Still without a climate controlled work room, I’ll continue through the list of tasks that can be done without a dehumidifier. Next up is one of the steps that seems to mystify a lot of non-guitar types: side bending.
There are many different approaches to this task ranging from hi-tech electric blankets to boiling. My method is based on conversations with luthier friends and guitar geek research. It’s also probably one of the simplest to set up without spending a ton on expensive or complicated tooling.
My background is as a flamenco guitarist, so I chose Canadian yellow cedar for my back and sides. Traditional flamenco guitars use European cypress, and yellow cedar is a closely related species. The pieces are perfectly quarter sawn and thinned to 2.5 mm. Once the guitar is assembled and sanded this will be reduced further to approximately 2 mm.
Commercially produced bending irons are easily sourced from several luthiery supply houses, complete with built in temperature control. These units work very well and are found in guitar shops the world over. They are, however, like most specialty tools quite expensive.
For a lot less money you can easily make one. Here’s a shot of mine:
The heat is provided by an electric barbecue starter inside an aluminum pipe.
The pipe was purchased from a scrap yard and squished in their hydraulic press. Not only does modifying the pipe’s cross section make room for the starter’s heating element, it also provides a surface with multiple radii to accommodate the changing curves of a guitar’s body. A router speed control provides easy temperature adjustment. The spray bottle contains water to mist the sides in order to produce the necessary steam. Total cost to assemble came to about $75, and the router control is useful for…um, well…routing.
Many luthiers advocate soaking the side wood prior to bending. Others say it’s unnecessary. I chose to bend the sides dry save for a generous spritzing from the spray bottle. In Part 2 of this episode I’ll run through the actual shaping of the curves and how to go from this: