Other Skills and Techniques
Though most wood furniture is made of sticks and panels of wood fastened together by the use of joinery, there are some other tricks with wood that are part of the cabinetmaking reportiore.
Sometimes it's nice to introduce a curve into a design. Cutting a curved strip of wood from a single wide plank will result in a weak point wherever the grain of the wood is at an angle to the curve. (Wood's strength is always parallel to the grain.) Steambending and laminating are two methods of producing curved sticks that are uniformly strong throughout their length.
Steambending takes advantage of wood's plastic, or flexible, nature when it is heated with steam. A straight-grained piece of wood is heated in a steam oven. After a time, the wood tissue itself becomes flexible, and once removed from the oven, can be bent to the desired shape. It is held in that shape by clamps or forms until it cools. When it's removed from the form, it retains the new shape. This is how the curved backs of most wooden chairs are made.
Laminating is another method of achieving strength in a curved shape. Here, the wood is sliced into many thin, pliable layers, and a stack of layers is glued together on a template or form which is of the desired shape. The railing shown to the left is laminated from about thirteen layers of Cherry wood.
Once the glue dries, the assembled bundle is as strong as a piece of solid wood of the same dimension, and it also retains its curved shape. (In both steambending and laminating, however, the piece will tend to stretch or pull one way or the other after the clamps are removed; this tendency must be taken into account when building the forms.) Laminated wood may be most familiar in the curved shapes of Swedish chair and furniture designs.
Veneering has been discussed in the previous section, though its many cousins have not. Forming veneer sheets into geometrical pattern or book-matched displays, and then making plywood with them, is only one method of decorating furniture surfaces with thin pieces of wood.
Inlaying wood--insetting pieces of veneer right into a solid wood surface, such as a door or tabletop--can create banding, striping and edging. Whole areas of inlay can also be inset, or sunk, into the wood surface to make shapes or pictures using many small fitted pieces of wood. Other materials, such as brass and other metals, stone, or plastic resins, can also be used to inlay as well.
Carving and shaping find a use in cabinetmaking, often as decorative or pictorial carving on the actual boards which have been used to build the piece. Carving and shaping are also called for in creating handles, hardware and decorative additions to furniture, as well as out-of-the-ordinary shapes for the furniture's parts themselves. Though much of this work is done using carving tools, even bandsaws and chainsaws may be used to bring the wood to rough shape. Rasps, files, scrapers and sandpaper help smooth and polish the wood.
Turning desribes any woodworking operation that involves cutting or shaping a spinning piece of wood. Typically, a lathe will hold a long narrow piece of wood at both ends like a rolling pin, and spin it as other tools are used to cut, shape and smooth it. Table legs, and chair spindles and legs, are made this way. Plates and bowls can also be turned, using larger blocks of wood.
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