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So, how thin is too thin?

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For usable bowls - that is, for a bowl that is meant to be actually used (kitchen or whatever) - anyone care to offer up guidelines? I ask because I recently happened to run into someone that does bowl turning (definitely not an AAW member, though) and , I hesitate to criticize someone, but I know of him from LONG ago, and even back then, he had, let's say, a certain reputation, among certain circles that I was in... Anyhow, he took it upon himself to try to tell me that my bowls were Too THIN! (an 8 inch salad bowl in ash that is a bit over 1/4 inch wall thickness - maybe closer to 5/16 inch) and claimed that they "couldn't hold the weight" (whatever that was supposed to mean) I quite literally had to bite my tongue to try and remain polite (there were others around as well, none were turners.. but they'd known the guy much longer than they'd known me - I was the new kid on the block... so to speak)

Well , I got home, decided to test out what *I* think (thinking that my wall thickness was perfectly fine - HIS bowls were quite thick - most appeared to be over a half inch thick walls, even for a 7 or 8 inch bowl , though many that I saw were rather straight-sided.) I took my bowl and turned it upside down on the floor and actually just stood on it (as in like a step stool) and figured, if a bowl can hold 180 lbs of human being, it's probably plenty strong enough to hold as many apples or potatoes as could be fit into it...

So, my question is -- How thin is too thin? are there any sort of real guidelines (wall thickness to diameter ratios? particular use cases? ) Not looking for any validation (I am satisfied with my bowl results so far, for the use I intended them for when I turned them - I'm not letting some guy that may or may not really have a clue tell me what is right or wrong... since, really, there ISN'T really right or wrong when it comes to designs turned on the lathe..., right?) But, I'd definitely like to get some ideas from the REAL turners on this forum and the AAW as to what actually might be a little too thin or too thick, when a bowl is turned for a particular use or purpose..
 
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Well, the strength of wall thickness on a bowl is something I've never thought about. A very thin bowl is surely more brittle than a thicker walled bowl. But I can't imagine any 1/4"
thick bowl breaking from not being able to bear the load. More important to me is the aesthetics of wall thickness. I like a little something going on at the rim surface, like an inward or outward slope or maybe a bead, and if there isn't enough wall to be able to make that look good, I'd say it's too thin. If I pick up the bowl and it strains my wrist, it's too thick.

BTW, I'm not a real turner, and really not much of a real bowl turner. So take my opinion for what it's worth.
 
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I don't measure thickness, it's right when it looks and feels good. Some light weight woods I leave thicker as I think they need a little weight to feel correct. Denser wood objects might be a little thinner.

If I had to guess (I'm too lazy to go measure) most of my bowls probably fall somewhere in between yours and those of your acquaintance. If he likes his bowl thick, good for him. If you like yours thinner, that's good too. Diameter and thickness are easy to measure, and thus critique by those who have no other concept of design. Much more goes into a well designed and executed bowl than those two parameters.

I think we often spend too much time trying to meet the expectations of others. If you like the bowls you make, that's all that matters.
 
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I make and sell my work at galleries. I belong to two AAW affiliate clubs, and one of them has some very well known professional turners in it, like Barbara Dill, Mike Sorge, Fred Williamson, and some of us not as well known, but are highly experienced and do sell our work.....just for reference. None of them use really thick walls on their bowls. Rarely in galleries will a really thick wall on a bowl cause the bowl to sell.

Generally, my rule of thumb is 7-10 inch diameter gets 3/16” walls, a 11” - 13” gets 1/4” walls, and 15” and above gets 3/8” walls. Larger bowls that have thicker walls will increase the heft to a point that the bowl becomes a bit unweildy to use. Especially on dense heavy woods like oak, weight needs to be a consideration. I don’t want my walls to flex, but I do want then sturdy enough for the rigors of use. Hope this helps.
 
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I don't measure thickness, it's right when it looks and feels good. Some light weight woods I leave thicker as I think they need a little weight to feel correct. Denser wood objects might be a little thinner.

