Are Bowl Savers Worth The Cost.

When a wood turner gets a large piece of wood that is big enough for a bowl to be made from, the shavings that end on the floor get the mind thinking of a bowl saver because those shavings could be one or two more bowls.

I have two brands, and while they sometimes gather dust between jobs, I do use them enough to form an educated opinion so I thought it time to share my experience with them.

Are bowl savers or bowl corers worth buying? Yes they are worth it if you intend to turn out a few bowls over time, and what wood turner is only going to stop at only a couple of bowls? But the true cost can only be calculated by going through a few details on how you intend to use them, similar to the following list.

  • The actual price to be paid for the tool. This is the reference for cost vs value in saved bowls.
  • The expected amount of use of the bowl saver. If you intend to turn out a lot of bowls then the value vs cost is easy to reconcile.
  • The availability of large enough wood blanks. This has a lot to do with the turners intent. 
  • The power of the lathe that the turner has at present. An under-powered lathe cannot be productive at all.
  • The available space to store bowls as they dry. Stacks of drying rough turned bowls are typical of the wood turner with a bowl saver.
  • The end use of the shavings. It may not be a consideration for many however wood shavings are great for gardens. There could be more value in grown produce than in saved bowls.

The list above just touches on the question without delivering any depth so as we go down the page we will expand each section and hopefully by the end you will have another perspective on the worth of these tools.

price vs value

Price vs Value.

Put in a different way, the question could be “What is the shelf price of the tool in bowls?”

This is a primary consideration for the hobby wood turner and this factor can override a tools capacity and it’s reputation. There are several brands and designs available that are all different so getting a direct comparison is not straightforward.

Three brands are compared here but please keep in mind that prices fluctuate and differ from shop to shop so an average price will be presented.

  • $250-$275

Oneway Easy Core Mini System 12″

  • $390-$400

Kelton Standard McNaughton Center Saver System

  • $500+

Woodcut bowlsaver max3

These are the primary brands available and while the oneway price point is great, there is more to all of the tools than just the price.

  • The oneway comes with just one 12” size knife. This explains the lower price.
  • The Kelton is a system with 3 different knives.
  • The Woodcut has 3 separate size cutters also.

On price only, the most cost effective tool is the Oneway 12” single blade. But does it represent the best value?

To level the value field, we can add the Oneway easy core system with the base unit at $200 and the cutters to match that start at $150.

This brings this oneway system closer to the capacity of the other two brands.

So we can add it to the list.

Price for Oneway easy core system base and 1 knife set is $350. If we add in three sizes of knife sets to level the cutter choice of the other two brands we start to climb in price.

The average price for every extra blade is $166 so just three cutters comes to 3x$166 = $498 then add the base at $200. Total of $698.

All of a sudden the tables are turned and the Oneway system is the top of the price range.

So, Oneway have the bottom price point and the top as well.

The price is just one facet of this comparison. While there will be many hobby wood turners who will go with the 12” version, the trade off for price is capacity and the range of bowl sizes that can be gained from a bowl saver that has several blade sizes that fit a base unit.

This is where value comes in vs price, and that cannot be looked at until the wood turner decides how far this bowl saving idea will run.

The expected amount of use of the bowl saver.

Most bowl savers are bought with the best intentions, and that pile of wood blocks sure do look like a great collection of bowls. The reality is that while the bowl saver is useful and is a great benefit to the lathe tooling collection, once the initial burst of excitement wears off that tool will likely sit for extended periods between uses.

That is not to suggest that they are a waste of money…far from it actually.

I think a bowl saver is a fantastic piece of equipment that should pay for itself easily. however that is just my opinion and I only mentioned it for some perspective in this article; one that is intended to go some way to helping you answer the query you typed into the search bar of are coring systems or bowl savers worth buying.

Bowl coring systems

If the hobby wood turner is only looking to make a few bowls and must have a coring system, then the best value would be the smaller Oneway system.

If intentions are more serious then the other brands should be considered, but there is a disclaimer here that says these systems should not be compared on price alone.

Each of them mounts onto the lathe differently to the others and this adds complexity to the “simple” task of deciding what brand to get if the call is get one.

Something that we should go over is the ease or complexity of use of each brand and then look at your personal skill level with wood turning and also your confidence around the lathe.

The Oneway and the Woodcut systems both utilize several support points that are available on the lathe to give stability and security to both the tool and the turner.

With the Woodcut style the support comes from the banjo and the tailstock acting to brace the cutter base as the blade enters and works into the wood.

The Oneway uses a robust clamping system that connects through the gap in the lathe bed and offers support from that position.

The Kelton system is very different system. It uses the banjo body where the tool rest usually sits (tool rest is removed) as a support, a guide, and a blade locking method…all in one, and allows the wood turner far more latitude to choose the cutting path for the blade.

It is essentially a freeform cutting method and is the choice of many professionals the world over. It also demands a higher level of confidence and skill to get the most from it. I would not recommend this tool for the beginner or the novice.

