood from a chunk and hollow out a bowl.
Similarly, a hoe-like tool called an adz can scoop out wood much quicker than a crooked knife, but it’s unlikely that you’d run across an adz in the woods. You can, however, bend a knife made from soft steel into a crooked knife with a bit of campfire heating and rock hammering (just like the earliest blacksmiths did).
Have you ever made a wooden bowl from a chunk of wood, without power tools? Let’s hear about it in the comments.