How to Repair a Cracked Wooden Bowl

How to Repair a Cracked Wooden Bowl

Many of us have kitchen “stuff” that once belonged to a grandmother or even a great grandmother.  Treasured heirlooms, kitchen utensils no longer made but still used, or an old Fanny Farmer Cookbook from 1896, they all carry the energy and the love of past generations.

The wooden salad bowl is an example.  Goodness knows how old it is, but salad is tossed in it still for family meals.  But over time, wood loses moisture, and as it does, it shrinks.  Shrinkage leads to cracks in wood bowls, and as more moisture is lost, cracks will grow.  Large cracks allow oils from those salad dressings to enter, and more problems arise.

Does that mean Grandma’s turned wood bowl is going on a shelf for display purposes only, or can it be revived and saved for continued use?

Can You Fix a Crack in Wood?

The short answer is yes, and in several different ways.  Let’s chat about a couple of quick solutions to small cracks.

Moisture, as we noted, along with temperature variations, contributes to hairline cracks in wood.  Perhaps a crack has appeared in the bowl wall or along the bowl’s rim or base.  We know that moisture loss contributes to the shrinkage that leads to cracks.

How Do You Glue Hairline Cracks in Wood?

For a small hairline crack, re-introducing moisture to the bowl will help to close the gap.  You can try soaking the bowl in water and examine the damage.  You’ll likely see movement as the sides of the crack come together.

CA glues are often used to fill and secure cracks from growing or interfering with the use of a wooden bowl.  CA refers to Cyanoacrylate adhesives, instant glues that bond through reaction to moisture from the surfaces they are bonding, and humidity in the air.

CA glues, white glues like Gorilla Super Glue, are much stronger than wood glues, and because they are white or clear, they do not leave color behind like yellow wood glue.

A simple application of a CA glue directly into the hairline crack will fill it, and as it draws moisture from the wood and the air, it will bond instantly.  If you’ve caught the crack in time, it should provide a lasting solution and keep the gap from growing.  A light sanding over the area will remove any excess glue from the wood bowl surface.

If it is a larger hairline crack, try spraying around the crack with lacquer and after a moment of drying, fill the crack with very fine sawdust before applying a CA glue.  Rub a little more sawdust over the damage, and spray it with a CA accelerator.  Finally, sand over the crack to remove excess glue and sawdust from the surface.

If the crack is too large, something more aggressive will be needed, or perhaps another filler.

Will Epoxy Stop Wood From Cracking?

There are many videos on YouTube that show the use of epoxy resin to fill gaps in wood for table surfaces.  Different colors of epoxies fit into splits of live edge planks make a beautiful surface for dining room tables and wood kitchen countertops.  Can epoxy repair a crack in your wooden salad bowl, too?

Epoxy resin comes in two products:  the resin and a hardener.  They are mixed in a 1 to 1 ratio and applied into the crack or split.  Epoxy penetrates deeply and has good adhesion with a low shrink factor.  It provides a self-leveling clear coat finish and is non-toxic.

It will fill the gap created by the crack or split and can be sanded to leave a smooth and level surface to match that of the wood bowl.   It will hold the sides of the crack in place and prevent the wood from cracking further. 

Can You Glue a Wood Bowl Back Together?

Can You Glue a Wood Bowl Back Together

But what if Grandma’s salad bowl not only cracks but splits?  Or worse, splits in two?  Is it doomed?

No, the turned salad bowl is not doomed, and in fact, can be repaired.  The serious woodworker whose home shop includes a lathe can easily piece it back together with a bit of ingenuity and imagination.

Let’s add a little aesthetic to the fix, too.  Let’s say Grandma’s bowl is of an exotic wood or even spalt wood.

Examples of exotic wood species include:

  • Mexican Royal Ebony
  • Walnut
  • Bloodwood
  • Bocote
  • Birds Eye Maple
  • Curly Maple
  • Cherry

These woods have beautiful grains and colors and elegant features, especially the “bird’s eyes” of maple. 

But, spalt wood is likely available where you are and makes a beautiful bowl with great character.

Exotic Wood

What exactly is spalt wood?

Spalting refers to wood coloration caused by fungi.  The term spalted refers to dark lines and discoloration in wood caused by fungal growth in the wood as it decays.

It is often seen in black and brown staining and forms dark lines through the wood.  The fungus grows primarily in hardwoods like maple, birch, and beech and creates the dark lines where territories of opposing fungi meet. 

Let’s put that split spalted wood bowl back together again. 

Assembling a Split Bowl

We begin by first making the split complete.  Yes, we cut the bowl in half along the split.  Sand the cut surfaces until they are smooth and even.

 Here is the project order:

  • Cut a thin (½ “ – 1”) piece of one of those exotic woods from the list 1 inch longer than the diameter of the bowl. 
  • Apply glue (wood glue will be fine for this task) to the cut surfaces of the bowl, and attach first one side to the exotic wood plank, and then after carefully aligning the second piece to match the edge of the first to the other side of the exotic wood plank.
  • Clamp the bowl and allow the glue to dry and set.
  • Either with your lathe or by hand, remove/cut the excess exotic wood plank away, and then turn or sand the excess exotic plank away, leaving a revived wood bowl.

Imagine the beauty you can create using this method of putting a split bowl together.  The already beautiful spalt wood bowl, full of character and irregular dark lines, enhanced by a lovely piece of cherry or rosewood plank showing both inside the bowl and outside.

We can’t take credit entirely for this split bowl fix.  While preparing for this piece, we examined several videos looking for inspiration and ideas we could present. 

You’ll find one of those videos here.

The spalt wood bowl with a cherry or rosewood plank was our idea, though, and we do claim credit for that part of the solution :).

If you’ve ever worked with spalted wood, you understand.

There is also the butterfly bow tie key fix for the more experienced woodworker.  A bow tie-shaped piece of exotic wood, for instance, with a contrasting color and grain to the wood, would add character and another layer of beauty.

The bow tie will keep the crack from growing and maintain the integrity of the wood.  Using one of the techniques mentioned above (CA glue and sawdust, or epoxy) to fill the remainder of the crack completes the fix.

Here’s another helpful video to show how this is done.

In any event, a crack or a split in a wooden salad bowl is not fatal.  There are solutions, none of them incredibly intricate, for the more minor cracks. There is a slightly more intricate but effective way to keep that bowl in use as something more than a wall ornament in your home for the home shop woodworking enthusiast. 

Your grandmother would be proud of you.