If I had to guess (I'm too lazy to go measure) most of my bowls probably fall somewhere in between yours and those of your acquaintance. If he likes his bowl thick, good for him. If you like yours thinner, that's good too. Diameter and thickness are easy to measure, and thus critique by those who have no other concept of design. Much more goes into a well designed and executed bowl than those two parameters.

I think we often spend too much time trying to meet the expectations of others. If you like the bowls you make, that's all that matters.
This was pretty much exactly my thought process when I was turning most of my bowls to date (but then I haven't been turning bowls all that long, and I'm self-taught from reading here and elsewhere, and youtube videos ) and just because of that being self-taught , but aware enough that the guy was nowhere near being as authoritative on turning (or flatwork for that matter) as he probably would have liked people to think, I wanted to get some further opinion on the subject.. which obviously is why I turned to the forum here ... But, between Emiliano and Paul, seems the consensus rather sort of prefers what to me seems about right to my sense of proportion.. I guess I should trust my gut instinct a little more..

On the other hand, I was more curious if there were among us, some engineer types that might sort of break down the whys and wherefores of wall thickness and any relevance it might have to the form or shape of a bowl.. To my thoughts, a typical tapered/curved bowl upside down, forms a triangle , and thus would have greater strength and stability than a straight sided (forming a square shape) bowl... but then again it is just my sense of the ideas.. I never went beyond H.S. Diploma but tend to be autodidactic.. (so I learn quickly.. I went from being a small engine mechanic to an auto mechanic to computer programmer and systems administrator as my full time jobs, all the while developing other skills and hobbies from woodworking to resin casting, sewing, cooking, gardening, needlepoint, etc) Anyhoo... from the gist I get of some engineering concepts that I picked up along the way somewhere (probably when working for a construction company as the fleet mechanic.. which is where I first ran into someone elses opinion of the guy I mentioned,, LOL!) just seemed to me shape and form for functional might by nature of intended use, necessarily be different , as opposed to shape and form for decorative (which really is limited only by the imagination)

So I wondered if there might be any basis to utility bowl design guidelines other than "to each his own"
 
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@Brian Gustin , yes there is a science & engineering to wall thickness. It is eye-chrometry and eye-gineering :cool:.

Though I don't usually make functional items, for me 1/4" is where delicate and durable best overlap, and I'm in the 6" to 12" size range. When I did make a fruit bowl it came out closer to 1/2", but certainly would have been better at 3/8".
 

hockenbery

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What looks right and feels right usually works.
1/4” - 3/8” works well for smaller bowls Up to 10”
1/2 - 5/8 for larger bowls.

i’ve done quite a few NE bowls int 14-16” diameter range with walls 3/16-1/4 walls that are quite functional
most would probably would break if you picked it up by one rim with a watermelon in it But would work fine if lifted with two hands on opposite sides while holding a dozen apples.
 
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For what it's worth I have a utility chopping bowl that I inherited from my mother or grandmother. I don't know the wood but it has seen plenty of wear and lots of use in it's about 100 years of life. It is 13" diameter by 1/2" thick. It was used as a chopping bowl before blenders or other electric kitchen devices. I am sure it was also used as a mortar with a brass pestle that I also have.

Shows signs of use but no cracks. It is also oval so it may have been turned wet and/or soaked and dried many times in its life.

It feels a bit heavy to me by today's standards but it lasted.

Stu
 
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I go for about 1/4 inch thick, most of the time. The Pacific Madrone that I turn cracks less if I am close to that thickness, but 3/8 inch thick will most likely crack. Other woods like maple or myrtle I can go to 5/16 or so. My theory on thickness is that if it is too thick and you drop it, it won't flex when it hits, so the impact stress is relieved by cracking. Pretty much the same thing with really hard woods if you drop them. They are more likely to crack if they can't flex. Black Cherry and Madrone are kind of in the middle, not too hard, and not too soft.

I do agree that they have to 'feel' right to the customer, and some like thicker and some like thinner.

