Curved Components: Part One

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One should never say that there is only one way to accomplish anything in woodworking. (The word never should seldom be used, too.) Whether you’re cutting dovetails, creating mortises or tapering legs, there are choices. When it comes to curved components, such as table aprons, drawer fronts and doors on some of the Federal sideboards, three different techniques are in play. The three are: stacked laminations, bricking and bent laminations. In fact, the study of late 18th- and early 19th-Century American furniture shows that the three techniques were used throughout the period in every major furniture center from Boston to Philadelphia to Charleston.

While I mention drawer fronts and doors, in my example I’ll focus on table aprons. I need an apron that is 24-1/2” in overall length. The overall height of my curve is 3-11/16” from inside to outside at the apex of the arc. The finished height is 4”. The same information would be used to create drawer fronts or other curved components. Throughout this series of technique articles, we examine each of the processes to learn the method and evaluate which is the better choice given your project.

Stacked Lamination

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(Fig. 1) The end result of pieces that are stacked then shaped is a strong furniture part that is curved at any design.

A stacked lamination is nothing more than a selection of appropriately sized pieces that are glued together in a face-grain-to-face-grain orientation from top to bottom. Portions of the assembled block are then carved or cut away to expose the curved part inside (Fig. 1).

Generally, the lamination is made up from secondary wood that has a veneer applied during the building process. I’m using poplar. The pieces to create the stack need to be slightly longer than 24-1/2” (tenon lengths are included), and at least as wide as the necessary curve – it’s better to be overlong and over-wide and to trim back to the final measurements.

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