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Bending wood is not the daunting task that it appears to be at first glance. Depending on the degree of bend, and whether or not the bend is compound, there are a couple of methods for bending wood.

curves-patio-furnitureFirst, you need to have a form to bend your wood around and clamp to to hold thedesired shape. Most bent wood will have a certain degree of “springback”, so you must build your form with an allowance for this. And, unfortunately, there is no established formula for determining the degree of springback that a given species of wood will produce. Springback is also influenced by the bending method used. That is to say that steamed wood will spring, or “unbend” more than wood that is laminated and glued. Another variable is the type of glue used in laminating.

As a general rule, the tighter the bend, the more the wood will spring back, making the allowance a matter of trial and error at best.

As laminating thin strips is the easiest method, we’ll begin with that process. The finished thickness of the project will have a direct bearing on the size of the strips to be used, but generally, the heaviest strip to use is about ¼” thick. Tight bends may have to be done with 1/8″ strips or thinner, depending on the wood species. Sounds like a lot of experimenting, but I’m afraid that’s a necessary evil.

bend-woodThe form required for laminating can be as simple as a piece of pipe or as complex as a multi-station die. I like to keep things as simple as possible.

When laminating thin strips, you can minimize effort and spring back by soaking the strips before bending, and clamping them in the mold without gluing. Once they are dry, remove them from the mold, spread the glue and re-clamp them in the mold. Line the mold with waxed paper to prevent the lamination from sticking to the mold.

When I soak strips, I do so in an open container, and depending on the wood and the size of the strips, I soak them from 15 minutes to overnight. I also mix in a half cup of fabric softener per gallon of water. I find that it softens wood nearly as well as fabric.

If the project is small, and open time on the glue is not a factor, I’ll use poly-vinyl-acetate, or aliphatic resin glue. If I need more working time, I’ll use epoxy or resorcinol. I stay
away from the quick setting epoxies, however, because they rarely harden to the extent that the slow sets do. If you’re using light colored wood, resorcinol dries to a reddish color which might be objectionable on a finished project.

When bending thin woods such as guitar sides, the wood is commonly soaked as above, but it is bent over a hot bending jig, either electric, or heated with a propane torch. Brittle woods are supported on the outside of the bend with a thin stainless steel band to help prevent cracking. Green woods can be bent much in the same way, or by heating the wood over hot coals or with a good heat gun.

For projects where lamination is objectionable, or when the wood is to be bent in compound curves, a steam box is the answer. One can be made fairly economically from PVC pipe, but it needs to be supported to keep the pipe from deforming.

The ends of the pipe need to be closed with a screw cap on at least one end, to allow access to the interior. Fit the other end of the pipe with a DWV reducing tee, and attach a radiator hose to the side outlet and to a new gas can large enough to hold sufficient water to last through the job. The water may be heated with a hot plate or a propane burner.

Drill through the pipe slightly below center in two or three locations and insert dowels for the wood to rest on. Steam must be allowed to circulate freely around the wood for even penetration. A hole about ½” in diameter should be drilled in the cap furthest from the steam inlet to allow circulation. When you build the support frame for the steam box, pitch the box toward the steam inlet to allow the condensation to return to the water supply.

Rule of thumb says that wood should be steamed fifteen minutes per inch of thickness, but here again, some experimenting will be necessary.

The wood needs to be placed into the form as quickly as possible, because as the wood cools, it is more difficult to bend. Make sure that your wood is at least two feet longer than the finished part, because it’s nearly impossible to bend a 3/4″ piece of wood that is less than a foot long, so that last foot will have to be cut off after the wood is dry.

Clamp the wood in the form securely, and leave it there until it is completely cool. If you are working with multiple pieces, place them in the steam box a approximately the interval required to place the piece in the form and clamp it, and remove them from the box in the same order.

With a little practice and a little luck, it shouldn’t take long to become proficient in wood bending. Good luck with your project, and if I can be of any help or answer any questions, feel
free to respond to this post, or email me at campbell5017@bellsouth.net .

To get the e-book “How To Bend Wood” as well as other e-books I have written on various aspects of woodworking, click here.

Grant Campbell. Grant has been a professional woodworker for over 50 years. He would like to pass on some of his favourite tips and techniques through his articles

Bandit Sculptures

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Bandit is a project that is currently prototyped but will be manufactured by The Phillips Collection. It will be sold exclusively through authorised Phillips dealers around the world.

bandit sculptures

Bandit Sculptures


A single item that, when rotated even slightly, takes on a new form. It is almost a critique on society, as we all fit one mold, but through controlling our own destinies, we become unique.