Hmm, just thinking, I am fairly sure that most plates and platters are in that 1/4 inch thickness range...

robo hippy
 

Randy Anderson

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Agree with most all the comments - if it feels right to you, looks right relative to the bowl size then it's right. I used to fret over wall thickness then quit. I've made and sold lots of bowls and have never had anyone decide to buy or not to buy based on wall thickness. I've heard it said here and other places - the only people that really give a flip about wall thickness are turners. That said - consistency does make a big difference to me. Early on for me it was common to have a nice edge wall thickness and then get much much thicker as it went toward the bottom and the bowl would just feel clunky and out of proportion. I've gone back and returned a few that I could manage to mount. It's subjective to me. If a natural edge and the bark is bold and sturdy I'll leave it a bit thicker to highlight the bark. If it comes off or is just not interesting I'll turn it thinner and move on. I do work to keep it consistent since everyone wants to pick them up and feel them before they buy and consistency makes them feel better. At least to me. In general, I find 5/16 - 3/8 a good target but I seldom if ever actually measure them. Do a few and you'll know when it feels right. Consistency also greatly minimizes cracking during the drying process for natural edge bowls, hollow forms, etc.
 
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So far, seems to me it is a case of "Just do your thing" - I guess only thing that really bothered me (being relatively new to turning and totally new to the "market booth" experience) was just the doubt that comes when someone with several years experience (albeit not necessarily GOOD experience) tries to tell you what you're doing wrong... I'd be willing to bet he'd have found something "not done right" with something turned by someone like Ellsworth (assuming, that is, he wasn't aware whose work it was.) So, my plan for any future markets, I'll also take along some props (buy a couple bags of fruit, some flower arrangements at the grocery store before the event, take along some costume jewelry and other props, etc) to stage my work .. and if someone again tries to say "that's too thin" I can always dump a heap of fruit in a bowl and ask them "how much weight does it NEED to hold?" Thanks for the replies.. I feel somewhat better, and a bit vindicated..

I also learned that some things that "everybody else" (meaning Youtube, etc) says "They sell like hotcakes at markets" .. does not necessarily apply around here. Example- Weed pots / bud vases - I got a lot of comments from people as to why my vases were "unfinished" - though they were done in the supposedly popular style leaving the bark , knots, bit of branches, etc on them... that stuff don't wash around here, I guess.. so I'll keep a couple or three of my better ones, and toss the rest on the firewood pile.. I did only turn them for the specific purpose of selling at the markets, so it may have had an effect on my design choices.. but even my best ones got odd looks from just about everybody that came by... So I guess I can say, I am learning my local market :)
 
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Here's a tip for you Brian. It seems you don't want a critique of your work, so say so when you walk in with it. Some people don't take criticism well, others are fine with it. I'm in the group who find it incredibly valuable for other turners to give me opinions on my turnings.
 
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Here's a tip for you Brian. It seems you don't want a critique of your work, so say so when you walk in with it. Some people don't take criticism well, others are fine with it. I'm in the group who find it incredibly valuable for other turners to give me opinions on my turnings.

No actually I have no problem with criticism... My post was because I wanted opinion from more sources than just one person whose word-of-mouth reputation gave me reason to have doubts as to the veracity of his claims... I wanted to know the opinions of more than just one person because I have nothing else to compare to, and by all I have seen (in most photos on here at the AAW) it seems rare to see a bowl as thick as those I saw held up to me as examples...

HOWEVER, I also was not sure enough whether those photos were just "art" or if they were actually designed as usable. I suppose I would say - Items that might fall into the category of "Production" marketable items - not necessarily the most beautiful, best looking ones (which I tend to suspect are the ones that get posted in galleries.) - I did not want to waste my efforts trying to turn more bowls intended for market, that more than just a few might deem as being "too thin to use", or too fragile, etc. (Hence my question whether there was any science/formula behind form/design/thickness, such as ratio numbers, etc.)

