Using a clothes steam iron for bending sides?

Questions about tools and jigs you want to buy/build/modify.

Using a clothes steam iron for bending sides?

Postby Brian Evans » Tue Jan 23, 2018 2:27 pm

Anyone ever tried it? I was thinking about this video of Danny Koentopp's side bending jig http://koentoppguitars.com/blog/the-koe ... ay-bender/ and I realized that he's only bending one curve at a time, always pulling past the bend point, and always from the outside of the bend. I thought that an old clothes iron would give fully controllable heat, even some steam if you kept it horizontal (which with this jig you could do by rotating the jig around the iron) and you could just kind of pull/follow the bend around each of the forms. Do you think it might work?

Thanks Brian
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Re: Using a clothes steam iron for bending sides?

Postby Jim McConkey » Tue Jan 23, 2018 2:45 pm

A friend of mine made his first violin on a clothes iron, but admits it was a royal pain. Outside curves work OK, but tight inside curves are difficult to impossible. I never got that desperate, but I used a homemade copper pipe bender with an industrial soldering iron successfully for many years. A couple years ago I finally got a professional bender with heat control on ebay, and I've never looked back. Bending is soooooooooooooo much easier now! Night and day!
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Re: Using a clothes steam iron for bending sides?

Postby Matthew Lau » Tue Jan 23, 2018 5:04 pm

I tried it.

It's a royal pain in the rear, and leads to much frustration.
On top of that, the rosewood residue is a pain to remove.

Try making one. The GAL workshop book is a great start.
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Re: Using a clothes steam iron for bending sides?

Postby Christopher Harms » Tue Jan 23, 2018 5:12 pm

If you're like me and really can't afford proper bending equipment, I'd suggest a candle, a spray bottle, and some patience. I've had some luck bending test wood by spraying it down to avoid scorching and then heating it up gently by passing it right above the candle flame and then shoving it against my form until it resists further movement. You'll want to do it in small steps, and you'll have soot deposits on the side facing the flame, but it can be done.
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Re: Using a clothes steam iron for bending sides?

Postby Bryan Bear » Tue Jan 23, 2018 5:35 pm

When I first started my interest in this hobby, I tried tons of ways to get around what seemed to be both magical and out of my reach -- side bending. I was able to bend wood with an iron, a heat gun, soldering iron. . . but each method was way more frustrating than it needed to be, not terribly effective and I burned myself more times than I should have. Eventually I broke down and made a hot pipe and it changed my life. Even now that I am set up to use a blanket and bending machine, I still do most of my bending on the hot pipe.

Hot pipes can be made for very little money. I invested a lot more money into my work arounds than I did making my hot pipe. Get a charcoal starter (carefully bend the element to fit in the pipe), a chunk of pipe around 2 inches in diameter and a dimer switch (that can handle the load of the starter). Stick the starter element into the pipe and clamp it in a vise, run it through the dimmer switch and practice. I also run my dimmer switch through a hot tub timer switch so I don't forget to turn it off. My pipe was just a piece of scrap, I keep intending to replace it with the barrel of an aluminum tee-ball bat I got at the thrift store but never get around to it. I'm still using the exact same set up that I cobbled together one afternoon more than a decade ago. Dead simple.
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Re: Using a clothes steam iron for bending sides?

Postby Matthew Lau » Tue Jan 23, 2018 6:55 pm

Bryan's setup should work pretty well.
I did the same with a heat gun...but ended up melting my heat gun.
I couldn't find charcoal starter, so ended up buying an electric bending iron.

You'll want to cap the end of the pipe! Otherwise, you'll burn your belly!
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Re: Using a clothes steam iron for bending sides?

Postby Matthew Lau » Tue Jan 23, 2018 6:56 pm

Here's a link that might help:

http://www.luthiertalk.com/threads/diy- ... -iron.480/

Good luck on your building!
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Re: Using a clothes steam iron for bending sides?

Postby Barry Daniels » Tue Jan 23, 2018 7:38 pm

Christopher Harms wrote:If you're like me and really can't afford proper bending equipment, I'd suggest a candle, a spray bottle, and some patience. I've had some luck bending test wood by spraying it down to avoid scorching and then heating it up gently by passing it right above the candle flame and then shoving it against my form until it resists further movement. You'll want to do it in small steps, and you'll have soot deposits on the side facing the flame, but it can be done.


Color me skeptical.
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Re: Using a clothes steam iron for bending sides?

Postby Brian Evans » Tue Jan 23, 2018 10:18 pm

I'm currently using a normal bending iron, basically a 3" tube squashed oval and it works pretty well indeed, I just wondered about the clothes iron idea. I will probably order a heat blanket and build the Koentopp jig, that is if I do another traditional cutaway guitar. Not sure if I will. My other body shapes are easy to bend with my normal iron.
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Re: Using a clothes steam iron for bending sides?

