Bend to my will

I do all of my bending on a heated pipe, in the traditional way. Of course, that means sometimes, when dealing with more figured wood, there are some casualties. Not all wood wants to cooperate.

I’m currently working on a mandola build (a mandola is the next size up from a mandolin, similar to a viola vs. a violin.) The back and sides will be curly maple. The wood that I had acquired was big leaf maple, a west coast variety that is often highly figured. But, sometimes those curls are the worst parts to try to bend, especially when trying to do a tighter bend. So it was with the side stock I had. I started with the tight curve towards the head, and as soon as I started to get get close to the diameter I needed, a seam started to open up, right at a curl. I had extra length so I tried again, and again, and again. Same story. On the last one, I thought it wasn’t too bad and finished all of the other curves and clamped it into the form. After a couple of days I checked on it. Sure enough, the last time through that tight radius, the curl had started to split. Also, the more gentle curves were not flowing; the wood just didn’t want to bend. Looking closely, I could see that the piece had too much runout — the grain didn’t go parallel to the board, but rather at an almost 30° angle, which was where the splits were following.


As pretty as the wood was, it was never going to form a nice curved mandola rib, no matter how I cajoled it or tried to force it. It was too set in its ways.

So, I looked through my supplies and picked out another board of curly maple; milled it up, thicknessed it, and got the pipe hot, ready to bend. This time, as I worked on the tight curve, it flowed like butter, easily curving into shape. Both sides were bent and clamped into the form in no time.


This wood was a lot more flexible and open to reason; and a lot more useable.


Kinda like some people.

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