Ever wanted to grow your own agave that needs no water and survives the frost outside? Designer makers Iron Vein have the answer in the form of their modular agave.

Steel Agave from Iron Vein

Steel Agave from Iron Vein


Each leaf is galvanized hand forged steel and simply spikes into the ground. Add individual leaves, as you like, to create your own style and size of succulent steel.

Perfect for adding structure to the winter garden.

Agave shown is £800 including delivery. More details can be seen at www.ironvein.co.uk or call 01938 850380

Designer makers Iron Vein have expanded their range of gifts by introducing new sizes of steel allium sculptures, augmenting their wide range of accessories for the inside or outside living space. They look as good in a vase indoors as they do spiked into your garden. These beautiful galvanised allium sculptures brighten winter borders, and lend structure to herbacious or perennial planting all year round. They are architectural and striking whether reflecting the sun, moving in the wind, or clad with raindrops, frost or snow – making them ideal for winter!

Steel Allium Sculptures from Ironvein

Steel Allium Sculptures from Ironvein


See more at www.ironvein.co.uk

mother and child, Eric GillSculpture pieces by designer Eric Gill, including Mother and Child and A Roland for an Oliver, will be on show as part of the Royal Academy’s Wild Thing exhibition, London, from 24 October to 24 January.

Eric Gill was one of the most colourful figures in early 20th century art, despite the majority of his prints being in black and white. Sculptor, typographer, and writer, it was the unequalled clarity of line of his engravings that have made his work so sought after.

Gill’s subject matter swung between the deeply religious and the highly erotic, a direct echo of his eccentric life.

a roland for an oliver, Eric GillHis prints first appeared invariably in tiny editions or as illustrations in limited edition books, such as those he illustrated for the Golden Cockerel Press.

We are fortunate that in 1929 his friend and publisher, Douglas Cleverdon, produced a book of his prints, all printed from the original blocks. This was followed 5 years later by a second similar book, this time published by Faber.

Bryan Illsley SculptureBryan Illsley, exhibiting at Swansea’s Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, is a well-established artist, whose diverse practice includes painting, print, sculpture in metal or ceramic, and also jewellery.

Working variously with colour, texture, form and structure, he absorbs abstraction with intensity. Unlike many artists, there are no preliminary working drawings or sketches to guide him through his meditative paintings.

Neither are there maquettes to steer the course for his rugged sculptures. Relying on spontaneous impulses, he picks up his brush, his clay or a handful of rivets and begins to work, often with a ‘wildness barely controlled’.

With a serious mind, and resolute spirit, he continues to develop his raw abstract creations with unrelenting vigour.

Bryan Illsley was born in Surbiton in 1937. He came from a working-class background with no interest in the arts. In the early 1950s, he became apprenticed to a monumental stonemason and later attended evening classes at Kingston School of Art in Kingston-upon-Thames.

In 1963, he moved to St Ives and worked part-time at the Bernard Leach Pottery. In 1968, he established a partnership with Breon O’Casey in St Ives, making studio jewellery. He now lives in London.

Bryan Illsley has contributed to numerous jewellery exhibitions at Arnolfini in Bristol, Ewan Phillips Gallery, Pace Gallery and Electrum Gallery in London. Mixed media shows include Oxford Gallery, Oxford, and The Maker’s Eye, Crafts Council Gallery, Waterloo Place, London. Solo shows include Bryan Illsely: Work in Wood, Metal & Paint, Crafts Council Gallery, Waterloo Place, London and Uncertain Joys at Barrett Marsden Gallery, London

Work in public collections includes amongst others, Contemporary Art Society, London; Kettles Yard, Cambridge and Plymouth City Art Gallery.

The exhibition is curated by Ralph Turner at the Craft Gallery, 2 July -11 October 2009.

For more information on the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery visit http://www.glynnviviangallery.org.

London’s Tate Modern, will be exhibiting what it describes as the most significant overview of American artist Roni Horn’s work to date. Horn trained as a sculptor but this exhibition will show the full range of her practice as a photographer, draughtsman, installation artist and writer.

Roni HornDisplaying together for the first time works in different media by the artist from 1975 to the present, the exhibition will include sculpture, early watercolours and vast new drawings alongside Horn’s photographic installations. From 1975 Horn began to make regular excursions to Iceland, its landscape and isolation acting as a central influence on her practice. There will also be a display of Horn’s books, many of which respond to the landscape and geology of Iceland.

The exhibition is organised by Tate Modern and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and will run from 25 February – 25 May 2009