Making Plywood Bend to My Will!

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“Continental drift” is a nice way to describe how our piles of dirty laundry shift from one flat surface to another, as natural erosion consumes stragglers into the sea of hardwood flooring. We have a pretty regimented laundry day schedule, defined by nothing other than “when we run out of flat surfaces.”

It’s time to add some built-in cabinets to our bedroom. But if there’s ever an opportunity to make things difficult, we’ll jump on it. That is nothing short of the truth with this latest endeavor. Sure, ripping apart the bedroom to build two-toned floor-to-ceiling cabinets and a 12-drawer dresser is “challenging” and all…but why not throw in another level of difficulty, curved drawers. :)

Without the garage, building a proper steam box for bending wood wasn’t really feasible; plus, I wasn’t super keen to deal with seasonal changes of using solid wood drawer fronts. So instead, I decided to “make” some plywood by laminating thin sheets of Baltic Birch to hold the desired curve.

I started by building the basic form using 2x6s and hardboard. The drawers didn’t need to have a big curve, but just enough to break up the lines. In fact, it ended up being a pretty shallow 3″ curve across a 3′ span.

The next stage was laminating 1/8″ Baltic Birch, one layer at a time with Gorilla Glue…one drawer at a time. I was kinda making it up as I went along, but it worked out surprisingly well. The 6 curved drawer fronts are identical. The true test is whether or not they’ll match the dresser carcass. :)

Because I had to laminate 4 sheets in total, but one layer at a time, it took quite a long time. to finish each drawer.

Why didn’t I just create one giant form to laminate and bend sheets for the 6 drawers all at once? Because I would have to create one giant form to laminate and bend sheets. :) Building a smaller form to handle one drawer at a time was:

  1. easier to build,
  2. easier to laminate smaller pieces of wood, and
  3. ensured consistency across all drawers, regardless of imperfections in the form.

What’s the next step? Deciding on how I want to make the handles…oh yeah, and the whole “building the cabinet” thing. :)

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