Instructables

Bent Plywood Night Stands

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Picture of Bent Plywood Night Stands
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Bent Ply is beautiful, strong, and flexible in ways that make its appeal to designers obvious, but making bent-ply furniture can be a real challenge. While many pieces simply cannot be made without gigantic industrial molds (which apply heat and steam to make the wood flex during bending), and use special glues that can only be cured in the machines, smaller Bent Ply furniture can be made in a regular wood shop without much more than a band saw, table saw, and a bunch of good clamps.

I made the single-curve nightstands in the photos above, but the same steps I've used here, including many rules of thumb and limitations I discovered along the way, could easily be applied to a wide range of bent ply pieces and parts. Once you've made the molds the nightstands are easy, so this is a great project for designs with lots of self-similar parts, too.

You can check out more and larger images of the finished product on my website. http://www.phil-seaton.com/  Click "NightStand" once you get there.
 
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Step 1: Tools and materials

Picture of Tools and materials
SUPPLIES:

In addition to some everyday items, such as a paint roller & tray, quart-size mixing container, sandpaper, etc, a few special items are needed:

Glue: I recommend DAP Weldwood Plastic Resin Glue. It comes in a powder form and mixes easily with water; it cures chemically to an ultra-hard brittle glue with absolutely no give. This is important, as the layers must not be allowed to flex next to each other to maintain the curves. Also, the chemical cure helps to make sure the glue in the middle, far from any air, still cures completely.

Particle Board / MDF: Your mold will need to be made solid, so be sure to purchase enough for both sides of your mold, including at least 2-3" beyond your actual piece. I highly recommend assuming that the two halves of the mold will come out of a rectangular area, as the parallel outside edges will need to be clamped to each other. For this project, I used exactly a full sheet of 3/4" Particle Board.

Veneers: There are several factors to consider when choosing veneer for your project. 1) The look you want on your final piece 2) The tightest curve you're planning to bend (I recommend bending a small piece around the tightest curve in your mold to make sure it doesn't snap) 3) The number of layers you'll need given the veneer's thickness and 4) The type and thickness of your interior veneers (which aren't as visible as the surface veneers).

Veneer Tape & Roller (+ a spare sponge): Veneer tape is special stuff that shrinks as it dries, closing gaps that may have been present in your veneers before taping the edges together. Chances are very slim you'll have veneers the right size & shape for your project, so you'll need this to make large enough continuous sheets. You apply water to one side (like a stamp), and then roll it on with a hard wood roller.

Dowels & matching drill bit: You'll need these to align the slices of the mold as they're cut, and also to stack them all once they're done. You'll need at least 3 dowels per side of your mold, and it helps if they're all in once piece. So if your piece is 2' wide and you can only get 3' dowels, I'd recommend buying at least six. Get a spade bit to match; 3/4" or 7/8" for dowels and spade.

Flush-trim Bit: Once you've got one slice of your mold perfect, you'll be using a flush-trim router bit to make the others exactly the same. Get a good beefy one, but make sure it fits your router. I found a bottom-bearing bit to be easiest for the setup, but you should be able to make it work with a top-bearing bit also if that's all you can find.

2x4's (qty 2 or 3) for clamping cauls (if you make these curved cauls they can save you some clamps, but they're not totally necessary)

TOOLS:

Stop and reconsider if you don't have, or don't want to buy, the following tools which can be found in most well-equipped shops:

- Table saw. A nice heavy one is always best, but even a contractor's saw should do for this
- Band Saw. For rough-cutting mold slices
- Router. For flush-trimming mold slices
- Heavy clamps (you'll always need more than you think. Make sure you have some long enough to go around the longest end of your mold.
- Drill press (it's critical that the holes you drill for registration of mold slices be drilled straight!
kirnex10 months ago
All I can say is: WOW. Well done. Brilliant, really. Thanks for taking the time to share with us.
Carleyy1 year ago
I didnt know you made this! I love this project.
jamietie2 years ago
This is fantastic. Any thoughts on whether it might work on a larger piece, like a chair? Or something that bears a lot of weight, like bentwood legs?
pseaton (author)  jamietie2 years ago
Thanks!

After working through this with the nightstands I'd say it'd be a real challenge to make a full single-piece chair or anything like the Wave Desk in size. These little nightstands required a full sheet of 3/4" particle board, so they were quite heavy and awkward to work with, even for a small finished piece. If I had to guess, the molds for something like a desk or chair would probably weigh over 200lbs; also I suspect it would be hard to paint all the glue on before it starts to cure.

That said, I definitely think there are ways to be clever in the design process that would enable you to make a larger piece out of several self-similar pieces. Like the butterfly stool, or the zumi stool , for example.

As for legs, absolutely. The nightstands are pretty much unbreakable. I had one where I messed up during the glue-up; to throw it away I wanted to break it, but even with my full body weight on top of it, I couldn't break it. Legs, also, don't necessarily need the tight curvature that I used in this design, which would mean you could start to use much thicker laminations. It would become a more normal bent laminations process at some point, once they curvature and surface area decrease substantially.

Thanks for the comment and the great questions!
I made a lot of longboards with rather complex compound curves. I used a similar method in construction but rather than particle board, I used high density foam (like the sheets of insulation foam you can get at hardware stores). This foam is really useful because you can shape it with a hotwire foam cutter and sand it down, then you can fiberglass the foam so it won't warp under pressure or wear over time.

I generally use a vacuum press for my molds but before I had one I used a similar sandwich type technique. I used 1/16" maple so I had to lay it up over several pressings to get the tight curves but the result is very satisfying.

This would be a decent, lightweight way to craft larger projects.
This is awesome! I always wondered how bent-ply was done. I figured it was just steamed, like how they made the curved spars for boat hulls. Thanks for the detailed instructable!
chicopluma2 years ago
great way to make the mold, I love the results
This looks great. I learnt a lot from your tutorial, thanks for the instructional.
GibParadox2 years ago
Great stuff!
I had always thought this was done on a single regular piece of ply-wood, and then molded with heat and steam...

You have just opened Pandora's box! :)
ravanjavan2 years ago
This is amazing....looks like a bit of work though. I would be interested in buying one if you decided to make a few extras :)
pseaton (author)  ravanjavan2 years ago
Thanks! I'm not going to lie.... it's a ton of work. 21 Layers is easy to type, but each one has to be roughcut (twice) then flush-trimmed.... but each nightstand isn't too bad !

Wish I could offer you one! Unfortunately I don't have the molds anymore, so I think these may just be two of a kind.... next time I'll hang onto the molds until *after* the instructable is posted :)
Very nicely done, and well written. It makes me think that even I could do it.
badart2 years ago
Thanks great work.
robbied2 years ago
This is incredible and looks complicated, and yet you have made it so simple that anyone could attempt it. Nice photography too.
Great pictures!
Charles and Ray would be proud. Nicely done.
angelabchua2 years ago
Wow, this is impressive. The design is fantastic and the directions are really thorough. Great pics too!
Carleyy2 years ago
This is gorgeous! I've been looking for a design like this for a desk. Great work!
mzlady2 years ago
I love this !!!
dimtick2 years ago
nice design!
Awesome design!
This is amazing! Great instructions. :)
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