Guitar Making Tip No. 357 is about learning how to bend wood. On the acoustic guitar, the sides are bent with heat and steam. There are a number of ways to accomplish the task, but the most basic is with a bending iron by hand. Here is how you learn hand bending quickly and easily.
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My Secret to Bending Acoustic Guitar Sides
Most guitar sides are about five inches wide, which is a lot of wood to bend at once. I recommend starting out with a piece that is only one inch wide.
Start with a piece that is as long as a regular guitar side (around 33″-36″) and the same thickness. Cut one strip from the edge that is 1″ wide.
Start with this new narrow strip, and practice bending that piece just as if it were the real thing. Do the same process, use the same steps, and bend it to the shape of a guitar side. The narrower piece of wood will play along better than a full width piece, and help you build confidence faster.
Yes, you are going to destroy a set of guitar sides practicing like this. However, it will help keep you from destroying many more in the future. It’s worth it.
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Continuing the Bending Process
Once you are successfully bent a one inch wide piece, look at the difficulty level of the bend and decide whether or not to move up. If the process was super difficult, cut another one inch wide strip and complete the process again. Keep doing this until the one inch wide strip is very easy to bend to shape.
When you master the one inch strip, cut a two inch strip from the side piece. Again, don’t take any shortcuts. Bend the piece using the exact same process and steps as if it were a real guitar side. Once happy with the bend, either bend another or move up an inch.
Eventually you are going to get to the point where you are bending full size sides, and it will be much easier for you. Having practiced with the narrower strips, you have already built up muscle memory, and these full width strips will be much easier.
Bending Different Woods
Most wood will bend, but it all bends a little differently. As you work with a new species, make sure to test out the bending properties carefully. You can go right for the real thing once you have a lot of practice under your belt. However, start carefully so that you don’t break the pieces by mistake.
Some woods will just bend more easily than others. Figured woods tend to be more difficult because of the way the grain is locked together. When bending pieces like this, take your time and be cautious.
If you really enjoy bending wood, pick up a few pieces from the hardwood store in the same species that you make into guitars. Saw and thin them to side thickness, and practice bending them. This way, then the real thing comes, you will be prepared.
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