I received a couple of comments with regards to how I build the wooden rings in my gallery, so I thought this would be a good place to share a bit about my process.
This will not be the best-worded blog entry. I’ll just kinda let my mind spill…
My very first rings were done in the bentwood style, which involves some trial-and-error, custom jigs, a great amount of patience and an even greater amount of time to achieve the contrast similar to the rings done in the layered style. (NOTE: Bentwood style rings are stronger, due to the grain running around the circumference of the ring, but the layered rings I’ll describe here give nice contrast with less work, and are still very strong themselves. “Everything is a tradeoff.”, my dad says.)
The basic idea in built-up / layered / laminated rings is to cut some thin squares of wood, and clamp them up with good glue and even pressure, with the grain running opposite between each layer. The concept with multiple pieces and alternating grain is to help prevent splitting, since a solid piece would be weak at one axis in the ring, and would break very easily.
(NOTE: There are a couple of rings I’ve built from single, solid pieces – Lignum Vitae, and African Blackwood. Those woods are dense and work quite well in this case.)
I started out making these rings with 2”x2” square pieces of native woods (oak, cypress, cedar) that I would sand down to different thicknesses – approx 1/8” for the outsides and close to 1/16” for the inner band. I used a belt sander for this, simply holding the squares against it. I don’t recommend doing that, but it’ll keep your fingernails short. LOL! I generally cut the two outside pieces from the same end of the wood, so that I can sorta bookmatch them on the outsides of the ring.
Lately I order my stock from a few different sources, already to 1/8” size, for the outer parts, and I get 1/16” veneers for the thin, contrasting layers. Sometimes I abrade the surface of the pieces a bit. This mostly depends on the wood. On smoother species, I like to give it a bit more tooth for the glue… or at least break the mill glaze.
With regards to glue… The requirement for me was something that was strong and waterproof. Weldbond is a no-go in the waterproof department. I wouldn’t even call it water resistant. I tried the regular white stuff and the Professional Wood Glue variation. Even after 48 hours of curing time, Weldbond would turn gummy within minutes of placing it in the water. Titebond III performed much better, but still became soft eventually. The winner for me was good ol’ Gorilla Glue. I’ve tried both the regular (dark) stuff and the White/Clear. I tested a couple of rings joined with Gorilla Glue by submerging them in water overnight. No problems at all as far as the glue was concerned. Plus, I find that the foaming action forces the glue into the pores. Really noticeable in woods like Wenge and Oak, where you can see the glue coming out the end grain when clamped. I know most wooden ring makers simply tell their customers to keep the rings out of water, and we tell our customers that as well, but I still wanted something that would hold up if you wore it in the shower or washed dishes with it on, etc. (Plus, it tests well on oily woods like teak.)
These wood “sandwiches” sit overnight and I begin the cutting process the next day. To bore the holes, I use forstner bits to get nice, clean cuts. (Spade/paddle bits are out of the question here.)
I’ll use a bit size just under the intended ring size, then sand the hole up to size the rest of the way. This process involves sanding, checking with a jeweler’s ring mandrel, sanding, checking, etc. I’ll usually start with a little drum sander attachment on the front of the drill motor…
... and eventually get down to a piece of 120 grit paper wrapped around the fingertip. At this point I’ll sand out the “comfort fit” contour on the inside.
Once the inner size is reached, I begin cutting the outside. I use a little japanese pullsaw and more or less cut the corners and the bulk of the outside until it is mostly octagon shaped.
I then use the belt sander to smooth around the outside, making sure to turn the ring by hand, never leaving it in one spot too long.
To further refine the shape, I use a foam pad w/ velcro on bottom, and several grits of sandpaper. Usually I’ll start with 120 grit.
This is a pretty time-consuming part of the process, and it relies heavily on sighting down the ring, making sure it “looks” right. Once it looks OK, I’ll move to 220 grit, 320, and 400.
At this point I spray the whole thing with water to let the grain rise. I then sand again with 400 grit, spray again, and sand a final time. The idea here is to give the customer a ring that, even when encountered with water, will still feel smooth and comfortable.
Once the ring is totally dry (I typically leave them overnight to make sure) I apply the finish. If the customer wants the “wood feel”, I use Land Ark penetrating oil, initially submerging the ring for an hour or so, removing it, buffing dry, and letting it sit another day. Finally, I’ll buff over that with a Land Ark wax formula. This gives a satin / low-sheen finish.
Most folks, however, go for “glossy”. For that I have been using Waterlox, applied in 3 or 4 very thin layers, giving 24 hours of curing between. It has a somewhat “grippy” feel, however. Not gummy or anything, but just… not smooth enough for a ring in my opinion. It’s generally not a problem but in the case of tight-fitting rings, it can make it harder to remove. Even cutting the Waterlox with mineral spirits hasn’t helped much.
(NOTE: I’ll be trying Arm-R-Seal Gloss from General Finishes next. I’ve read nothing but good reviews on the stuff.)
So that’s the story on how I build the layered wooden rings. It is a tad bit laborious (I can hear someone screaming “use a lathe!” Ha ha!) ... but I do enjoy it.
-- Frank, Mississippi, Original Bentwood Rings - http://www.bentwoodrings.com