Ways to Create Arched Seat-Back Curves

Different methods each have their advantages and disadvantages. December 28, 2006

I've been making furniture for the past 5 years or so. Mostly tables, entertainment centers... square stuff. I make a few chairs, but I'm looking to do some with an arched back, and wondering what would be the best way. Making a pattern and routing them out? Steam bending, or laminating them in a form?

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor M:
All three methods are valid, but there are personality differences between them. A routed arch-shaped back will have a very pronounced cathedral to the grain as the arch shape passes through the annual growth rings of the mother board. That may or may not be visually appealing. And depending on how thin it gets, it can be prone to weakness.

Steam bending gives you a historically proven way to tackle this, but requires you to have a steam box as well as the form work ready and waiting when the wood comes out of the steamer.

Bending the wood promotes full-length long-grain strength in the bent pieces - which is opposed to the much shorter sections of long-grain that you end up with if you route the curve into the back slats.

Personally, I find that bent laminating is the way to go. No need for the time/energy/effort to build the steam box system or figure out where you're going to store it when not in use. As long as you can resaw the veneers, sand out the bandsaw marks and use an adhesive like Unibond 800 or Urac 185, you get a very rigid glue line with no cold creep. Good stuff.

From contributor W:
Another opinion. The lamination route also allows use of different species in the lamination to accent some portion of the curvature. I am going to go the lam approach for my rocker skids as well as putting a lumbar curve in my chairs.

From contributor L:
Steam bending does require significant setup time and expense. However, if the shape you need is similar to that used on other chairs, you may be able to buy steam bent blanks.