Decorating Gourds and Creating Bowls, Vases, and Plant Holders

Many of the round gourds (often referred to as canteen, bushel, or tobacco gourds) lend themselves to becoming beautiful bowls. You can design bowls to have lids, or to be uncovered, depending on your preference. You will find that each bowl you make is as unique as the gourd from which it is created. You can use the bowls for potpourri, fruit, jewelry and trinkets, candy, or decoration.

To make bowls
Select the gourds that you want to use for your bowls, and follow the instructions for cleaning, cutting, and gutting them. Ensure that you can easily place the lid back onto the bowl (you must put it on in the same position in which you cut it) by finding the lid’s proper fitting and using your woodcarving knife with the U-veiner blade (or a small drill) to place one small hole in both the lid and the base. The holes should align to indicate the proper placement of the lid. Create a small handle if necessary so the lid can be easily removed. Many of the gourds have stems that you can use as handles, but if the stem has broken off, use your woodcarving knife with the U-veiner blade (or a small drill) to cut two small holes in the center of the lid. String a piece of leather lace (whatever length you desire) through the two holes, and secure each end of the lace with a knot, ensuring that the knots are on the inside of the lid. The leather loop makes a simple and useful handle.

Decorate your bowl
Depending on the size of the bowl — they can vary from very small to quite large — you might want to use only wood burning as a means for decoration. Since the larger gourds offer you more room to work with, you have more freedom to use a combination of carving and wood burning to decorate them. The more you work with the gourds and really look at them, you will begin to see in them the design that Nature had already begun. You can decorate your gourds free hand, or you can use a pencil to draw your design onto the gourd first, which will make your more elaborate designs easier to follow. You can carve any designs that you want into the gourd using the utility knife and the same cutting methods that you used when removing the gourd’s top.

Wood burning designs into gourds is a delight as you watch your design integrate with the gourd’s own beauty. A number of different wood burning tips are available and can usually be found wherever you find wood burners. The different tips allow you to create different patterns. Practice with the various tips until you find the patterns that suit your taste.

Before you begin to burn your designs into the gourd, allow the wood burner to heat up for at least 5 minutes for the best results and to make the burning process easier. The more primitive wood burners heat up only to a specified temperature and then maintain that temperature. Some of the more advanced wood burners have temperature control settings, and it will not take you long to determine which temperatures work best. When you use the wood burner, hold it as you would a pencil, though a rather large one. When you burn in your design, try to apply even pressure and rotate or tilt the gourd, as necessary, with your free hand. As with anything else, the more you do this, the better you become at doing it. Before you know it, you will be creating more intricate designs, enhancing your gourds in ways you never imagined.

Buckets and Plant Holders
To make buckets that serve as holders for dried flower or feather arrangements, use the tops of larger round gourds, or the more oblong gourds with the tops removed. As with the masks, you can use the elongated neck that you remove from the oblong gourds to make a set of chimes. The round gourds are most suitable for plant holders, as you can place the potted plant in the holder. Make your buckets and plant holders using the same steps given for the bowls. If your gourds were properly dried and have no dry rot, the buckets and plants holders can be hung either indoors or outdoors. Regardless of which type of gourd you use, cut off the top and clean out the gourd, and then you are ready to begin.

To make a bucket or a plant holder
Take an oblong or round gourd with its top removed and use a woodcarving knife with a U-veiner blade (or a small drill) to cut a small hole into two opposite sides. Thread lace through the holes, and tie a knot at each end, with the knots inside the gourd. Use a length of lace that allows the holder to hang at a good distance. If you want to make a plant holder that you can set on a table or a ledge, simply decorate the base without cutting any holes or attaching any lace. You must ensure, however, that the bottom of the gourd is level and that the gourd sits flat. Use the wood burner to decorate your creation.

Making a vase requires a slightly different gourd. The more you make vases, the more you will be able to spot or specify the gourds that you need. Often I can find just the right dipper gourd, or a more slender round gourd, with the necessary flat bottom and tapered neck.

Again, you will want to draw a cutting line, though this one will be around the neck of the gourd, as shown in the illustration. You should apply less pressure as you cut, as the area you are working on is much smaller, and the gourd is usually thinner along the neck. Cleaning out the gourd for the vase is more difficult, as you have only one rather small hole to work through. Use the table knife to reach in and scrape away what you can, and also sand whatever areas you can reach. A scraper that is often used for cleaning out birdhouses is also available and can be extremely helpful in these situations.

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