Weekend Projects - Decorative seashell bowl archive

Friday 25 September 2015

Nick Arnull creates this decorative seashell-inspired bowl using pyrography, texturing and airbrushing techniques to give a unique shell-like effect


My inspiration for decorative items is often drawn from several areas of nature. This piece uses the textures from the outside of seashells and the intensity of the colours often found inside them. I was extremely taken with abalone shells and used this as the starting point for my choice of colours here. I have also used the scalloped edge to portray the appearance that is seen on shells like cockles, clams and many more.

I have used several techniques to create this bowl: pyrography, texturing, airbrushing and gilding that all come together to create a small decorative bowl inspired by shells from the sea. I have also used artist's liquid mask to protect the rim detail whilst gilding; this is more often used when painting watercolours, or used by model makers. I have also washed diluted ink over the gilding to calm its appearance. This bowl would make a fantastic weekend project.

Tools used:

12mm flat skew chisel

12mm round skew chisel

10mm square-grind bowl gouge

10mm long-grind bowl gouge


Centre your blank and mount it onto the lathe; this can be done using either a screw chuck or a small faceplate. Make the blank round and roughly shape the outside using a 10mm long-grind bowl gouge


Refine the outside using a round skew chisel to shear cut the surface


Using dividers, mark the diameter of the chuck being used


Relieve the chucking method using a 12mm flat skew chisel ensuring the dovetail created matches your chuck jaws


Dish the centre of the foot using a 10mm square-grind bowl gouge


Sand the entire outside of the bowl taking great care not to lose definition at the chucking detail


With sanding complete remove the bowl from the lathe, mount into the chuck and true the rim using a 10mm square-grind bowl gouge


Using the same 10mm bowl gouge, remove the centre of the bowl. Taper the wall thickness to leave more timber towards the base; this will add stability to the bowl when finished. The top is deliberately left thicker at this stage to add stability for the coming stages


Sand the bowl, raise the grain, allow to dry then cut back leaving a perfect finish. Spray with acrylic sanding sealer, allow to dry then cut back using artificial wire wool or '0000' wire wool


Using the indexing facility of your lathe, divide the rim equally into eight. Mark this with a soft dark pencil, divide this by half, rotate the bowl in the chuck jaws and repeat marking using a red pencil. Measure 12mm from the top rim of the bowl; this will become the bottom of the scalloped detail. Finally, mark the edge of the rim to create the scalloped/wavy top to the bowl


Using a fine toothed saw, cut vertical lines until almost to the bottom of the line previously marked


Using a long-necked mini grinder fitted with a sanding disc, remove the waste timber working roughly to the line


Using a flex-shaft rotary tool fitted with a small drum sander, refine the edge of the rim. Ensure health and safety is observed throughout steps 12-15


Use progressively finer abrasive then finish by hand, sanding the top edge of the rim


Using a coarse sanding disc fitted to the long-neck mini grinder, thin the top edge of the bowl. Ensure to feather the surface into the shape, then hand sand the surface to blend the areas together. Work through all the grades of abrasive to achieve a good finish


Next, you need to mark out the boundary detail on the rim and then, using a high powered pyrography machine, burn the line around the top of the bowl. Repeat this detail inside the bowl


Divide the bowl's outside shape from top to bottom; this will add a guide when applying texture to the bowl, as this needs to run vertically to the foot of the bowl. Use a flex-shaft rotary tool fitted with a 1.6mm rotary burr to create the texture


When the texture is complete use a radial sanding brush to remove any fuzz that may have occurred when texturing, but do not be heavy handed or the detail will be lost or flat areas may even be created


Next, using an airbrush, apply a base coat of marine blue to the outside of the bowl and allow to dry, then spray with a light coat of acrylic satin lacquer to seal the surface. Once dry, repeat this process on the inside of the bowl


Apply a coat of acrylic artist's gold to the high points on the outside of the bowl; this is done using a dry brushing technique


Once the gold is dry apply a coat of iridescent green to the surface. If this is a little uneven it will add to the colouring. When dry apply a coat of satin acrylic lacquer to seal the surface


Apply artist's liquid mask to the rim detail and allow to dry. Add low tack masking tape to the outside of the bowl to protect it from the spray adhesive that will be used to apply the gold leaf. With the masking in place spray the surfaces lightly with spray mount and allow to dry for around 20-30 seconds


Apply the gold leaf mix you are using and pat it down to achieve a good contact with the spray adhesive, then allow to dry overnight


Lightly brush the surface to remove any surplus gold leaf and then carefully remove the liquid mask from the outside of the bowl; this is done with a finger, or in my case I used my thumb


Next, apply a diluted wash of marine blue ink over the gilded area; this will calm the final appearance of the bowl and tie it more closely to the outside of the bowl. Allow to dry then apply several light coats of gloss acrylic lacquer


The finished decorative seashell bowl should look like this

Woodworkers Institute

Tagged In:

Nick Arnull , Weekend Projects

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Health And Safety

1. Protect your eyes and lungs at all times, and work at a speed that you feel comfortable and safe
2. Always reduce lathe rotation speed when using wood that is not round and using alternative chucking methods that you are not familiar with
3. Keep the toolrest between you and the work - NEVER let your fingers cross over to the other side
4. When using rotary carving tools always protect yourself from the dust given off

Handy Hints

1. When applying a texture use a rotary sanding brush to remove any fuzz that may have occurred
2. Leave the bowl wall thicker if shaping or texturing an item such as this project
3. Keep designs simple; this will allow you to achieve a greater visual impact
4. Always test your pyrography machine before committing to the finished item
5. Use templates when marking out repeated details
6. Use temporary masks; this will avoid over spray on the rim of the bowl
7. Use a carver's clamp to allow safety and access when carving/working on a piece
8. Ensure to allow colour to dry before applying the next coat
9. Apply a dust coat of acrylic satin lacquer between colours to allow the piece to be handled easily, if required
10. Use a high powered pyrography machine to create boundaries for textured areas
11. Take frequent breaks when texturing larger items
12. Raise the grain using water; this will help you to achieve a better finish
13. Leave the chucking method on an item rather than risk damage to a finished item
14. Use smaller spigots to hold work on the lathe when using a chuck
15. Always sharpen a tool before making finishing cuts. Never use a dull tool
16. Seal the outside of the bowl before spraying the inside; this protects the surface when the bowl is being handled
17. Leave the gilding to dry fully before attempting to remove the masking