In short, I don't want to be wasting my lathe time making stuff that I don't necessarily want for myself or someone else, and that DOESNT sell (despite several dozen "big city" turner videos out there that say they sell like hotcakes) - If I was turning just for me, I wouldn't bother with some of the stuff I do.. but I want to try and create some stuff to sell at market (to generate revenue to support my shop).
 
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The condition of the wood and the finish applied will have some influence on the thickness of the walls, if you have spalting in the wood, or burl grain this can impact the strength of the bowl walls As the temperature and humidity can vary in a house the wood will be expanding and contracting throughout the year, some species of woods have a stronger wood grain whereas other wood species are susceptible to grain separation if they wood fatigues from excessive movement or drying. A museum or show piece could be turned to thickness that displays the skill level of the woodturner, a bowl intended for normal use would need to be turned to a thickness and strength needed for its size and intended purpose.
 
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..........
In short, I don't want to be wasting my lathe time making stuff that I don't necessarily want for myself or someone else, and that DOESNT sell (despite several dozen "big city" turner videos out there that say they sell like hotcakes) - If I was turning just for me, I wouldn't bother with some of the stuff I do.. but I want to try and create some stuff to sell at market (to generate revenue to support my shop).
Brian - just my 2-cents, but I don't turn anything I don't enjoy turning. You are playing a guessing game with "what might sell and what other people are looking for". My experience is that the things "I like" are also things that others really enjoy and so, yes, you are wasting your time turning things trying to satisfy (and guessing) what other people might want. Turn what YOU like to turn and "enjoy the ride". Others will see the passion in your work IF you are passionate about it.
 

Randy Anderson

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Like John, if I don't enjoy turning it, like it when I'm done and learn something in the process then I won't. Every bowl I make is not my favorite but I would put any of them on a table in my house. At least until my wife saw it. Figuring out what folks will buy is a very tough challenge to use to drive what you turn. I've done a lot of local markets (rural TN) and it took a while to see what people were interested in. Even then I would do a market and sell a lot, do another market across town and sell almost nothing, etc. So many variables - weather, calendar, other events, other vendors, location in the market, price expectations, etc. I've done enough now to only be able to know what the likely best selling items are in my area but, other folks here have very different markets and demographics. A 9-12" natural edge bowl with character (knots, bark, bug holes, etc) sells well for me most of the time. Some events I can sell a number of hollow forms, next event no one even picks one up. I guess my input from this is make what you like, your friends and family like and then find some local markets and try a variety. Selling online is a whole different world of course.
 
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Hmm.. definitely some food for thought here. I sort of already "knew" that probably selling at a market like this would probably be hit and miss... but have found that I can't always depend on research on what sells; what sells well in one area, might not sell at all in other areas... I do have a couple people I can depend on for honest opinion (insofar as how something LOOKS and FEELS or being useful..) at least now so I think I may just try making a sample of whatever comes to mind or that I want to try and then see what THEY think. (Indeed, couple days ago, got told one of my flatwork projects was a) too big, and b) ugly as &^$^.. despite me admiring my hand-cut dovetail work, and beauty of the grain selection in the wood.... So, I know to not make any more of those. LOL!) But none of them are really engineer types that could constructively critique on design/suitability for purpose (neither is the one offering that so-called "helpful" criticism that triggered this post)

As for selling online, honestly, no thanks.. I used to move a quarter million a year in ebay dollar volume, shipping over 1500-2000 packages a month, and just the thought of turning back to organizing and setting up the efficient logistics again to stock & ship product myself makes me think again about trying to sell on etsy or elsewhere that might require me to offer shipping. I just don't want to deal with all that again. (plus the constant fees and percentages that those places swipe off the top.) I may consider it as a last resort, if I can't seem to get any momentum going on local sales. (people around here are just CHEAP when they're buying, nothing is ever worth what you're asking, and you gotta deliver to them in the next town over.. but when they are selling, whatever it is, seemingly is made of gold... probably some of you know how that goes, in very tiny rural areas. )
 
