Bubinga Chairs – Bending/Shaping Bubinga

Well into the chair making but had a few minutes to write a bit so a lot of photos and a little splainin’!

First, here is a photo of my chair, took a long time to get it right but it is very comfortable and we’ve sold a lot over the years, also make it in a rocker.

Making chairs requires a lot of parts and pieces, for this client, I am making 8 side chairs and 2 arm chairs. Each piece has to be shaped, fitted, sanded/scraped prior to bending.

For the splats in the chair backs, like I said earlier, we have to shape and sand them before bending and then again after they are bent, then some finish sanding after the chairs are built. I use a turkey fryer turned wood steamer to bend my splats.

I made a mold that has a nice curve to it. Wearing heavy gloves, I take the hot chair splats and hold them over this mold to to stretch the fibers, find that I don’t have as much (if any, done it so many times) breakage when racking them. When I was in the design stage for my chairs I also designed a rack that holds the splines in the proper curve for the back of the chairs and I leave them there until they are dry and hold their bent shape.

I might of mentioned earlier that there are a lot of parts and pieces that go into these chairs.

We will get the chairs assembled and then tackle scooping out the seats which is always fun! Got something new I’m trying with these but I’ll show you when we get there!

Chair Seat Blanks

While no doubt the water helps, and steam is better, bubinga is semi-resinous yet hard and tough, it works very nice. Bubinga scrapes better than it sands. Resinous woods bend pretty well but it’s more the heat than the moisture as it softens the resins which allows it to bend then resets. It holds its shape extremely well, thin strips of bubinga will bend further than most any wood I know, including oak and hickory. It would seem, being so hard and dense that it wouldn’t bend well but it does.

In the near future we are going to be doing something (not sure video or article) on bending/steaming wood for chairs, shaker boxes, etc and will show you a neat steam box. Simple to make and a super way to get the team. Earlex, who makes the turbine spray system also makes a “wallpaper” steamer and man does it work, lots of steam and its super hot. Just what you want, along with some PVC pipe and your cookin’ but it will also allow you to spot steam, meaning you can direct the steam on what you are bending to maintain heat and moisture for tough bends.

I mentioned in the blog that Sam Richardson is a master Shaker Box Maker and Sam worked here in my shop for many years and between chairs and boxes, we learned how to bend wood that normally doesn’t bend. Woods such as birdseye maple, bubinga, high figured tiger maple, figured walnut, etc. We sure bent a lot of wood so we will take the opportunity to show some tricks.

Well, just finished folding the blankets and put them away, the splats are bent so its time to put the final shape on the posts.


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7 Responses to Bubinga Chairs – Bending/Shaping Bubinga

  1. Denis Rezendes says:

    very cool. i was planning on trying bending just this same way just with a little smaller pot. not a small pot just a smaller one. i dont think it would be a good idea with a little tiny pot. the lobster one should work nicely though 🙂

  2. InsideBevel says:

    Looking forward to the bending. Curves are always interesting….

  3. bob says:

    I have sat in Charles’s chairs and rocker. Fits like a glove.
    Tell Sam I have something special for him. We’ll see how he likes bending curly hickory. bob

  4. bring that hickory on…we will bend it……we bent some really small eye , birds eye a couple times into whats called a “presentation ” box, small super tight radius, that was interesting ..but we did it…oddly enough one of the toughest woods to bend ,in a shaker box where the wood is thin,is curly cherry, its hard to get it to stay flat and smooth…it likes to buckle and twist around…using “glycern”, a laxative that can be bought at the drug store, in the water helps alot, its a ‘softner”, thye old timers used it in the buckets of water they kept the oak strips in for weaving a chair seat, it keeps the wood plyable, but when dry finishes with no issue…I know more than you wanted to hear…

  5. Instead of glycerin I wonder if you can use a fabric softener? Very interesting blog topic steam bending.

    Oh and what is that design? Is that dust from sanding/scraping?


  6. fabric softner works on wall paper for removal…it may work on wood as well havent tried it..but sounds like we should…good idea…not sure as to design…in the seat blank i was trying a new style cutter, in the post one has glue, the other is sanded and wet to show how well the glue did

  7. Oh so that is material already removed from the seat by a cutter.


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