Cold-Bend Hardwood: Why and How

One of the more difficult bends I make. This is for a Welsh chair I measured at St Fagans.

I love using Cold-Bend Hardwood for the bent parts of my stick chairs. During the last 10 years I have basically a 0 percent failure rate with the stuff (the only failure was my fault – more on that in a bit).

When I steam-bend arms, I typically lose about one-third of my bends.

People think it’s expensive. I disagree. Each chair arm costs me about $100 in material. But there is almost no time involved in making the bends. Today I opened a new pack of Cold-Bend Hardwood, sliced it to size and bent three chair arms (by myself) in less than 45 minutes.

When I steam-bend an arm, I have to find and purchase some suitable material (that takes time). Rive it out (more time). Then slice it, steam it and bend it. And then 33.33 percent of the bends fail during the bend or during drying.

If you live in a forest and have the space and time, steam-bending is ideal. When you live in the city, have no land and every minute counts, Cold-Bend Hardwood is the way to go.

Now, before you buy some, you must do two things.

  1. Read every word of advice from the company on using the stuff. Take their advice seriously.
  2. Read my tips below.
Note the holdfasts that secure the form. And the extra length sticking out the front of the bend. And the calm atmosphere….

My Tips Below

Before you even order the stuff, build your bending forms because you need to bend the stuff within a few days of its arrival. The packaging will get damaged in shipment. The plastic will get a tiny hole in it. And your stuff will dry out.

Do not let it sit around. Assume the plastic is letting out moisture.

Order stuff that is overlong by about 18” to 24”. You need the extra length to provide leverage as you make the bend. If you won’t do this, you’ll need to use a bending strap with a long handle to give you leverage.

That extra length is the difference between a cakewalk and a desperate slog.

Order stuff that is the correct thickness for your bend. You cannot joint and plane this stuff. It will explode in your machinery. You can’t rip it on the table saw (crosscuts are OK). Again, it will self-destruct.

There are only two ways to dimension the stuff when it’s wet: the band saw and abrasion. After it is dry you can machine it and shape it with hand tools. But until then: band saw and sanding only.

I fasten my bending forms to the end of my bench with holdfasts. The holdfasts pass through both the form and the benchtop. Simply clamping the form to the benchtop rarely goes well. The form comes loose during the bend.

Allow some extra length at the beginning of the bend. This extra length (cut away later) will allow you to screw a batten across the arm and remove it from the form to dry.

This bend is for the chair shown on the cover of “The Stick Chair Book.”

About My Failure

I had one arm crack during a bend when using Cold-Bend Hardwood. The reason was simple: I had waited too long to make the bend, and the stuff had dried out. The fresher the stuff is, the easier it is to bend. I cannot emphasize this enough.

If you are wondering how the stuff is made and how it works (it’s like magic), the company’s website has all that information. If you are wondering if other companies make the stuff, the answer is yes. There’s a place in Amish country in Ohio that makes its own, but they don’t sell to the public. They make the bends for you. I also knew a couple chairmakers in Middletown, Ohio, that made the stuff in their chair factory. They have disappeared. And there are companies in Europe that make it. Google “comp wood” or “compression hardwood” for more details.

— Christopher Schwarz 

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