Turning Archive 2005

Review: Bill Grumbine's Bowl Turning Video

Rod Peterson -- Ormond Beach


I've been interested in turning for a long time, have more than one gouge, and can spell skew, however, I don't have a large body of work. On the other hand, my friend, Bill Grumbine, routinely sweeps up more wood shavings in one evening of turning than I have created in 30 years. I mention this disparity in experience as context for the judgments that follow.

Bill Grumbine's DVD

Image reproduced with permission of Bill Grumbine


I watched the entire DVD within two hours of receiving it. I hadn't intended to. I thought I'd watch a section (it's divided into ten) and then work up some comments before moving on. Hah! A good many of you have spent some time with Bill and you know that he is an engaging, witty docent and he's not easily set aside—literally or metaphorically. Following are some technical thoughts and then a section by section analysis.

Technical Stuff

The video quality is reasonably good although there is some jerky movement that occurs periodically that I found to be a minor distraction. Other viewers might not even notice it. On the whole, it's much better than the typical local access cable television production.

Overall, the production was excellent. The story to tell was how to turn a bowl and there was a good link between what Bill and the production team wanted us to see and what we do see. It started in the woods and ended with a finished bowl, and the continuity was very well maintained throughout. The post production work was well done, also—voiceovers, cutaways, and dissolves and wipes worth particular mention. Those are the sort of things which really separate a professional production from a home movie, and Bill's team did an excellent job. I don't know who selected and mixed the theme music, but it really, if you'll pardon the expression, struck a chord with me.

Personal Stuff

If anyone wants to know what Bill is like, that's him on the video. He is as comfortable with a tool in his hand as most of us are with a fork (I'm skipping the obvious jokes here). He clearly knows turning. And he clearly knows what to teach the student. He has enough humor inserted at appropriate places to keep our interest but he doesn't sacrifice credibility in exercising it. The production is definitely not dry—even my wife was paying attention.

Bill's presentation is effective, demonstrating a variety of steps and techniques ranging from visual aids, to layout work, and on to the serious hardware, all with equal aplomb. Moreover, his safety cautions are addressed in context, appropriately, and with style, and pays more than lip service—he admonishes us to turn a white cane for a first project if we're to insist on not wearing eye protection, as we will surely need it. I liked that.

The DVD retails for $29.95 USD. Is it worth it? You bet. For the few warts that there are in the production you'll get first-rate instruction in bowl turning from logging to autograph. Here are some section by section notes:


Lest one think we should hurry up and get to the lathe, be forewarned, there are no sections in this video devoid of worthwhile information, and this first section is ample evidence of that. There are even tips on removing noxious flora from the stock. The discussion on how to select which part of the log to cut for the bowl is illuminating. Bill's saw chain is really sharp, too, as you will see from the pile of cuttings he quickly produces.


Although the bandsaw only has a minor role in the process, Bill gives it its due and we learn a couple of his layout tips and methods of work in the process.

Roughing Out

One of the advantages of having a little experience at turning is to be able to notice details such as Bill's admonition against using drywall screws to mount the blank to the faceplate. It's a great lesson for the novice and I'm impressed that it was included. Bill goes to the dry-erase board for a little visual aid to explain the correct positions of the tool rest and the chisel in relation to the blank for the roughing out process. There's an excellent segué from that scene to the lathe that effectively affirms the lesson. As a teaching device, that was a highlight of the video to me.


This DVD is based on the rough-turning-of-wet-wood method of bowl turning, and requires a period of drying the blank after initial preparation and rough shaping. Part of that process involves applying a sealant to manage the drying, and it is well demonstrated in this section.

Form Discussion

Design is a personal thing. Although Bill clearly has his preferences he doesn't dictate. He does make a few points worth thinking about in the design phase of bowl turning, and addresses other design considerations that have less to do with art and more to do with function.


Bill is a practical man, and as any instructor in the technical arts knows, students are easily lost—especially if it's more work for them to prepare for the task than the enjoyment of the task itself, so, he unabashedly heads for the grinder with a fixture for help with keeping an edge on the gouge. Sharpening snobs will want to skip over this section as there's not a stone or piece of sandpaper to be seen, although they'll miss the second prosyletization of a 30° scraper grind Bill advocates.

Finish Turning

Ah, the magic of television. The graphic on the screen says, "Six Months Later", and Bill has gotten the blank out of the bag to show us what's happened and what we're going to do with our now dry and slightly deformed bowl blank. There are good tips here about setting right the things that have changed since we last saw our wood (six months ago). This may be the meat of the video lesson. We learn about the four different cuts that Bill makes with the gouge. And we are amazed that we haven't seen one scrap of sandpaper yet. He doesn't eschew the right tool for the job, however, and when necessary, breaks out the 80 grit gouge, as he calls it, to clean up before finishing.

Bottom of the Bowl

At this point in the process of making a bowl, we are running out of things with which to hold on to the blank. All is not lost, however, as Bill teaches us three techniques for finishing off the bottom of the bowl, taking away our last handle for securing it. We're amazed, or should be, as Bill cleverly parts the last of the tenon off the bowl right before our eyes without us even noticing. Mixed in is a shameless plug (and so advertised with a flashing red graphic) for a vacuum chuck that Bill markets. It is not offensive—in fact Bill warns us that it's not cheap and that there are other viable alternatives to working on the foot of the bowl, and proceeds to demonstrate just that.


Bill's favorite finish is Watco and he makes no apologies for it. Nor is he shy about slathering it on. It's a bowl, after all, what better way to ensure a good soaking than to pour the finish directly in?


The good tips aren't over yet as Bill takes us through his three step buffing regimen of tripoli, white diamond, and wax, warning us along the way not to use the white diamond on walnut (or presumably other dark woods) lest you desire white speck-filled pores forever adorning your creation.

Final Thoughts (mine—this isn't on the video)

I thought when I started out, that I couldn't give this DVD ten out of ten. Now I think, how can I not? I won't try to resolve that conundrum. I'll just say that if you buy it (or the VHS version—same price) you won't be disappointed. It's definitely worth your while.

Thanks to Garrett Lambert who helped me pare the original draft down to a workable document.

© 2005; L. Rodney Peterson
All Rights Reserved

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Review: Bill Grumbine's Bowl Turning Video
Amen, Rod
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