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So many variables - weather, calendar, other events, other vendors, location in the market, price expectations, etc. I've done enough now to only be able to know what the likely best selling items are in my area but, other folks here have very different markets and demographics.
I've always said ... "CRAFT / ART SHOWS ARE A CRAPSHOOT !!!" ... you never know what to expect. I say this with my experience of doing shows for about 24 years in 8 different states - full-time since 1988. Forced to retire at the end of 2006. All the work, prep, travel, grief, etc. ..... don't miss it one bit! Although, I do miss seeing the friends I made over the years that I only saw at these events.
 

brian horais

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For usable bowls - that is, for a bowl that is meant to be actually used (kitchen or whatever) - anyone care to offer up guidelines? I ask because I recently happened to run into someone that does bowl turning (definitely not an AAW member, though) and , I hesitate to criticize someone, but I know of him from LONG ago, and even back then, he had, let's say, a certain reputation, among certain circles that I was in... Anyhow, he took it upon himself to try to tell me that my bowls were Too THIN! (an 8 inch salad bowl in ash that is a bit over 1/4 inch wall thickness - maybe closer to 5/16 inch) and claimed that they "couldn't hold the weight" (whatever that was supposed to mean) I quite literally had to bite my tongue to try and remain polite (there were others around as well, none were turners.. but they'd known the guy much longer than they'd known me - I was the new kid on the block... so to speak)

Well , I got home, decided to test out what *I* think (thinking that my wall thickness was perfectly fine - HIS bowls were quite thick - most appeared to be over a half inch thick walls, even for a 7 or 8 inch bowl , though many that I saw were rather straight-sided.) I took my bowl and turned it upside down on the floor and actually just stood on it (as in like a step stool) and figured, if a bowl can hold 180 lbs of human being, it's probably plenty strong enough to hold as many apples or potatoes as could be fit into it...

So, my question is -- How thin is too thin? are there any sort of real guidelines (wall thickness to diameter ratios? particular use cases? ) Not looking for any validation (I am satisfied with my bowl results so far, for the use I intended them for when I turned them - I'm not letting some guy that may or may not really have a clue tell me what is right or wrong... since, really, there ISN'T really right or wrong when it comes to designs turned on the lathe..., right?) But, I'd definitely like to get some ideas from the REAL turners on this forum and the AAW as to what actually might be a little too thin or too thick, when a bowl is turned for a particular use or purpose..
It's always good to 'meet' another woodturner whose first name is Brian! I tend to turn my wall thicknesses to a 1/4 inch or more, which some turners think is too thick. I would rather concentrate on the shape and design of the turning than on the achievement of a very thin wall. That said, some of my segmented twisted objects are a challenge to turn internally because the shapes generated by the multi-axis approach are triangular and not circular. I was turning the inside of one of my segmented twisted shapes when the tool started to chirp at increasing frequencies. I wondered if the tool was just chattering until I saw a hole opening up in the wall. I guess I found out what the limit on thickness is. Not to be defeated by a hole in the shape, I created three matching holes in the twisted vase and called it a redesign. The message here is to listen to what the wood is telling you as you engage the wood. If you don't listen, you often get an unwanted surprise.
Here's an image of that 'redesigned' segmented twisted vase.
 

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My view on thickness has evolved over time. Most of my turnings lately are 6-7” pieced candy bowls, or 9-14” twice turned. I’m self taught, and from the reading I did when I first started turning ~25 yrs ago I thought that it had to be thin to be good.

I’ve made a number of 1/16-1/8” that frankly look nice, but I don’t find as functional; nor do people gravitate towards these when examining my work. I also have a number of bowls where I started the rims around 3/16” and got down around 1/16” at the bottom of the curve near the base, or sometimes in the middle of the foot - I’ve decidedly not liked getting this thin and inconsistent even though the curves are graceful.

I’ve turn some thick for artistic purposes, or with a thick rim to show off some wood characteristic. Some of these in larger bowls are 5-8-3/4” (couple with expanded rims up to 1.5”) and I like them.

Over the last year the pandemic gave me more shop time and I turned a couple hundred bowls and plates. Add that to the 50 or so laying around the house gives me a lot of data points to compare. I also did some experiments with thickness and glues subjecting them to multiple dishwasher cycles as a stress/accelerator.

