Bending Acoustic Guitar Sides

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Bending acoustic guitar sides is for most woodworkers the first time they will have to bend wood. Most woodworking involves cutting and shaping. Bending wood is not as hard as it looks though. With a little practice and the right tools, anyone can pick up the talent.

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How to Bend Guitar Sides

bending acoustic guitar sidesAcoustic guitar sides are thin. This makes the bending process relatively easier. The first step is to decide what tools are going to be used. There are a few different ways to bend wood, and each of them have positives and negatives.

As a beginner, trying out a couple different methods can be helpful. However, it can also be expensive if you do not have access to some of the nicer bending jigs. The two primary methods what will be covered here are the hot pipe and the heated bending jig. There are others, but these are the two that I have the most experience with, and can make the best recommendations for.

The Hot Pipe Bender is the Most Used Method

bending acoustic guitar sidesThe standard forever has been the hot pipe. The old violin makers used to use a vertical metal pipe with a small fire burning in the bottom. They had to keep the fire at the right volume to heat the pipe, yet not so hot that it burned the wood. They also had no electricity, and worked by candle light after dark.

Bending acoustic guitar sides on the hot pipe involves a jig (which I explain here) and a method of heating. For most people, this is a simple torch from a hardware store. The pipe is heated, and the wood is rocked back and forth until it becomes hot enough to bend. Water is used most of the time, but not all the time, and the shape is checked against a template.

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The benefits to the hot pipe are that the results are instant. A bend can be made and set in a matter of a few minutes, and it will stay that way. Also, one hot pipe can be used to make any shape of guitar sides desired. The down side is that this method takes a little longer to learn, but once mastered it is the fastest of all small shop methods.

Consider a Side Bending Machine

bending acoustic guitar sidesAnother way to bend the sides is with a bending jig. These vary from builder to builder, but essentially it’s an enclosure in the shape of the guitar side.

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On the inside, there are high wattage light bulbs that create heat. This in turn heats up the metal sheeting on the top, providing the needed heat for the bending process.

I made one of these for a couple early guitars, and though I had to get a little creative with my clamping, it worked well. The positives about this method are that the side profiles created are identical every time. They also are a little less stressful to use, because the jig sets the shape. The down side to these units is that the wood takes a long time to be ready to use. Once shaped to the form, the jig is turned off and allowed to cool with the wood in place. After several hours of cooling, the side can be removed. Another down side is that many times the piece will need to be touched up on the hot pipe to coax it back to shape. Coming off the jig, the wood has a tendency to spring back, and this has to be addressed before assembly.

For bending acoustic guitar sides, both the hot pipe and the bending jig and the heated bending iron have their pros and cons.

While the bending jig method is very attractive to beginning luthiers for bending acoustic guitar sides, the hot pipe is worth the time to learn. I use the pipe bender in my shop the most, and I am glad that I spent the time learning it. The pieces are ready instantly, and I do not seed several bending forms for the different side profiles that I make. Also, the cost of the hot pipe is far lower than the cost of a bending form.

For more on acoustic guitar making, take a look at some of my other articles below:

My book, Acoustic Guitar Making: How to make Tools, Templates, and Jigs explains this and many other acoustic guitar making topics. It is not a step-by-step book. It is a companion book that teaches how to make tools and jigs, how to finish, and ways to help beginning acoustic guitar makers have an easier build. With over 500 pages and over 1600 images, it explains many topics is an easy to understand manner.

Do you have any questions on bending acoustic guitar sides? Leave a comment and I will answer them. Happy Building.

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brian forbes westfarthing woodworks llc owner

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