How to Make a Round Bentwood Box

Written by timothy burns
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How to Make a Round Bentwood Box
Making bent wood furniture and decorative items is a lost art. (Michael Blann/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Items made from bentwood are built up from thin pieces of wood that are bent and formed into artistic shapes. Thick pieces of wood can flex, but will not bend. Wood that is 1/8th of an inch thick or thinner can be bent and twisted into forms by using moulds and clamps. The thin wood layers are then glued together to make thicker, permanently formed structural wood.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • Thin strips of semi-hardwoods, such as basswood or beech
  • Hot water and rags
  • Tea kettle full of steaming water on a stove
  • A round form, such as a hat box or large plumbing drain line that is the diameter for the round bentwood box
  • 1/4 inch plywood
  • Wood glue
  • Table saw
  • 5 1/ inch random orbit sander, or 12 inch wide surface planer
  • 7 1/4 inch builders saw
  • Electric jigsaw
  • Medium and fine grit sandpaper
  • Hot glue gun and clear hot melt glue

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    Forming and Bending the Wood Strips

  1. 1

    Measure the inner circumference of the round form. Rather than trying to use a tape measure for a round surface, calculate the distance around the form using the formula circumference = 2radius3.1416.

  2. 2

    Rip hardwood boards into thin strips of wood, no more than 1/8 inch thick. Sand or plane the boards so they are smooth on both sides.

  3. 3

    Cut at least four strips of wood the equal to the length of the circumference of the round mould. Make three of the strips the same width, and cut one strip 1 inch less wide than the rest.

  4. 4

    Soak the first strip by soaking a rag in hot water and applying the hot rag to both sides of the wood strip. As the wood absorbs the water, it becomes flexible. If the wood does not become flexible enough to wrap around the inside of the round form, hold the wood over a boiling kettle on the stove. The steam will further soften the wood fibres so the piece will bend.

  5. 5

    Insert the wood into the wood form. The ends of the wood strip must meet perfectly, end to end with no voids between the round form and the wood. In other words, the wood must bend into a perfect circle.

  6. 6

    Measure the new circumference of the circle formed inside the first wood layer. Repeat the moistening and bending process for each of the four wood layers. Allow the wood to dry in the bent position inside the round form. When the wood is dry, it will retain the round shape.

    Making the Bentwood Box

  1. 1

    Remove the pieces from the round form when the wood strips have dried. Do not attempt to straighten the wood pieces out. They are permanently re-formed in the round shape. Label each strip according to its position in the rounded shape. Label the outermost piece #1, the second outermost piece #2, etc. The pieces must be placed in the mould in the next step in the same order as they were removed.

  2. 2

    Apply a liberal coat of wood glue to the inside of the largest wood strip. Apply an even coating across the entire surface. Re-insert the first wood strip into the round mould. Repeat this process for all four wood strips, sliding the pieces back into the mould inside one another.

  3. 3

    When inserting the fourth and final wood strip into the wood form, align the top edge of the strip with the top edge of the round box. Because this strip is not as wide as the rest, it will not extend all the way to the bottom of the box. This gap is called a reveal, and will be used to mount the box's bottom into the box so that the bottom is not visible from the outside of the box. Wipe any excess glue from the top and bottom edges of the wood strips with a warm damp cloth.

  4. 4

    Allow the wood strips to dry in the round mould, and then remove the permanently formed bentwood box from the round mould.

    Inserting the Box Bottom Panel

  1. 1

    Hand-sand the box's top and bottom edges to remove any dried glue residue.

  2. 2

    Place the box right side up on a piece of 1/4 inch plywood. Trace the inside circumference of the bottom of the box on the plywood surface.

  3. 3

    Cut the round bottom piece out of the 1/4 inch plywood with a jigsaw. Hand-sand the round piece so that it fits well into the bottom of the bentwood box.

  4. 4

    Turn the box over and insert the bottom panel into the recessed area so that it comes into contact with the innermost layer of the bentwood box.

  5. 5

    Glue the bottom panel in place using the hot glue gun and hot melt glue. Apply glue to the seam between the bottom panel and the bentwood box sides. The hot glue will fill any voids between the bottom panel and the sides of the box and create a permanent bond.

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