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Techniques for Glui

Curves

In bygone days, when shipwrights along the coast of Maine needed curved timbers for their boats, they purchased hackmatack roots whose grain would naturally follow the curves they needed. Today, only straight stock is available to us commercially, so we woodworkers bypass nature and create curved wooden parts by either bandsaw-ing, steam bending, or laminating.

The first two techniques have drawbacks: Bandsawing falls short when you're looking for strength, because sawing a curve in straight-grained wood creates "short grain," which weakens the part. Steam bending is better, since the grain of the wood follows the curve. But the curve can be inconsistent since the wood never loses its desire to "spring back" as crushed cells from the bending process expand in response to humidity.

Laminate bending, while more time-consuming than steam bending, yields more reliable results. The technique involves gluing thin layers of wood together to create a thicker, curved piece, usually by clamping over a curved form. Once the glue sets, the piece remains curved because the glued faces can no longer slide by each other.

Another advantage of laminate bending over steam bending is that you can create wide, curved panels using manufactured materials like thin plywood and veneer, whereas the width of steam-bent panels is limited to the width of solid timber. Also, virtually any type of wood will work for lamination, while steam-bending favors certain species of wood such as white oak or ash. And while both steam-bent and laminate-bent pieces will spring back initially, a laminate bend holds its shape more dependably over time. That said, let's talk about the particu-

Bent lamination is the best way to create a compound curve like the chair arm in the inset photo. Here, author makes one of the curved back legs of the chair by clamping glued strips of wood to a one-part form made of medium-density fiberboard.

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