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I'm contemplating building a dresser and am looking at designs and such to get my creative juices flowing. Today I noticed that some dressers/chests have concave or outwardly curving drawers on the front face. Usually I can figure out how to do most woodworking feats, but I'm not sure about this one. Some ideas I have:

  • By hand with a planer/sander
  • Some sort of CNC planer that makes curves
  • Steam the wood and bend to shape

Here's a picture of what I'm talking about: alt text

Can anyone shed some light on this?

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3 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I think steam bending is supposed to be the easiest method. For bends around corners it may help to cut slats into the back (concave) side. A Google search for "bend wood" returns a number of howtos.

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I'd steer clear of cutting vertical kerfs into the back side of the drawer fronts -- they're not going to look nice and even though you won't see them when the drawers are closed you (or whoever's using the piece) will notice them every time you open the drawers. –  Mike Powell Aug 23 '10 at 15:15
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Build up the piece in layers. It's a lot easier to bend a thin sheet of wood, then bending say a 3/4" piece. The basic idea here is to create an arched piece of plywood.

  • Start with a thin sheet of wood 1/8" to 1/4" depending on the type of wood, and the finished pieces thickness.
  • soak the sheet in water until it is pliable.
  • Using clamps or a jig, bend the sheet past the desired arc (the board will lose some of the bend when the clamps are removed).
  • Let dry, or heat and let cool.
  • Repeat this procedure with as many sheets as it takes to get your final thickness, making sure each sheet fits perfectly over the previous one.
  • Using glue and some clamps glue all the pieces together to form a single piece.
  • Trim to size, sand, and finish.
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If you can't predict how much of the bend will be lost once you unclamp a sheet, how can you make sure each sheet fits perfectly over the previous one? –  Sparafusile Aug 23 '10 at 13:03
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Why would you do these one at a time? Typically you'd sandwich all the layers together at once with glue in between, clamp the whole stack to your curved form, and let it dry. –  Mike Powell Aug 23 '10 at 15:12
    
@Mike Powell: I've had better results with doing each sheet individually. I feel you get faster more even drying, which provides a more consistent bend. I could be wrong (I'm no master woodworker), it's just my preference. –  Tester101 Aug 23 '10 at 16:21
    
@Sparafusile: The sheets will most likely vary slightly, you just want to get them as close as possible. When you glue and clamp them together it should sort out the small variations. –  Tester101 Aug 23 '10 at 16:23
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The options here are

  1. Cut the drawer faces from thick stock on a bandsaw. This is wasteful of wood, but an option if the faces are not too heavily curved. You can easily find 8/4 stock to start from for a mild curve, ending with a 3/4 inch thick drawer face.

  2. Glue it up from layers of veneer. Essentially, build your own plywood for the drawer faces, gluing it into shape on a form. Or use thicker layers (1/8 or 1/4 inch thick perhaps) steaming them if necessary to make them sufficiently pliable. Thinner layers may become sufficiently pliable just by dipping them in water.

  3. Steam bending. It may be difficult to bend such a wide piece of wood, or to steam it enough to be pliable. Some woods will bend more easily than others. Shallow kerf cuts on the back face will help if you cannot get enough of a bend on practice pieces. Many clamps and a strong form will be useful tools here.

  4. Veneer. Here you would start with a stable substrate of your desired shape, gluing down a thin layer of a valuable wood on top. For a curved surface, a vacuum bag is probably useful to get it to form to the surface. This is a good approach for very expensive woods, such as a rosewood face for the drawers.

Of these options, I would recommend options 1 or 2, depending on what sources of wood you have available, and the desired extent of the curvature of the drawer faces.

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+1 for option #2. –  Mike Powell Aug 23 '10 at 15:10
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If you really want to make it look nice you could veneer the edges of the drawer fronts and completely hide the fact that they're laminated. –  Mike Powell Aug 23 '10 at 15:17
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