My current thinking is that sometimes I intentionally choose to go very thin, or thicker for artistic purposes. But as a general rule I like:
~1/4” - 5/16” consistent wall thicknesses for 6-7” bowls.
~3/16-1/4” consistent walls for 5-6” bowls
~3/16” generally for small plates (up to 8-9”)
~1/4” generally for larger plates (~12”), thinner towards rim

Larger bowls 9-14” I tend to like 5/16-3/8”, but have a couple natural edge ones at 1/4” that my wife loves (even though they look too thin to me) and a couple that are intentionally ~5/8” that just work well with that design.

My stress experiments showed me that 1/8” and less did not hold up well, but 3/16”+ Titebond 2&3 joints survived many dishwasher cycles so I try not to go below 3/16” anymore.

Smooth fair curves and consistent wall thicknesses are the things I think about most, thicknesses are influenced by the rim geometry I choose; and each bowl design evolves at the time as I turn it (and as Odie would say “become one with the wood” ).
 
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My view on thickness has evolved over time. Most of my turnings lately are 6-7” pieced candy bowls, or 9-14” twice turned. I’m self taught, and from the reading I did when I first started turning ~25 yrs ago I thought that it had to be thin to be good.

I’ve made a number of 1/16-1/8” that frankly look nice, but I don’t find as functional; nor do people gravitate towards these when examining my work. I also have a number of bowls where I started the rims around 3/16” and got down around 1/16” at the bottom of the curve near the base, or sometimes in the middle of the foot - I’ve decidedly not liked getting this thin and inconsistent even though the curves are graceful.

I’ve turn some thick for artistic purposes, or with a thick rim to show off some wood characteristic. Some of these in larger bowls are 5-8-3/4” (couple with expanded rims up to 1.5”) and I like them.

Over the last year the pandemic gave me more shop time and I turned a couple hundred bowls and plates. Add that to the 50 or so laying around the house gives me a lot of data points to compare. I also did some experiments with thickness and glues subjecting them to multiple dishwasher cycles as a stress/accelerator.

My current thinking is that sometimes I intentionally choose to go very thin, or thicker for artistic purposes. But as a general rule I like:
~1/4” - 5/16” consistent wall thicknesses for 6-7” bowls.
~3/16-1/4” consistent walls for 5-6” bowls
~3/16” generally for small plates (up to 8-9”)
~1/4” generally for larger plates (~12”), thinner towards rim

Larger bowls 9-14” I tend to like 5/16-3/8”, but have a couple natural edge ones at 1/4” that my wife loves (even though they look too thin to me) and a couple that are intentionally ~5/8” that just work well with that design.

My stress experiments showed me that 1/8” and less did not hold up well, but 3/16”+ Titebond 2&3 joints survived many dishwasher cycles so I try not to go below 3/16” anymore.

Smooth fair curves and consistent wall thicknesses are the things I think about most, thicknesses are influenced by the rim geometry I choose; and each bowl design evolves at the time as I turn it (and as Odie would say “become one with the wood” ).
Excellent. I like that - like you, I have been self-taught, and I just didn't care for the thicker bowls. I like them around 1/4" - 5/16" myself so far... I do have some with a thicker wall and bulbous rim (trying my hand at undercutting a roundover rim... I have yet to manage the trick with a bowl gouge - I did the couple I have with a round (12mm-ish) carbide tool. )
 

john lucas

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I've turned one hollow vessel that is about 1 1/16 of an inch thick. It's been in 4 shows and never sold. I think people are leery of it because they always comment on how light it is. So I do think there is such a thing as too thin. Mike Hosaluk did a demo at SWAT a.few years back where he turned a bowl.paper thin. I missed that demo because I was demoing in another room at that time. It was the talk of the symposium because everywhere you went someone mentioned that bowl. Thin works well.for my hollow christmas ornaments because when you pick them up they are deceptively ely light and people seem to like that.
 
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