Bending acoustic guitar sides can be one of the more stressful aspects of guitar making. For most woodworkers, this is the first time they have ever bent wood.
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The process is actually easier than it looks, and with the right tools it can be accomplished by anyone. A side bending iron is easy to make, however it is still a great tool that many guitar makers still prefer over the fancier models.
The Side Bending Iron makes bending wood for acoustic guitar sides a fairly easy process. The iron is heated by a propane torch directed into the pipe, and the sides are bent over the iron.
Making the tool is fairly easy. Pick up a thick wall pipe from the plumbing section of a hardware store. Look for something in the 2″ to 2-1/2″ range. Pick up the corresponding base flange to for the pipe, and a piece of 3/4″ MDF to make the base.
Cut a square piece for the face of the tool, which the base flange will be mounted. Cut the piece about 1″-2″ larger than the diameter of the base flange. Drill a hole through the center that is just larger than the diameter of the pipe. Next, cut a pair of triangle shaped pieces that are the same height as the face piece. Mount them all to a long base (which provides room for the torch and clamps) with wood screws, then mount the pipe and flange.
Protecting the Open End of the Pipe
A piece of bent metal flashing can be put in the front of the pipe to keep the heat from going through and burning the operator, but do not use a cap for this, as some of the air flow needs to escape the front of the pipe.
Pay attention while standing in front of the open end of the pipe, as the heat coming through can burn clothing and people.
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With the jig clamped to the bench, a propane torch is directed into the pipe, centering the flame. The pipe is then heated up to the point where water dripped on the pipe snaps and pops off the surface. At this point the pipe is hot enough to use.
WARNING: The Hot Pipe Bending Iron gets very hot! This tool can cause serious injury to the operator and burn down the shop if not attended properly. Do not touch the pipe during operation, and do not walk away from the pipe while in use. This is a very useful tool, but it is up to you to make it safe. It is also good practice to have a fire extinguisher on hand any time an open flame is used in the shop.
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