Empty Bowls – Some Thoughts

Hi everyone;

Ron referred to Empty Bowls in his monthly letter. I’ve been making a few (actually) several bowls recently for Empty Bowls and thought I would share a bit. The following is my opinion and process and is not intended to be the only way to do things.

10 Empty Bowls
4 Empty Bowls

First, as far as size is concerned, the directions are to “make a bowl the size of a standard soup bowl.” That isn’t particularly helpful. We usually eat soup from one of two very different bowls in our house. One looks like this:

As you can see, it is 6 inches in diameter and 3 inches high.

The other bowl looks like this:

The second bowl is almost 11 inches in diameter, with a wide rim and only 2 inches deep. With out the rim, the bowl portion is 7 1/2 inches or so. All this to say there really isn’t such a thing as a standard soup bowl, so when it comes to making a bowl for Empty Bowls, suit yourself!

Here is what I do – not that what I do is right or that I expect everyone to do it this way. I make my bowls between 5 and 7 inches (as a rule). The bowls below are about the smallest and largest I make for empty bowls. The larger one is from wood that I got from the wood raffle table, otherwise it is a bit larger than I prefer. The smal bowl is actually a bit smaller than I prefer. It’s funny how much difference just an inch or two diameter makes in a bowl.


And, I try to make a nicely shaped and proportioned bowl.

Ornamental Cherry
Black Walnut
Hickory (not shagbark)
White Oak

Not every bowl qualifies to be an Empty Bowl (there’s a joke there somewhere….). Here is an example (below) of a nice little elm bowl that I won’t submit for Empty Bowls, as it has a knot or bark inclusion in the bottom that would leak. Empty bowls does request that the bowl not be cracked and that it is able to “hold soup.” I don’t know how many are actually used to eat from, but it is their request and I try to honor it.


For what it’s worth, I do sign my Empty Bowls. The following pic isn’t the best signature, but it shows what I do. Again, you may want to leave yours unsigned or use a different method, and that is Okay.


All the bowls shown in this post are finished with Doctor’s Woodshop Walnut Finishing Oil. Milwaukee Woodcraft stocks this. I wipe on a fairly heavy coat and let it sit for a couple days, until I can handle it without the oil transferring onto my fingers. I have also used Mahoney’s Utility Finish (Walnut Oil) in the same manner. I find this a quick and easy finishing method and of course, it is food safe. Again, Empty Bowls does request that we provide bowls with a food safe finish.

Doctor’s Woodshop Oil

As always, I welcome any response to this article with your thoughts, ideas and processes – you can respond below the article or send a reply email and I will make sure your response gets posted.

Tony Rozendaal






2 responses to “Empty Bowls – Some Thoughts”

  1. Dale Brugger Avatar
    Dale Brugger

    A great food-safe finish is “spoon butter”. I make my own. It’s a blend of bees wax and food grade mineral oil. It’s about 3:1 oil to melted wax. Apply, let sit a day or two and buff to a shine.

  2. Ron Zdroik Avatar

    Thanks so much for the information and photos for Empty Bowls. I’ll be turning a few…maybe not 10 or more like you but a nice stack.
    I also appreciate the tips from you and Dale for the food-safe finishes.
    – Ron

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