Postby John Clifford » Tue Jan 23, 2018 11:40 pm

I built this digital temperature controlled bending iron for a total cost of about $90. The PID controller maintains set temperature within about 5 degrees, once it's fully warmed up. Works great - no risk of setting the house on fire. I have a parts list and schematic drawing, if anyone's interested.
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Re: Using a clothes steam iron for bending sides?

Postby Bob Hammond » Wed Jan 24, 2018 11:22 am

I don't have any pics or the unit anymore, but I re-engineered toaster oven (~1500W) as a heat source under a Fox style bender. The thermostat was of good quality, but after relocating the sensor under the bender it was necessary recalibrate the knob.
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Re: Using a clothes steam iron for bending sides?

Postby Christopher Harms » Wed Jan 24, 2018 4:14 pm

Barry Daniels wrote:
Christopher Harms wrote:If you're like me and really can't afford proper bending equipment, I'd suggest a candle, a spray bottle, and some patience. I've had some luck bending test wood by spraying it down to avoid scorching and then heating it up gently by passing it right above the candle flame and then shoving it against my form until it resists further movement. You'll want to do it in small steps, and you'll have soot deposits on the side facing the flame, but it can be done.


Color me skeptical.

I didn't say it was a great method. I said it was a cheap method. I'll be getting or building something better as soon as my budget allows.
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Re: Using a clothes steam iron for bending sides?

Postby Beate Ritzert » Wed Jan 24, 2018 7:28 pm

Brian Evans wrote:Anyone ever tried it?


I did it.
Not with a steam iron but with a simple one without steam (the water reservoir is way too small in order to be useful).
Flamed maple, fairly thick. And yes, it finally broke ;-( (and could be glued).

You need to heat up the wood from the wrong side - bind "away from the heat" instead of "around the heat" which means that You wish to have a real bending iron. But with some (a lot of) effort, You can achieve something usable.

So, use the clothes iron to bend sides only in case You do not have an alternative.
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Re: Using a clothes steam iron for bending sides?

Postby Craig Bumgarner » Thu Jan 25, 2018 2:12 pm

You want cheap, how's this? My side bending rig is a propane torch stuck inside an uncapped pipe, held in a steel vice. Works great. The trick to easy bending is having the pipe plenty hot and the propane torch gets it more than hot enough and right now. Just don't get too close to the open end of the pipe. Actually a bent piece of metal that partially closes up the end help keep it from setting one's shirt on fire but I lost the little end bit I made and have not bothered to replace it. Just don't lean in too close.
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Re: Using a clothes steam iron for bending sides?

Postby Bob Howell » Thu Jan 25, 2018 4:31 pm

Charcoal starter with router speed controller powers my pipe. I always keep it on max so controller is not really needed. It has hot spots and cool spots.

Saw it mentioned here 2 years ago and continue to see it mentioned as power source. I found an old 3" steel support post in my basement and cut off 10" for my pipe.

Basic but very effective.
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Re: Using a clothes steam iron for bending sides?

Postby Beate Ritzert » Thu Jan 25, 2018 5:16 pm

You won't do something like this if Your building on the kitchen table, won't You?
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Re: Using a clothes steam iron for bending sides?

Postby Bryan Bear » Thu Jan 25, 2018 6:20 pm

My steel pipe has hot spots too right where the element touches the wall of the pipe. In use, it is not really a problem but I'd prefer a more even heat. Steele is a lousy conductor which is why I intend to use the aluminum baseball bat someday. Aluminum will heat up much faster and more evenly. I suppose you can tell that it isn't that big of a deal since all I have to do is cut the end off and use it instead; i've had it for years and haven't gotten around to doing it. . .

It is interesting to read that you run it full blast all the time. Mine definitely gets too hot at full power.
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Re: Using a clothes steam iron for bending sides?

Postby Rick Milliken » Fri Jan 26, 2018 1:11 am

A couple of large barrel curling irons from the salvage yard. I rigged up a way to clamp them upright to my bench.

In fairness, I’ve only used them for violin sides and linings so far. I’m working on an upgrade for guitar sides now.
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Re: Using a clothes steam iron for bending sides?

Postby Christopher Harms » Sat Jan 27, 2018 4:55 pm

Rick Milliken wrote:A couple of large barrel curling irons from the salvage yard. I rigged up a way to clamp them upright to my bench.

In fairness, I’ve only used them for violin sides and linings so far. I’m working on an upgrade for guitar sides now.

Just looked up curling irons, and they seem pretty cheap brand new. I think I'll be upgrading to that when I get tired of using tea candles.
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Re: Using a clothes steam iron for bending sides?

Postby James Meloan » Sat Jan 27, 2018 5:40 pm

There was an article in American Lutherie a while back that showed someone -John Calkin I believe- bending the ides to a hurdy gurdy (IIRC) with a clothes iron. Definitely not very dramatic radii, but he did it.

I agree that a pipe and torch are the best way to start out bending.

You can use your clothes iron and some lightly dampened cloth to remove crayon markings from your walls if you have little vandals about your home.
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