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Bentwood Rings: How They're Made (And Why it Matters)

Bentwood Rings: How They're Made (And Why it Matters)
TRADITIONAL TECHNIQUES & MODERN USES

You don’t have to look far to see modern examples of bentwood: the rocking chair in the nursery, the guitar in the corner, or the wooden canoe you admired on your last summer camping trip. However, the technique isn’t new; we’ve been manipulating and bending wood for centuries.

Historically, wood was an easy resource to acquire, and a steam box was an easy tool for woodworkers to build, meaning that with practice and time many could learn the bentwood technique.

To make a traditional steam box a long rectangular wooden box is built, with a shelf on the interior made of dowels. A tube is then added to the box that runs from the box to a pot of boiling water set over a fire. Wood slats are rested on the dowels in the box, and the ends of the box are capped and sealed. Steam then fills the box and is given time to penetrate the wood.

Over time, the wood slats become pliable enough to use the bentwood technique to shape them. For example, the back of a chair would be created by bending a steamed wood slat around a rounded wood form and securing the wood slat with many clamps to hold it in position. As the wood dries out, the form becomes permanent.

Together, this bentwood technique and steam boxes could be used by woodworkers to build furniture for their homesteads. The strength and beauty of wood, along with the simplicity of this technique, made bentwood products widely available to most people, historically.

The reason wood can be bent this way is because of the structure of its grain. Think of a tree swaying in high winds—there is elasticity in the wood that allows the tree to compress and stretch as it grows and sways. As wood dries out this elasticity reduces making the wood hard but brittle if bent.

For this reason, bending wood starts by steaming or boiling wood, seeing as wet wood can bend without breaking. The thinner the piece of wood, the better it bends. Bentwood ring makers use this to their advantage by creating their rings using very thin veneers of wood that can be wetted and bent into tight spirals. The spiral is laminated together with glues, creating a strong circle with no weak spots and a beautiful flowing grain pattern.

Today, bending wood is seen as an artistic technique rather than a way of mass producing items. Modern factories filled with machines can produce Kevlar canoes, and even bend wood to make guitars and rocking chairs, meaning traditional bentwood techniques are entrusted to those that enjoy the hands-on approach of working with wood and appreciate the finer details of craftsmanship.  

 

WHY BENTWOOD IS BETTER

If you’re considering a wooden wedding band or wood engagement ring, you may be confused by the many options available today. Ten years ago wooden rings were hard to find and we were one of the first artisans offering bentwood rings for sale online. Today, most large jewelry chains carry some form of wooden wedding band. They have become mainstream, as people love the beauty and warmth of wood in juxtaposition with the shiny metals traditionally worn as wedding rings. 

When we started out, we experimented with many different ways of making wooden rings, but ultimately decided that bentwood was simply better. The rings this technique produces are stronger, thinner, and have more beauty in the pattern of the grain than their cut-out wood ring counterparts. 

To understand why bentwood is better you need to know why wood bends. As explained in Techniques & Modern Uses, there is elasticity in wood grain that allows a live tree to compress and stretch. Without this elasticity, the slightest breeze would cause a tree to snap. Of course, sometimes a tree will still snap when bent too far by high winds. For this reason, understanding the limits of bentwood requires blending artistry with a little bit of science. 

Wood grain is formed as tree cells grow vertically, each new cell building upon the previous. This vertical growth pattern offers the tree great strength and elasticity as it is blown in the wind. In a cut-out wooden ring, this amazing feature becomes a flaw as the cells are split apart, creating weak areas within the band where water or pressure can cause the wood to snap.

In comparison, the lamination and spiral form in a bentwood ring works with the natural strength found in trees. In our opinion, it also produces the prettiest design and highlights the natural colours and pattern of the wood.   

 

GOLD & WOOD TOGETHER

When we began making rings in 2012, they were all-wood bentwood rings with no metal. In 2014, we began adding metal accents to our rings. Then, in 2016, we started making our rings by wrapping wood around a gold or silver base. 

Today, our wood rings are made within a gold band. While rings made in the bentwood method are strong and long-lasting, they do require refinishing from time to time to reseal the wood, which allows our customers to wear their rings on a daily basis without worrying about water damage.

We have always offered our refinishing services for free, and after 10 years we found that to honor our care policies we were dedicating a lot of time to refinishing our rings. The time it took to refinish our older ring styles combined with the frequency of refinishing required started preventing us from doing what we love most: innovating. We felt there had to be a better product we could create for both our customers and ourselves. 

Over the past two years, we have seen that by adding a small gold edge to our wood rings we can nearly eliminate the need for refinishing. Our customers are happier, we have more time to design, and our rings are just as stylish and beautiful as they have always been. We continue to innovate new ways of working with wood and gold in our rings, and we hope to offer even more unique styles as we grow.  

 To see our wood inlay rings, you can shop our collection, or to keep learning about wood and it's amazing varieties you could check out one of our favorite wood resources: The Wood Database

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