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Plank bending tool

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I haven't seen this mentioned so I thought I would. It may be somewhere my keyword search didn't locate, but anyway, here goes:


I've been building the Bounty Launch and heard some horror stories about bending the 3/32 sq cherry frames onto the forms. I've been using my sealing iron from my model aircraft work. For those not familiar, it's basically a small iron shaped heating element on a handle. It's used for sealing down and shrinking aircraft covering materials and is readily available at hobby supply outlets. I think I got mine at Tower Hobbies. I don't know what temperatures it operates at, compared to a household iron, but it gets hot enough to boil water out of wood and the size and shape are really handy for bending wood in either direction. I use the flat part for bending from the outside of a curve and the curved part for the inside. If I'm bending a plank more or less free form (not to a form) I just lay the wet plank (soaked 2-4 hours) on my workbench, press the iron firmly on the plank where I want to start the bend, and pull up on the plank. The only trick is to go slow enough for the wood to heat up. The iron heats the water in the wood to sizzling hot. Usually by the time I've finished the bend the wood is completely dry. If I need to bend it more after that I usually re-soak it but I've found the iron will bend basswood a bit even if the wood isn't wet. I found it works a lot easier than clamping a soldering iron in a vise and scorches the wood a lot less.


When I used it on the frames on the Bounty launch I had very little breakage, and I wasn't able to figure out anything about the grain, so I just bent them however I happened to grab them. Of course that could also be due to the fact that I ordered extra wood before I ever bent the first frame. Murphy never sleeps!


My other tool from aircraft modelling is a heat gun, also for shrinking covering material. I also use it for shrink tubing on electrical wiring and anywhere else I need high portable heat. It gets much hotter than a hair dryer, in fact the manufacturer warns you not to use it for that purpose. Also available at Tower and others.

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  • 3 months later...

I ve used heating irons, microwave, steam tubes, hair dryers. The thing that works for me is actually to throw the pieces in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then really quickly bend them to shape. The wood will easily take extreme bends but will start cooling down in just a few seconds and dries to an ambient moisture within 24 hours. A bit of a problem with the heating irons is that the wood gets very dry and somewhat brittle.

To my experience, basswood/lime does not bend well. Beech and maple are superb.

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