Bentwood is a type of woodworking in which lengths of wood are steamed, bent into shapes and curves, and then dried to harden in those shapes. The process is common in furniture making, and bentwood furniture may come in the form of chairs, tables, foot rests, and other common household pieces. Bentwood rocking chairs are perhaps the most common types of furniture made through this process, and the ornate arms and backs of the chairs make them popular for improving the decor of living rooms or sitting rooms. The process can be somewhat difficult for inexperienced carpenters and takes some practice to perfect.
The bentwood process works best on thinner pieces of wood that are porous enough to allow the moisture from the steam to temporarily soften the wood. The wood is placed in some sort of enclosure, which is fed with steam created from a heat source. A do-it-yourselfer can use a kettle heated on a hot plate or stove, and he can then connect the spout of the kettle with some sort of heat resistant hose to the enclosure. When enough steam is generated, the wood will soften and the person will be able to bend it into the desired shape. This process should be done slowly to avoid cracking the wood.
Once the wood has been bent, it will be necessary to clamp it into that shape to prevent it from unbending. Some carpenters use multi-density fiberboard (MDF), to do this. The MDF is cut in the shape of the bent piece of wood, and then cut so two pieces of MDF exist. The wood is placed between the two pieces and clamped tightly with a series of clamps. The wood will dry in this position, thereby preventing the wood from unbending during the curing process. Other methods exist as well, some more efficient than others, but the basic concept is the same: the wood must dry in position to preserve the curves and bends in the bentwood.
Chairs and tables are the most common constructions that use bentwood. Rocking chairs are common because the bent pieces of wood lend themselves nicely to creating rockers, or curved legs that allow the rocking chair to move back and forth. Comfortable arm rests and seat backs can also be made easily with the bentwood process, and the chair can be accented with other bends of wood to create a pleasing aesthetic.