Chris Schwarz's Blog

Extremely Bendable Wood

I don’t like adverbs , you know, words like “extremely,” “fallaciously” or “throbbingly.” But I am at a complete loss to otherwise describe the wack-nutty bendable wood that Jeff Miller showed me this weekend during the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event in Chicago.

Here’s what it looked like: Jeff took a hunk out of a plastic bag then ripped off a thin sliver on his band saw. Then he started bending it like it was taffy. He said this stuff was pretty stiff because it was a year old and getting pretty dry.

Here’s the science: This is a Danish process (as far as I know) where wood is compressed lengthwise under heat and steam, which compresses the wood fibers along their length. Then, as long as the moisture content stays above 20 percent, the wood can be cold bent. You can twist it around like it is spaghetti. Then you clamp it in a form and let the moisture content drop. When it reaches equilibrium with your shop, the wood retains its shape. No springback. No splintering on the curves. Oh and I need to mention that it’s easy to bend in all three dimensions.

The bendable wood comes wrapped in plastic and ready to work. Jeff, who specializes in chairs, uses the stuff where he would normally use a cold lamination. But when using the Compwood, there are no lines between individual layers like on a cold lamination and no springback. And Jeff says he saves a lot of time when he uses the stuff.

The product isn’t cheap. I ordered a hunk of 3.5″ x 6″ x 50″ white ash for about $194 (before shipping). However, I think I’ll be able to get at least 15 arm bows for Welsh stick chairs out of that chunk. That’s about $13 per arm bow with no wood failure. So I’m willing to give it a try.

If you want to read more (and who wouldn’t), here are some links:

The Compwood site in English.

FlutedBeams.com, which sells the stuff.

Jeff Miller’s site, which displays his work.

And below is a short clip of Jeff bending a piece. It was about a year old, so it was fairly dry. Jeff reports that when it is fresh from the package it bends easily. I’ve seen this technology discussed elsewhere, but I really didn’t believe it until I saw it. It took only about 10 minutes for me to decide to buy a hunk. If you work with curves, you are going to want to take a look at this stuff.

- Christopher Schwarz

7 thoughts on “Extremely Bendable Wood

  1. greglease

    Chris Mroz came to our guild (Evergreen Woodworkers Guild near Tacoma, WA) meeting a few months ago with a big bundle of 3/4 x 3/4 x 24" sticks. We all got one to play with. You can literally tie a stick in knots, it’s so bendable, and when it dries, you can’t tell it from untreated wood!

  2. Bill Larsen

    The bending must have been very early on Friday as we got there about noon and we observed the bent piece in the photo. The place was packed for a work day lots of great demos. Did not see you do any ripping. I was surprised you did not have any of the reduced price books or DVDs from the book newsletter although you did have a few regular priced items.

  3. Gregory Little

    I have looked at the fluted beams website for quite a while now… and found their products to be extremely interesting with tremendous possibilities. They are quite pricey, which is to be expected, I guess, because of the processes involved in getting it the lumber to bend this way. This can open a tremendous new world of creativity and possibilities.

  4. John Walkowiak

    Chris,
    Your friends (and mine) at Horizon Wood Products have supplied Fluted Beams with the beautiful material to do this. It’s a small world!

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