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Building a Wooden Dummy - To Laminate or Not

Updated on January 7, 2013

If you've shopped around enough, you will have found that you can purchase a wooden dummy (using a conventional design) with either a laminated main body, or a solid main body built from a solid log. Assuming that you want your wooden dummy to last your lifetime (at least), the decision between each method could become quite important. Each of the two wooden dummy manufacturing methods have their advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of the solid log dummy are:

Faster and easier to make.

Starting with a solid log easily eliminates a significant amount of extra work. The laminating process is significant and if not performed correctly will result in your dummy splitting and potentially breaking.

Aesthetics.

This is actually down to personal preference - some people like the joins and sudden breaks in grain structure, and some people don't.

Authentic.

To some, a solid log dummy is what might be considered "authentic", as there was likely no reliable laminating method or adhesives many years ago, or obtaining a large solid log was not very difficult.

Disadvantages of the solid log dummy are:

Difficult to source timber.

Much more difficult to source timber of a suitable type and dimensions. Many people use old telephone poles, but care should be taken when using any treated timber - the chemicals used on the wood to prevent rot were not intended for repeated frequent contact with human skin.

Cost.

Potentially quite expensive to purchase materials due to the rarity of a suitable timber of adequate size.

Prone to cracking if not dried correctly.

The solid log should be correctly kiln dried to a suitable moisture content. This moisture content will vary slightly depending on your climate. Also consider the room in which your wooden dummy will live - if there are large fluctuations in humidity, your dummy may develop cracks due to the timber absorbing and dissipating moisture.

Advantages of the laminated dummy are:

Cost.

Potentially cheaper to make, as smaller sections of timber are going to cost less to purchase. This cost may be offset by the process of laminating it all together.

Aesthetics.

The vertical join lines and sudden changes in grain can make for an interesting look. You might like it.

Easy to source timber.

Not only will it be much easier to source your timber, but you will have many more options of timber type available.

Disadvantages of the laminated dummy are:

Time and difficulty.

A laminated wooden dummy body will require much greater skill, time, and effort to create a final product which will not fail by falling apart.

Aesthetics.

Some people don't like the vertical join lines and sudden changes in grain.

Prone to cracking if not laminated properly.

Correctly laminating a dummy body will require excellent timber preparation and sizing (such as planning for a flat surface), adhesive selection, clamping, and section configuration. This becomes especially important around the upper arm and leg hole areas where the dummy limbs act like a lever, trying to pry the body apart.

Conclusion:


If you're purchasing a pre-made wing chun dummy, it may be worth checking whether the supplier provides any sort of warranty on their laminated wooden dummies. If you're going to be making your own dummy, it may be that you don't have any choice but to laminate (due to non-availability of suitable timber, or due to cost), so you could enlist the expertise of a boat-builder for suitable help or advice with the laminating. Also ensure you have a great set of wooden dummy plans!

Good luck!

Laminating Your Wooden Dummy

The video below shows a basic process of lamination which you could apply when building your wooden dummy:

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    • LouisPearlGG profile image

      Louis Pearl G.G. 4 years ago from Northern California

      I bought my dummy from Hawkins Chung. He was a study of Ip Man and classmate of Bruce Lee., as well as a former business partner of Dan Inosanto. iIlearned the 108 from Cass Megda, a protégé of Dan's. I bought the dummy 28 years ago and have used it almost daily since that time.

      It is made in Hong Kong from a single piece. I have taught quite a few students and it is still in the same condition I bought it. Since it has suffered incredible abuse, I have to wonder if the laminate would hold up the same and if it would have the same feel as you go through the 108.

      By the way, I have some rare pictures or sketches drawn by Bruce Lee and you can view them on my hub: https://hubpages.com/sports/Lost-Sketches-drawn-by...

    • profile image
      Author

      Wing Chun Dummy 4 years ago

      Wow, great sketches, thanks for sharing them, and the life of your wooden dummy so far is a great testament to the advantage of a quality built dummy with superior materials.

      Many will argue that laminated timber is stronger than one solid piece, though this is typically only when you can get the grain going in different directions between the various layers (such as plywood). This is not so practical on a long section such as the wooden dummy body.

      Another large factor in determining the durability of a laminated dummy body (and actually a solid one piece body too) is whether the humidity is fluctuating. As the timbers moisture content goes up and down, there are internal "cyclic stresses" induced inside the wood - the larger and more frequent the moisture fluctuations, the earlier the timber may fail.

      This is where I see that laminated bodies might have a disadvantage - the layer of adhesive between each section of laminate will have different expansion properties to that of the parent timber, which means a sudden change in section properties. This is where the highest stresses will occur, and really test the adhesive.

      I have personally never encountered a laminated wing chun dummy, but my guess is that the feel will come down to how it is mounted, and mostly depend on the density and properties of the dummy's timber. For instance, teak has a density of ~660kg per cubic meter, and oak ~735kg per cubic meter (two wood types commonly used for manufacturing dummies). This equates to a difference of approximately 5kg in body weight, so that combined with how the dummy is mounted could make for quite a difference in feeling as you play the form.

    • LouisPearlGG profile image

      Louis Pearl G.G. 4 years ago from Northern California

      Actually, in my view, regardless of solid or laminate, the dummy is a great tool for the martial artist. I am 59 years old and have maintained my art because of the dummy.

    • profile image

      nobody 3 years ago

      ty for all the information posted. i will go for a solid one from oak i guess, should outlast me. build it once, make it right and that is that. my logic anyway :) regards from slovenija !

    • profile image
      Author

      Wing Chun Dummy 3 years ago

      Hi, I'm glad this info has been able to help you. Oak is an excellent choice of timber (if you can find a solid log, especially one which has been properly dried), is strong with a medium-to-high density, and has a beautiful grain.

      If you later find that you get some cracks in the body (not to be confused with splitting - but cracks can eventually lead to splitting), there are various epoxy compounds which will fill and bond the inside walls of the crack.

      All the best in your dummy building project :-)

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