Stylishly Curved Sapele Wood BenchA client in San Francisco asked me to make a shoe bench for one of his clients. The bench needed to be fairly small, to fit in a foyer shared by three apartments. It had to have the ability to hold a fair number of shoes. And oh yes: It needed to have a striking design.

After creating a few designs that incorporated a box joint detail where the legs and top met, I decided to go with a more streamline and sleek look, where the legs curved into the top. The client loved it!

Then I added a shelf to hold the shoes off the ground. Made out of slats, instead of a solid flat surface, it gave the bench more open and light.

Stylishly Curved Sapele Wood BenchThe first step was building the frame that would give shape to the bent lamination — the bench itself. I fashioned sides and spacers from 3/4´´ melamine scraps laying around the shop.

I had done some bent lamination in the past, but in those projects the bent laminations weren’t structural. With this project, the bend lamination was the entire piece. That meant that it needed to be rock solid and pretty much perfect. Using solid wood was out of the question, so I narrowed the options to two contenders: 1/8´´ MDF and 1/2´´ EconoKore.

Timesaving Is Money Saving
The EconoKore was more expensive, but the amount of time it saved in the long run made it the economically wiser choice. I purchased a 4×8´ sheet of EconoKore and cut the three pieces I would need for the bent lamination.

The next step was to glue those three sheets of EconoKore into the shape of the final bench. Polyurethane glue would be our best option for two reasons. The first was that the polyurethane glue’s tendency to expand would aid in filling the voids of the EconoKore and help to stiffen the glue-up and minimize any flexing. The second reason was that polyurethane glue is activated by moisture and I needed to soften the EconoKore at the curve to try and alleviate stress. The water would activate the glue, and help soften the curves.

I still needed to add front and back trim and a shoe rack to the underside, which would increase rigidity. Even without those, the assembly was strong enough to hold 150 pounds without flexing.

Next, I cut the uneven sides and bottoms off using our sliding table saw and then glued on a 1´´ thick piece of sapele to protect the EconoKore. With the bottom trim attached, we milled, glued, and clamped on the side trim. Once the glue had dried overnight, I flush trimmed the side trim. We chose to a PSA (pressure sensitive adhesive) backed veneer, so I sealed all the surfaces with two coats of sanding sealer to ensure an adequate bond.

As I pressed the veneer down I was careful not to pull off backing paper in areas where I didn’t want the veneer to stick. In order to get adequate pressure, you really have to put a lot of weight into it — quite difficult on the curves.

Earlier I laid out and drilled all of the dowel holes for the rack pieces. I placed the rack pieces into position and drilled my holes into those pieces. I inserted some glue and dowels to the holes, added some clamps, and walked away for the rest of the day.

The last difficult step was to veneer the outside of the bench. It was not that difficult, since we were only dealing with outside curves. After the veneer was adhered and excess trimmed, I gave the entire bench a light sanding to remove any pencil marks, rough edges, and water wipe marks, and sprayed on two coats of sanding sealer and one coat of pre-cat lacquer to finish the piece.

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