Wooden fruit bowl without a lathe

Why I made this

Beginner-intermediate / 6 Hours / Hand tools

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The completed fruit bowl The completed fruit bowl

We used to have lovely ceramic fruit bowl which sat beneath a banana hanger in our kitchen. Then one of cats felt the need to run across the space where it was and - CRASH! It was broken. Rather than buy a new one, I decided to make a replacement. The design changed a few times between this decision and starting to make it but in the end I settled on a basket octagon design using 9mm wooden dowels and reclaimed wood.

What you need

The idea

Design & build

Lessons learned

Conclusion

What you need

Tools used

A black metal Stanley No.80 cabinet scraper I used hand tools throughout

  • Hand saw (I used a Japanese-style pull saw)
  • Cabinet scraper (I used a Stanley no.80 I recently restored as shown)
  • Palm router (optional) - for some rounding. This can be done with sanding though.
  • Glue, paint, varnish etc.

Difficulty

Intermediate.

I designed it to be a challenge and it was, but in a good way. You’ll need time, patience and a little bit extra confidence in your sawing techniques. There is a simpler way to build this.

Disclaimer: This is a description of a build I did. You are welcome to use it and adapt it but you do so at your own risk. I am not responsible for any accidents or injury you receive trying to build this. My estimate for difficulty is an estimate and if you find it too difficult or risky, ask someone better qualified to assist you.

Time taken

6 hours. Mostly that was cutting. I took my time.

Cost

£6 for the dowels. I had everything else already.

The idea

3D model of the fruit bowl

For a wooden bowl, many people will immediately think of turning one on a lathe. As much as I love turning, I don’t have a lathe (or other larger workshop tools come to that). All my power tools are handheld and so this project had to be one I could make with those or, preferably, manual hand tools. Aside from that, the design brief I gave myself was

  • It must not be just a box
  • It must be a slight challenge for me to make
  • It must still be fairly simple to make
  • It must have a base about 300 x 200 and be about 100mm high

That last one was to fit the amount of fruit we wanted to have in it and also because that was the space we had for it. The octagon and dowel design met all that criteria, even if someone called it a “boxing ring for fruit” :D

Design and build

The base

The plans for the bowl Although I have plans for this, I didn’t draw any up when building it. Many of the dimensions come about because of the angles etc. So I started out with only a few: 300 x 200 base with 45 degree corners that measured 60mm on the diagonal. The rest came from those and were only measured in terms of keeping the thing symmetrical.

I started with the base. I was using some reclaimed wood from an old shelf rack which was 100mm wide. I cut two 300mm lengths of this and, joining the factory edges, I glued them together to form a board 200mm wide.

Once this was dry I used the cabinet scraper to smooth the top and bottom. This proves a much better way (and quicker) than sanding to achieve a beautiful smooth surface. I then cut the end corners to 45 degrees and finally I cut the bottom of the ends (3 sides on each end) to have a 20 degree rake.

The corners

I used some reclaimed wood panelling (90mm x 15mm) to create the corner pieces. I had it so the grain would run horizontally on the finished bowl and thus align with the line of the dowels.

First I created a template from a piece of cereal box card. The key measurement for the corners is the inside edge where it meets the top of the base. This is 60mm and everything else feeds from that. The top and bottom are parallel and the sides slope out at 20 degrees each. I marked this onto the shelf board and then marked a 45 degree angle on the top side of that.

Then I carefully cut the corner pieces from the board. This meant cutting at 45 degrees horizontally while also cutting the 10 degree vertical angle. To make this easier I clamped the board so the vertical cut-line was showing at 90 degrees from the workbench. Thus I was cutting just the one angle - 45 degrees - down my longest cut.

I didn’t cut the bottom edge because I knew it would risk tear out and splitting for such a narrow cut, so I routed the bottom of the base later (see below)

Once I had all four cut, I glued and pinned them to the base. The pins were to save me having to come up with some complex angled clamping arrangement and jigs.

The dowels

Once the corners were set in place (glue dried) I measured the dowels to the exact length between them and cut them. In theory the dowels for each side should all be the same length (that’s why the corners have those complicated angle cuts) but in reality if your corner pieces are not extremely precise in cutting or gluing then your dowels may need to be slightly different lengths. As ever, measure each one twice and cut it once. The pull saw, with its thin blade, proved very good for this as a chunkier push saw would have split the ends of the dowels. I took care cutting here as the dowels needed to be a tight fit - even before the glue.

Once cut I glued them into place one layer at a time all the way around. Then I proceeded to the next layer until all three layers whee done.

Routing the base

I sanded the protrusions from the bottom of the corners to be flat with the base. This meant I didn’t have to cut a small slither at 10mm off the bottom edge which would have been at risk of causing splitting or breakouts.

To complete the bottom edges, I used a palm router with a 6mm round over bit. This gave it a nice shape.

Finish

The completed fruit bowl, with fruit in

I sanded the whole thing first. Then, to match the other items in our kitchen, including the tea tray I made, I painted the dowels in acrylic paint. After a light final sanding, I finished in several coats of a clear, food safe, wax-based varnish.

I’ve used this varnish on other projects and find it really good. I get no money for this and am not connected to them but if you are interested, it’s the dead-flat version of Polyvine Wax Finish Varnish .

Simpler alternative

Straight sides

By far the hardest part was the corner pieces. Cutting two angles at once in different planes, with a handsaw is doable but tricky.

A simpler way to make this would be to not have the sides leaning out from the base. For that you end up cutting the edges of the corner pieces at 45 degrees and otherwise every other cut is at 90.

It will still look good but, in my opinion, it lacks the extra bit the sloping sides give the bowl. Had my attempts to do all these angles failed, my backup plan was to do it this simpler way.

No router

If you don’t have a router you can sand the bottom edges instead. It will take a little bit longer but the same shape is very achievable this way.

Lessons learned

Multi-angled cutting needs care

Accurately cutting multiple angles in one go (for the corner pieces) is harder than it looks. Especially if you are doing so with hand tools. The old adage of measure twice, cut once rings very true here.

The dowels proved a challenge

I wanted a challenge and I got one. I had planned to drill small insets for the dowels to key into but the thickness of the corner pieces meant this was very difficult to do with hand tools. Then I had planned to pin and glue them but the angles and slender thickness of the parts meant this was very difficult to get spot on without splitting anything. In the end I cut each dowel carefully and exactly to length and glued them in. Eventually I just glued them and it has worked well.

The trick is to cut them as a very tight fit. Once in place they push the corner pieces slightly and this in turn wedges all the dowels from the other side in place. That added stability to an already stable frame as well. Glue keeps them from shifting.

Conclusion

This is one of those projects which has been on my list for a long time. Eventually I made some time and set about it and I’m glad I did. It did start life as an enclosed bowl, with sloping sides, and progressed through various versions of that until I arrived at the dowel-basket design.

I set out to make it challenging and to push myself and that turned out to be the right decision. Knowing I could do some of this trickier stuff without all the table-saws, mitre-saws and router tables that you see on Youtube is very satisfying.

I really love using a lathe an turning and, had I had access to one, this would have been a very different project. In the end, I’m glad it went down this route and I think it looks great.