Bentwood Rings - A Tutorial
Step 1: Supplies
There really isn’t much needed to create a perfectly good bentwood ring. However, a little discretion can be used to make the process a bit more enjoyable.
Wood: This is best to use in veneer form. You can make your own with a very thin strip of wood and a lot of sanding but it is easier to simply buy a pack of veneer online and save the hassle.
note: some woods bend much better than other woods. Trial and error will help with figuring out which but an easy trick is to look for straight grained woods to start.
Straight edge: A simple ruler will work just fine
Hobby knife: Simple X-acto knife will do
Cutting board or mat: Borrow one from the kitchen, it will save your work area
Mandrel: Something to wrap the wood around to achieve the correct size, I use sockets from a wrench set
Tape: This will hold the wood still while it cures. Blue painters tape seems to work well
Glue: Plain old super glue
Sandpaper: The finer the grit the smoother the ring
Finish: Tung oil seems to work and is easy to apply if the finish starts to fade
Step 2: Preparation
Make sure you are in a well-lit place when you are working. Also as a safety note, please make sure to use caution with super glue. It will bond to your skin instantly and generally makes for a hard clean up. You pretty much have to simply wear it off with time.
Using your cutting board and straight edge cut a strip of the veneer a bit oversize for the width of ring you would like to make. Women’s rings are typically thinner than men’s rings but it really is up to you. I like to use 4-6mm for women’s rings and 8-10mm for men’s
I generally like to soak the wood to make it pliable for bending. Some people will steam the wood but I find that this is pretty adequate and doesn’t require any fancy setup. Hot water will help soften the fibers of the wood a bit better than cold. Usually you only have to soak for about 15-30 minutes; however, it really depends on the wood. Once again, trial and error may be key. It’s a good thing this uses very little wood.
Step 3: Assembly
This is a two step process. I have found that for me this works well and results in nice and strong rings.
Step 1: Forming the general shape of the ring.
Taking your wood out its bath, carefully start to wrap it around your mandrel. Make sure you apply pressure to the wood where it is bending to help keep the fibers from splitting. Take your time with this step, if you go too fast you risk splitting your wood and starting over. When you have completed your initial wrap, tape the wrap tightly with the painters tape and let it sit to dry. Because the wood is wrapped tight it will dry slowly and its shape will begin to take shape. If you were to go to the glue up stage before letting the wood dry your glue would activate long before soaking into the wood. Give it an hour or so.
Step 2: Gluing the lamination
The wood should be a little damp still and that is good because it will help speed up the activation of the glue. Carefully unwrap the tape from your ring form. Painters tape is great here because it doesn’t stick well to the wood and keeps from tearing out the fibers. You will notice that the wood has taken the loose shape of a spiral, this is good. It will assist with the final forming stage to come. Apply a spot of glue to the end of the strip closest to the center and begin to wrap again. When the overlap contacts the glue apply pressure and hold for 30 seconds. This will help keep the wood from shifting in the process. Gradually apply glue to one side and continue the wrap until you are almost at the end. Skip gluing the last centimeter or so and begin wrapping with tape again. Let cure for 24 hours.
Step 4: Finish
At this point you should have a rough bentwood ring. Glue the final bit of wood to the ring and continue when the glue has dried. Super glue turns white in the presence of moisture and this will keep the white from showing as you finish sand your ring.
Sand the outside and inside of your ring to achieve a smooth finish and feel. When you are finished sanding apply a coat of tung oil to your finished ring. The oil will penetrate the wood keeping it soft as well as enhancing the overall appearance. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for the oil but a nice buff with steel wool, if you have it, in between coats will help the final finish.
Congrats, you have just made your first bentwood ring.
Step 5: Options
There are many different woods you can use to make your ring, as well as different ways to get your ring to stand out. You can use contrasting woods and layer the laminations to create particularly striking results. Experiment with wrapping thinner strips around the edges to create a channel you can use to add an inlay of crushed stone. Many objects can be used to fill the inlay and you can add even more significance to the ring by doing so.
The only limit to what you can create with your ring is your patience with the material. The more time you place into the ring the finer your end result will be. You should be able to get a few rings from a sheet of veneer so do not be afraid to try new things or be discouraged if your first one is not exactly right. I made half a dozen rings before my first one came out looking like something I would wear.
Try different things and if you find something that works for you, please share the results.