We are often asked about how easy or difficult a wood is to bend. The folks in the Luthiers Mercantile shop bend a wide variety of woods, probably more than most of our customers, so we took this question to them! As you probably know, LMI can bend any of our woods to one of 8 shapes, with several options for cutaways. They use the LMI Professional Bending Machine, plus a few of the old “Fox” bending machines that we have had for years, which work fine for some of the simpler bends.
The unanimous answer for the easiest wood to bend was Indian Rosewood, followed by Walnut, Khaya, and Myrtle.
Different qualities can lead to different challenges. The most obvious is flamed, quilt or bee’s wing figure. Figure is seen where the grain direction moves up and down relative to the surface of the wood. When bending figured wood the potential for the grain to ‘pop out’ (or worse) is far greater. Using a bending machine, where the surfaces of the wood are supported during bending, offers a great advantage.
Brittle woods, such as Ziricote, African Blackwood and Macassar Ebony have a greater propensity for cracking. It’s important when bending these woods that you do not move too slowly as the wood can dry out which increases the chances of a crack appearing. Don’t use much water and sand the sides (or ask us to do it for you) a little more than average. Usually, .080” is a good thickness for brittle woods, where we typically sand to .090” with most woods.
Some woods are prone to wrinkle when bending. These include the Mahoganies, Peruvian Walnut, and Limba. Don’t sand too thin on these as you will likely need to sand out the small wrinkles in the crux of your bend (typically, in the waist).
Koa presents some unique challenges. It prefers heat on both sides of the wood at a low temperature and it is especially important to use distilled water. Particularly oily woods, like Cocobolo, can darken with bending a bit—another concern.
Be sure to check our newsletter next week for a link to a new blog about troubleshooting your bending process!