Guitar Making Tip No. 405

Guitar Making Tip No. 405 is about making a side bender. There are essentially two ways to bend the sides for your guitar. One uses a form, and the other is freehand. While there are benefits to both, you will discover for yourself which you prefer. Here is how.

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Devices for Bending Acoustic Guitar Sides

guitar making tip number 405The old standard for bending wood is with a hot pipe. This is the least fancy of all the methods, and the least expensive.

To get started, all you need is a small length of metal water pipe, a flange to attach it to a board, and a torch to heat the pipe. You press your sides against the pipe, and the heat helps you bend the wood. (See My Bending Jig)

While this is the least expensive, it is also the most difficult to learn. Not saying that it’s very hard, or will take forever to figure out, it’s just harder than the other methods.

You do get more control over your pieces with the hot pipe method, but again it can be a bit of a challenge to learn at first. If you are a little worried about bending wood in the beginning, there is a method that can help you get good results with a lot less worry…

Advantages of a Bending Form

A bending form is a stress reliever for new guitar makers. This is an alternative to bending by hand, and uses a form and heat source to create the profile. Even among the forms, there are a couple differences to think about before making or buying a device like this.

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The first type of form is a simple wooden block that matches the side profile of the guitar perfectly. A heat blanket is used to generate the heat required to bend the piece, which is sandwiched in between a couple pieces of sheet metal.

As the blanket heats the wood, you slowly clamp it down to the form. This takes a little time, but it’s a slow and safe process. After the side has been clamped to the form, you turn off the power to the blanket and let it cool down overnight.

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The second type is a hollow form with a sheet metal profile. Inside the machine there is a heat source, and that heats the metal on the outside. You slowly clamp your wood to the hot form, and then leave it clamped for the shape to set.

The biggest advantage to the form method is reliability for new builders. The process is easier when you have a form, and the results are consistent.

Pros and Cons of the Bending Form and Hot Pipe

While the bending form has a lot of advantages, there are a few drawbacks that come with the jig too. For starters, you have to leave the wood on the jig for a while to allow the shape to set. Also, you may still have to touch up the pieces on the pipe after they come off.

Unless you have a larger side profile jig, you are going to have to bend the pieces one at a time, which can add time to the build while you wait for the shape to set. While this is not a terrible thing, some makers like to keep the process going.

You also need to have a different form for every guitar shape that you make. If you are new, you are only going to need one at first. However, over time you will naturally want to make different guitar shapes, and you will need a new form for each one. A hot pipe is completely freehand, so it doesn’t matter what shape you want to make.

The hot pipe doesn’t offer you any help as far as a form to match. You can help it out by using your mold and having a full size profile shape to follow as you bend. Even so, you are going to be bending at a much higher level of control. This also means a larger amount of the responsibility will be on you to make the bends in the right places.

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My Choice for Bending Wood is Both

I used a form in the beginning, and it served me well. I was terrible at bending wood in the beginning, but I also did not give it the practice that it deserved at first. I used the bending form for a couple guitars, but I also did something that made my pipe bending improve.

I practiced. I spend time bending thin pieces of wood on the hot pipe even though I was using a bender. The process was tough at first, but over time it became easier. Once I was able to bend the sides on the pipe, I never used the bender again.

After I learned that the hot pipe was really the best method for me, I retired the bender to a corner of the shop and have never used it since. The hot pipe just gives you so much more control. You can bend your sides, put them in your mold, trim the ends, and glue your head/tail blocks in a short time without any waiting.

I recommend that you give the pipe a try using My Method for Learning How to Bend Wood, and see if you can pick it up before spending money or time on a bending form. If you can learn the method, it will save you having to go through the same process that I did.

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