Wood rings are beautiful. They feel warm and have a lovely sheen when finished properly. They tend not to be very durable, though. Often they crack along the grain after continued wear.
Bent wood rings address this problem. Made from very thin layers of wood wrapped with the grain running all the way around the ring (instead of across or through), these rings can stand up to quite a bit of pressure without cracking or breaking.
I gave Josh wood this past father's day. Woodcraft sold various turning blanks of exotic hardwoods, and we had a lot of fun turning rings on his tiny micro lathe. I still prefer the look of wood rings made from a solid piece of wood with the grain running through the ring. Some exotic woods hold up quite well, but some do not. We began looking into ways to make our rings more durable and read about bent wood rings.
There wasn't a whole lot of information out there as to how exactly to make the rings. After a fair amount of experimentation, I've come up with a method that works for us. We don't make wood rings any more (our passion for making them lasted about a month before our attention spans expired and we moved on to the next interest), but I wanted to share the method with others.
I also sometimes put a bent wood interior inside a solid wood ring to make it stronger. It would be impossible to use some woods for rings (like figured satinwood) without some type of serious strengthening. I haven't included directions for that in this instructable, but they're not too hard to figure out once you know the basics.
I'll also show you how to add a crushed stone inlay.
Some people are now choosing bent wood rings for wedding or engagement rings. They can be pricey from some retailers. They might take a little bit of practice if you want perfect rings, but the technique is simple and the materials are cheap.
Step 1: Form the ring shape
To make the rings, you'll need:
a thin, sharp blade
something to hold and boil water
something finger sized to wrap the wood around
masking tape, rubber band, or velcro cable tie to hold wrapped wood in place
various grits of sandpaper
If you're adding a crushed stone inlay, you'll also need:
stone to crush
a hammer and anvil or some other device for crushing stone
a toothpick or other small, disposable implement to mix and apply epoxy
a metal file
We bought a sample pack of wood veneer at the local woodworking supply store. It cost $20 and contains more than 20 pieces of veneer, enough to make hundreds of rings. Some types of veneer don't bend very well at all. I had the most success with thin, tight-grained pieces of veneer with the grain running the long way. I'm sure the more difficult woods could be used if they were sanded much thinner. I didn't bother, though. I can use that veneer for something else.
Using a straight edge as a guide, slice your piece of veneer into a long, thin strip. I've found it works better if I use many light strokes instead of trying to cut through the veneer in one pass. Sometimes the blade tries to veer away from the straight edge along the irregular grain. Lighter strokes helps combat that.
Using a dremel with a sanding tip or regular sandpaper, sand down the ends of the strip. You'll want them very thin. If you don't sand them down, a kink will form in the wood as you wrap it. It'll look out of place and will make it difficult to get a tight wrap. It's also easier to hide the seam when the end is thinned down.
If you want to do a crushed stone inlay, slice two thin strips of veneer to fit over the base strip of veneer with enough space between the thin strips for the stone inlay. On the ring in the picture, I simply sliced out the middle of a strip of veneer on one end of the strip, leaving the other end intact so I could wrap the base and overlay of the ring with just one piece. I'm lazy like that. Please look at the picture for reference. I wanted the groove for the inlay deep enough, so I left the thinner strips longer than the base portion.
Some people steam their wood. Some wrap it in wet paper towels and place it in the microwave. Boiling the strips in a pot of water works best for me. Different woods take different amounts of time to get flexible enough. I boil mine for roughly 10 minutes. They're usually bendable by then.
I've discovered that a copper pipe is roughly the right size to make rings for my middle or index fingers. We have a stepped ring mandrel somewhere that I could use, but I can't find it. I've also learned that a AA battery is the right size to make a ring for my 3 year old.
When the wood is sufficiently flexible, remove it from the boiling water using tongs. It cools quickly, so it shouldn't burn you by the time you get back to the table. Wrap it tightly around the round item of your choice and secure it with masking tape, a rubber band, or whatever you can find.
If you're making a ring with one color on the inside and one on the outside, only wrap the inner portion at this time. Leave the veneer for the outside in the pot for now. If you're making a ring with a stone inlay, make sure to wrap the base part of the ring (the solid portion of the strip) first if it's in once piece. If the thin strips are separate pieces of veneer, leave those in the pot for now.