All of the above should be considered when looking at a purchase and it is not hard to see that they all have positives and negatives. The approach I suggest is to look at the purchase from an expected use angle, and that is potentially the biggest challenge for the hobby wood turner to consider.

How much will it be used? The excited wood turner is likely to say “a lot”! Reality will decide in time.

The availability of enough wood blanks large enough for your tool choice.

This should go without saying but it needs to be mentioned all the same.

If the hobby wood turner is likely to have access to plenty of wood for bowl blanks then the purchase will make financial sense far more quickly than the wood turner who has an infrequent supply of wood. However, this infrequent supply creates a dynamic that can support the purchase decision in a strange way because it gives more value to the ability to make several bowls from the one block whereas the plentiful wood supply suggests less imperative to maximise the yield.

wood block for bowl turning

If the hobby turner only has access to small amounts of wood, then a bowl saver system can absolutely be worth it.

If the wood turner has access to plenty of wood and can pick and choose, there is potential for the bowl saver to pay for itself very quickly with little pressure on maximising the output.

Selling excess bowls makes good sense in this situation so the most robust bowl coring system should be considered if this seems appropriate for your situation.

The power of the lathe that the turner has available.

Now we are getting to the part where the limits of your lathe come into the equation. There is no way around this issue…bowls savers require horsepower. The more horses available, the better the end result. The bigger the bowls you expect to turn, the bigger the coring system needed and the larger the required lathe.

Hobby wood turning was never said to be cheap.

I personally know from experience that a 1.5 HP motor stalls when coring 12” blanks. That is using the Woodsaver system, however the type of bowl saver means nothing because it all comes down to friction at the cutting tip that slows down the rotation of the wood, not the particular brand or make of the tool.

The only qualifier I would add here is the width of the cutting tips that any of the cutters have fitted. The cutters that I know are quite wide and that is why the horses are needed.

A typical bowl gouge can cut as fine as you wish but the bowl coring tips cut a wide path.

This is for two primary reasons. The first is for strength and resistance to deflection when cutting at depth. The overhang of the cutter can get extreme when large bowls are being cored so depth of cutter support is needed.

The second reason for the cutter width is to create space in the cut for the waste to exit before it clogs up and creates braking pressure on the wood rotation.

The next issue on the lathe that you have is the stability of it when turning blanks that are unbalanced. All blanks start off at least a little lumpy and the more experienced turner will have a bandsaw that can give a good blank that can cancel out the potential for lathe rock-and-roll.

In fact, I have an article about bolting wood lathes down here if you are interested in the why’s and how’s.

The bigger the lathe the heavier the lathe, and the more stable it should be however the larger the lathe the bigger the wood blocks that we mount so the increased potential for unstable turning.

That bunch of text is just saying to treat all lathes the same when out of balance wood is on the agenda. Size is relative.

The recommendation that I would suggest is to scale the coring system to the lathe. A 12” coring system should have at least 2 hp available. 3hp is even better.

These bowl savers really don’t fit the notion that the wood turner just has to back off on the pressure to make a smaller lathe perform.

Plan for space to store bowls as they dry.

I can speak from experience here that you will run out of storage space for bowl blanks when you purchase a coring system. Every block of wood has at least 1 bowl in it; and can have several with a coring system bolted to the lathe.

Bowl drying shelf full of unfinished bowls

I cut my bowl blanks green and let them season slowly on a shelf and this takes up space.

No doubt the experienced wood turner would already have wood stacked and stored everywhere already, but things change when a bowl saver arrives at the lathe.

Be prepared for wood juice everywhere.

Again, I speak from experience here. I have found it far easier on the equipment to turn the bowls out of wet fresh-cut wood. It helps with the heat at the cutting tip and the dust is controlled. What is certain to happen with wet wood is juice spraying everywhere.

I do not joke when I suggest you wear a spray coat or plastic cover over your clothes. It is also prudent to clean down your lathe once the coring is completed as some woods have aggressive saps that will corrode your lathe if left on the equipment.

The benefits of a bowl saver can be soon forgotten when the lathe starts to deteriorate because of poor maintenance. Still, with all of that said, bowl savers are still worth the cost.

The end use of the shavings.

This is where the hobby wood turner who has plenty of wood available might question the need for a coring system. This really does depend on the individual turner but the use of wood shavings on gardens should not be in doubt and the typical wood turner generates a lot of shavings.

The take away here is that there is no wrong to be done. If the wood shavings get recycled into the garden or as mulch because the wood turner prefers to then that is a good thing.

The opposite of this is the turner who minimizes the shavings and maximizes the bowl yield from each block of wood. Either way there is benefit to be had.

That just about wraps up this post I think. If you were to ask me if bowl savers are worth buying, you would get a great big yep, no doubts at all. I have two varieties here in the Woodcut and the Kelton.

Do I have a favorite? No, not really.

They are very different systems that serve very different purposes for me. The Woodcut is more of a production tool and the Kelton is more for the artistic side of turning and when I feel brave.

If wood turning is your hobby, you owe it to yourself to at least find someone local who has a bowl saver and check it out before committing to buying one yourself. You won’t regret it.

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