Bending ebony

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Bending ebony

Postby Andy Bounsall » Thu Aug 02, 2018 3:13 pm

Anyone have experience bending Gabon Ebony?
Bend it wet, damp or dry?
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Re: Bending ebony

Postby Clay Schaeffer » Sat Aug 04, 2018 9:53 am

The only experience I had with bending ebony was for bindings and using a hot pipe. I found I had to cut it to about 60 thousandths and use two layers to make my bindings. Once glued together it looked like a single piece. I think other people have had better luck, but I just switched to black plastic - much easier to use and looks about the same.
Are you bending sides?
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Re: Bending ebony

Postby Alan Carruth » Tue Aug 07, 2018 3:10 pm

That has always been an iffy one for me. Sometimes it bends pretty easily, and other times it just doesn't. Mahogany can be like that too, although it's less often a problem. Sadly, the only thing you can to is try it.
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Re: Bending ebony

Postby Bob Gramann » Tue Aug 07, 2018 4:24 pm

I guess that the bending issues with ebony might involve runout which you can’t see, nor can you easily see the grain direction. When bending ebony bindings, the one thing that I have found that mitigates the breaking issues is that a scarf joint, after the binding breaks, is usually invisible. For really tight bends in ebony bindings, I have sometimes bent it in layers which disappear when glued up. A supporting strap on the outside of the bend often helps.
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Re: Bending ebony

Postby Randy Roberts » Wed Aug 08, 2018 10:51 pm

I' not so far had a problem with ebony, but have only bent bindings, never a whole side. Haven't really noticed any difference wet or dry. I've always used a blanket, and taped a set of 6 bindings at once (2 for spares) edge to edge to each other. Most or all have had at least 2 layers of side purfling already glued up to their bottom face with epoxy. It may just be I've been lucky with what ebony I've had. Possibly the purfling layers have stabilized it during the bend, but I've always assumed that the epoxy melted at the temperatures the ebony plasticized to bend so I doubt it was helping anything during the bend. My problem usually was holding a bent piece and turning around for something and whacking it on something and breaking it.
If you are leery and are able to make double the number of bindings at 1/2 the usual thickness, it does dramatically reduce the wood's stiffness. And as the others have said, breaks glue back together invisibly.
I did bend one set of ebony bindings on the top of the gas BBQ grill while grilling steaks because I was in a hurry and thought "that aught to be pretty hot", and did get some breaks, but I had no backing, and blamed it on being in a hurry and not waiting for the wood to start giving on it's own (and the steaks burned, so don't use that method).

My only problem is with really good solid black ebony. when all done, it looks just like black plastic, and leaves me feeling "well, what's the point then". I usually leaned toward ebony with some grey in it so you know it's really wood.

I would say just go for it. If using a blanket, let the wood start bending on it's own before trying to bend the waist or other tight bends. If using a pipe, definitely have a backing strip supporting the outside of the bend, and wait for the wood to give way (get plastic) before starting the bend. Impatience is the gremlin in nearly everything about building these things.
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Re: Bending ebony

Postby Andy Bounsall » Sat Aug 11, 2018 10:49 am

Thanks for the feedback and advise. I have a smallish back/side set that I bought 15 years ago. I’ve been saving it for the right project and am finally thinking of using it for a 00 sized guitar. Sounds like I should be okay if I keep it on the thin side, use a backer, and stay away from overly tight bends.
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Re: Bending ebony

Postby Steve Denvir » Sat Aug 18, 2018 3:02 pm

I use a Fox style bender, and I’ve had more success with higher temps. Around 350.

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Re: Bending ebony

Postby Hugh Anderson » Wed Jan 30, 2019 11:28 pm

After breaking ebony bindings on the pipe for 10 years, I bought an electric bender. With a piece of flashing backing, I’ve had much better luck.
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Re: Bending ebony

Postby Timothy Gregory » Wed Feb 13, 2019 8:49 am

with regard to bending wood there is a guy on you tube doing a set of hood bows for a vintage bus body not a guitar but his method is to put a floppy metal strap behind and then clamp a block on each end that is tight against the ends of the wood.
then bending the wood doesn't cause 'pull-out' where the outer slips of wood let go
and fray at the outer side of the bend.
the blocks clamped right at the ends stops the wood from elongating when it is being bent.
in general wood grain is always shorter than the piece unless you use a riven board
true grain only occurs when the wood is split like pieces of pie much like roof shingles.
a riven board has a taper like weatherboards because the boards are split from the log
split from the center around like the clock so you get a dozen boards from a log
each board is half the width of the log and no boards have any grain that exits before the end.
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Re: Bending ebony

Postby Jim Burton » Sat Apr 20, 2019 11:24 am

I recently bent a 00 size body of Macassar Ebony and found it to be similar to mahogany. I usually bend sides at about .085" but if there is a cutaway I usually scrape from the waist forward to about .075". Be careful to keep it evenly scraped or it will bend in flats. I used a Fox style bender, heat blanket at 300 degrees. Wait until it starts to droop before starting all the pressure points.

Bindings are a separate issue. I've found I'll break half of them in a cutaway situation if I bend at a full .085. I bend my bindings in the fox bender as per normal then move to a hot pipe and heat gun to make the cutaway. They are happy to bend at about .070" but are dicey beyond that. If you leave them in the fox too long they can case harden and be difficult to bend the cutaway.

Please note, your mileage may vary. If it was easy, everyone would do it!
This one uses African Blackwood for bindings. It is a dalbergia so it has more oil and bends a little easier than ebony but still difficult on cutaways for me.
20181004_0036_Burton Guitars.jpg
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