It took some time and some woodturning classes to get me to the point where I was ready to tackle a nice chunk of wood like this, but eventually I laid tool to wood and created a bowl. It was a fun project, but I wasn't pleased with the results. You can see a couple of pictures below, and there are bigger ones in the project gallery.
The problem was the variable hardness of the curly maple; it had soft spots in it. There was lots of tearout. I did my usual hand sanding, which tended to dig into the soft spots and leave high spots where the wood was harder. Also, I thought the wood was a bit bland looking. The overall assessment was the potential of this beautiful wood was not realized in the finished project, so I was grumpy about it for a bit.
I moved on to other projects, and my disappointment and thoughts of the bowl faded. Then I was purchasing wood for Christmas cutting boards last fall, and there was a big pile of soft maple burl slabs in the store entryway. A one-time shipment from a tree that had blown down in a storm on Vancouver Island. It was stunning, see for yourself. The pic doesn't do it justice.
There has to be at least three beautiful bowls in there, I told myself as I walked out with the slab, always the optimist. I began the process again, but first posted my initial bowl on turning forums and asked for advice. Armed with new knowledge, I went on the attack. First, I mounted the bowl using a screw chuck and turned and sanded the outside. I took care to do all sanding with hardwood-backed sandpaper - no holding the sandpaper in my hand. The wood had bark inclusions and other natural gaps, plus lots of birds-eye figure. When finished with this stage, the surface was in great shape thanks to careful sanding.
Next, I mixed up some West Systems epoxy, added some graphite powder and coated the entire bowl exterior. The remaining epoxy had some colloidal silica added to it to thicken it, and that was used to fill the big gaps and voids. The epoxy not only fills the voids, it gives the wood a uniform texture and hardness.
I re-mounted the blank on the screw chuck, and proceeded to sand off the epoxy. I won't lie, it was a bit of work, but the lathe does most of it. Again, I used the hardwood-backed sandpaper. Here's a shot when it was mostly done.
And the final results, which I am much happier with. After sanding to 600 grit, it was given 5 coats of General Finishes Woodturner's Finish and buffed. The careful sanding and epoxy got rid of the high/low spots. In addition, although most of it was sanded off, the blackened epoxy gave the wood depth, definition and character that was missing before.