Sunday, March 16, 2014

How Ripping Something Apart Then Putting it Back Together Can Make it Stronger

We’ve learned a number of different techniques for bending wood, each method with its own strengths and weaknesses and contexts and purposes.
There’s coopering, which can be done one of two ways. You can either plane a curve into a solid piece of wood, or you can cut a solid piece into staves, bevel an angle on the edge of each one, then rejoin the staves together to create a faceted curve which can then be planed smooth.
Then there is steam bending, which is often used in chair making.
Another method involves the veneering of thin sheets, or plys, of wood on top of one another in alternating grain directions, over a form to create a bent core, which is then laminated with a shop-sawn veneer to create a beautiful outer surface.
You can also simply saw a curve out of solid wood when thick enough stock is available.
But recently I’ve been experimenting with bent laminating – a technique used often in chair making.
I had no pictures of my bent lam, so here is one courtesy of showing a rocking-chair rocker glue-up.
Here’s how it works: You saw a piece of solid wood into thin strips (we call this 're-sawing'), then run them across a jointer or through a planer to remove the saw marks.
Then, using a form you created that mimics the curve you want to achieve, you re-assemble those layers in their original order, apply glue to the joining surfaces, bend the whole unit around the form and clamp up like crazy!
Because the wood is sawn into such thin strips, it is able to form curves that the solid piece probably never would. 
A few hours after the glue up you remove the clamps and presto, you have a piece bent to the curve you need, ready to be shaped into a chair or table leg, arm or crest rail without the waste that would have occurred if you’d sawn it from solid wood.
To steam bend it, you would have to subject the wood to heat, water and steam, running the risk of over stressing the wood and causing breakage.
But with bent lamination there is very little waste, incredible bends can be achieved, and the wood, once re-assembled, often shows little or no evidence that is has been cut into slices and glued back together again.
I used the technique to create the lumbar rails on my chairs and the process has gotten me thinking about parallels in my own life.
I resonate with the concept of something that is whole, complete, strong and integral, being dismantled into smaller, weaker pieces. That happened to me as it happens to many of us -- the result of circumstances, life, mistake and brokenness. It was life.
But the point is that though the dismantling, the cutting up, was painful and unexpected and resulted in weakness, strength was able to come out of it.
The individual pieces were shaped, smoothed, and prepared through that process for future work.
And once they were put back together again, some imperfections were removed, strength and integrity were added and the end result, I hope, is a piece that is stronger than it was before that process began.
And the process didn’t just add strength it also provided new traits. Like the re-sawn wood, I can now bend in new directions that pride and ego and stubbornness simply wouldn’t allow before.
In high school I worked out in the weight room almost every day, desperately trying to not be the skinny, gangly 10th grader I was. A teacher who worked out with us and helped with our routines and described weight-lifting as the process of tearing, breaking and damaging your muscles a little bit every time you lifted a dumbbell. You were forcing those muscle fibres to grow back stronger, to knit together more closely. Strength and muscle were the result of that process.
I think what I’m describing here is the same process but it’s not the muscles that are growing back stronger, it’s the heart. With wood, the dismantling, re-shaping and re-assembly results in a stronger piece in a brand new shape.
I think, I hope, that somehow that same process has taken place in my heart.

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