How to create curves and bends in your work using bent lamination.

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Forum topic by Jonathan posted 06-18-2011 05:26 PM 4044 views 3 times favorited 3 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2608 posts in 2471 days

06-18-2011 05:26 PM

Topic tags/keywords: bent lamination bending wood laminate bending bent lamination vs steam bending how to bend wood ways to bend wood curving wood curves in wood wood curves

I have a design floating around in my head that I’d really like to make. This piece requires curving many of the pieces of wood to achieve the look and design that I’m shooting for. Since I’ve never created a piece with bent wood in it, I’ve been trying to study up on the subject a bit. There are numerous ways to bend wood, but it seems that the most common/popular ways to bend wood are:

-Steam Bending
-Bent Lamination

(Simplified, not exhaustive explanations of each process below:)

Steam Bending is just what it sounds like. You put the wood to be bent into a steam chamber and steam it to soften the lignins in the wood, then put the wood into your form and clamp it down until it is dry. Then the pieces are laminated together. It seems to me that the complications of steam bending are that you have to account for a fair amount of springback, as well as having a steam chamber, etc. to be able to steam the wood in the first place. While I am not opposed to this idea of bending wood, and it certainly has its place, I am currently more interested in the second type of wood bending, which is Bent Lamination.

The basic process of bent lamination involves glueing narrow strips of wood back together, then placing them into a form and clamping them down. You don’t need a steam chamber to do this. You basically need: thin strips of wood, glue, a form of the shape you want to create, and lots of clamps. While springback is certainly possible with this technique as well, there are ways to reduce or almost eliminate springback after the stock is dry and out of the clamps.

I found several articles that I found to be helpful in explaining the differences between these two ways to bend wood, as well as a good step-by-step guide to follow for the bent lamination.

The first article talks about the differences between the two techniques, then delves into the overall procedure of bent lamination and includes a few tips along the way, such as strip thickness, depending on the size of the curve, flipping every other piece of stock, etc.

The second article is a great step-by-step guide on exactly how to create bent laminations.
(PDF link below allows you to view the entire article at once, without having to click back and forth between pages:)
(Regular link that starts on Page 1, then you have to click through the pages… useful if you don’t have or can’t access PDF files:)

While this is certainly not the end-all, be-all guide to bent lamination, I hope you find these links as useful as I did, as it appears to cover the basics of the procedure. Please feel free to throw out other resources, steps, or tips and tricks on the subject of bent lamination that you’ve found helpful and useful. Maybe we can turn this into a very educational and extensive thread on bent lamination!

-- Jonathan, Denver, CO "Constructive criticism is welcome and valued as it gives me new perspectives and helps me to advance as a woodworker."

3 replies so far

View Loren's profile


8159 posts in 3069 days

#1 posted 06-18-2011 06:24 PM

There are valid ways to combine the two methods as well.

Steam bending you need to be really set up for. To say you
just steam the wood and put it in a form is not really accurate
in most cases, though it can work with gentle bends.

Woods up to about 1/8” thick can be bent without too
much trouble on a hot pipe, then the bent pieces can
be laminated together to get the shape you want.

View Jonathan's profile


2608 posts in 2471 days

#2 posted 06-18-2011 08:17 PM

Loren, I went back and put a preface in, stating that the descriptions of each process are basic and in no way comprehensive or exhaustive.

Do you have any tips or tricks specifically related to bent lamination, or do you prefer steam bending?

-- Jonathan, Denver, CO "Constructive criticism is welcome and valued as it gives me new perspectives and helps me to advance as a woodworker."

View Loren's profile


8159 posts in 3069 days

#3 posted 06-18-2011 09:01 PM

I get triggered a bit by simplifications of wood-bending processes
because early in my woodworking I read some books that described
bending wood in a very offhand way like “put the wood in boiling water
and then bend it around a form with clamps” – which is just laughable
if you’ve ever tried it that way, which I have. The reject rate is
off the charts.

I think when examining steam bending furniture components from
solid wood it’s best to look at your locally available woods. Coming from
So. Cal, there just wasn’t appropriate wood available to me for
steam bending windsor chairs backs, for example, so I never got into it.

I have experimented with the Michael Fortune bending system and
while it involves a pretty committed effort in setting it up, you can
bend some crazy stuff with it.

If you’re really interested in bendtwood stuff, look at Seth Stem’s
book on design, and definitely get the Fine Woodworking book on
bending wood.

Michael Thonet pretty much invented modern steam bending technology
so his designs and methods are worth looking into as well.

I think bent lamination is appropriate sometimes, but it’s a hassle
to make all the cauls and stuff and you need a lot of clamps to do
some things. You can do bent panels and other thin stuff in a
vacuum bag press.

The main thing about bending I’d say is make sure you’ve got a design
you’re really committed to because there’s a lot of setup and sometimes
many rejected parts in getting your components bent right.

If doing bent laminations, stay away from glues that do not dry brittle
and hard. The soft white and yellow glues will creep from the joints
over time.

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