Creating Curved Furniture
Learn when it's best to saw, steam-bend, or laminate
Synopsis: Curves add life, flow, and energy to a piece of furniture; they also add technical challenges. Brian Boggs says a mastery of curves is vital for a chairmaker like him, but it’s also a valuable skill if you make casework and tables. Here is a guide to the three chief ways to get curved furniture parts—sawing, laminating, and steam-bending. Boggs lays out the characteristics of each approach, giving advice on which ones work best in each situation.
A straight line is a wasted opportunity. I love that quote from the furniture maker Jere Osgood, a wizard with curves. It’s been curves and their sculptural relationships that have kept me so enthusiastic about furniture design for more than three decades. Curves move and flow and add life to a piece. And, yes, they add technical challenges. A mastery of curves is vital for a chairmaker, but it is also a great boon for the maker of casework and tables.
There are three chief ways to get the curve you want: sawing, laminating, and steam-bending. Each of these methods has an important place in my designs. Sometimes all three are called for in a single chair. Understanding the benefits and limitations of each method and knowing which one to use in each new situation will give you the freedom to bring all sorts of curves into your work.
Here, I’ll lay out the characteristics of each approach to bending—the factors that make one method just right for producing a certain curve but all wrong for producing another one. In addition to weighing the factors I describe, you’ll want to consider the variables particular to your situation: questions of space, tools, time, and the number of duplicate parts you’re making. These factors will also guide your decisions about how to achieve a curve.
Sawing is the starting place. Even if you’ve mastered steam-bending and lamination, sawing will often be the default choice for producing a curve in wood. It is the simplest and quickest method, and it requires the least setup. It allows you to make limitless shapes and, unlike steam-bending and lamination, it lets you create different curves on opposing sides of a workpiece. It also enables you to create curves in stock of virtually any thickness—you’re limited only by the capacity of the saw you use.
The bandsaw is the primary tool for sawing curves. Depending on the situation and on your tool kit, of course, you might sometimes use a scrollsaw, a saber saw, or a jigsaw instead. But the bandsaw is the workhorse of sawn curves.
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