I love making my own hookah gear and I’ve made every component short of the grommets. Being that I am a traditional hookah tobacco lover it stands to reasons that I would need a wooden bowl and a little while ago I decided to make a few because they are all but missing from the market in this country. Today we are going to go over my materials, process and results.
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Firstly and briefly, let’s chat about materials. Not all wood is safe to use for smoking or even for body contact. If you are going to make a bowl for your hookah you want to stick with tried and true materials like cherry, olive, briar and other similar woods. If it has been used in western pipe making then it will likely be great for making a hookah bowl. The main reason to choose one of these woods is toxicity. Exotic woods like purple heart and cocobolo are actually fairly strong irritants and many woods like this can be quite toxic. Heating them up and smoking out of them would only increase the chance of a reaction and could make you quite ill. I choose cherry for this round of bowls.
The process is actually fairly simple, but takes a lot of practice to build up the skills on the lathe. Each piece of turning stock comes as a square post and needs to be turned round so that it can be cut smoothly. Personally, I just jump in right away with my skew chisels to make the actual shape of the bowl.
Skew chisels can be hard to control, but they leave a wonderfully smooth finish because they are actually very sharp blades slicing away the wood. I use them for just about everything, but there is nothing quite like using a gouge to smooth the center of a concave section.
If you are really interested in learning how to use these tools safely and effectively there are some great tutorials on youtube explaining in much greater detail than I am able to muster. It takes time, practice and a lot of ruined pieces to get it right. Once the outside is done we need to actually hollow out the bowl. This is done most often with a bowl gouge, but mine is too large to fit inside this mini funnel, so I used my parting tool as a scraper and hollowed out the inside.
With the bowl still in my chuck I drill halfway through the length, starting at the to of the spire with a half inch spade or forstner bit. I then flip the bowl around and start drilling out the bottom. To achieve the angle that will fit on a hookah I use a series of bits starting at one inch wide an progressing downward to the half inch bit again. Each bit only takes away maybe a quarter of an inch of wood before it is switched out. The half inch bit is last and should punch through around the halfway point of the bowl. The inside is then sanded to be a bit more smoothly sloped and you have yourself a bowl. Any further polishing is entirely up to you. I like the rustic look.