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cwood3

Going Out On A Limb - Bending Iron

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Please forgive me for doing this. I have read almost every post on this forum, from as far back as it goes. I've been a lurker for years. I need to purchase a bending iron. I realize that there are many many posts about bending irons on this forum and I have read them all over a considerable period of time. I don't mean to try and split hairs or re-invent the wheel by any means. I need to buy a bending iron. Budget is not a concern, nor is delivery time for that matter. I guess I'm a wimp and just need somebody to make me feel good about the purchase of a bending iron. So.............StewMac (w/optional bolt-on piece), LMI, Ibex, Luthiers-Bench, and Chinese e-Bay.............there, I said it.

From scanning the archives, and there is a lot of information, but there seems to be no consensus on what the "in the know" luthier should go directly to. Am I making any sense? There is not a fist full of U.S. dollars separating the options. There only seems to be iron shape and heat setting/monitoring features that distinguish one from another. Frankly, I'm not concerned with knobs indicating setting nor digital reading showing actual temperature.....when it's dialed in it's dialed in.

I build acoustic guitars and I use a Fox bender/heating blanket...no brainer. I have also built 2 F5 mandolins using a pipe and propane torch. As the years have progressed, I have finally set up a "build room" inside my house for doing the fine non-messy operations indoors. I want violin rib bending (and mandolin) to be one of the "clean" operations.

You guys are the Pro's. What do you do in my case?

I respect the opinions from guys/gals.

Thanks..........curtis

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If you only need it to be violin sized, there are plenty of options. I would steer away from the ones more intended for guitar, while in theory the ibex type are universal, you will struggle to bend the C ribs on one.

Quite a few have used the Chinese bending irons successfully, I'm sure a few people upgraded the wiring in these, to be sure they were safe.

I've used quite a few different brands and models over the years, my favourite being the old Gewa one. Most important things to me are that is has enough power to heat up quickly, the shape of the iron (nice if you can bend a C rib all in one go), and a big enough base to be able to clamp it down, without clamps being in the way.

The type of bending strap you use matters a lot too, and in some ways can make more difference than the iron itself.

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My bending iron saga...

I pulled the trigger on ebay on a Chinese iron with an attractive bronze slug to bend around.

Blew the house fuses as soon as I plugged it in.

I re-wired it, and made it's casing somewhat safer with some sheet stainless steel I had.

It bent one set of ribs, then started blowing fuses again.

Taken completely to pieces, the heating cartridge in the bronze c-bout slug was an 8mm unit in a 10mm hole. It's essential that the element is a snug fit, otherwise it overheats and burns out.

Drilled the hole out exactly to size, bought a new element that fitted snugly.

Now got too hot.

Have an old portable electric ring, used for cooking varnish. Bought a nice new ring at the car boot, and cannibalised the old one, used the rheostat out of it.

Built the whole caboodle onto a metal project box, drilled that extensively for ventilation.

Works great.

Only bits surviving from the ebay iron is the bronze c-bout slug, the heat insulation it stands off on, and the two bolts securing it. Which cost me 60gbp...:(

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I had an Ibex for guitar making and then used that for one violin.  It can be done but really  it is too big. I bought a Luthier's Bench with their strap and it is a good shape and well made.  I recommend it but delivery might be slow because I think they probably make them in batches.

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Not sure if there are advantages.
Bronze is perhaps a more traditional material. It might hold heat better, be harder wearing, cast vs machined, heavier.

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43 minutes ago, Dave Slight said:

Not sure if there are advantages.
Bronze is perhaps a more traditional material. It might hold heat better, be harder wearing, cast vs machined, heavier.

Worth the extra money?

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1 hour ago, Dave Slight said:

Not sure if there are advantages.
Bronze is perhaps a more traditional material. It might hold heat better, be harder wearing, cast vs machined, heavier.

maybe also a better heat conducter, so a more evenly temperature distribution? (less hot spots)

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I had one with aluminum and it didn't seem to heat evenly.  If you can find a Gewa, they are great.  I upgraded to an Aehnelt, but that's probably over the top (unless you are selling your Gewa to your apprentice at a heavy discount to help offset the Aehnelt's cost...)

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My opinions (based on personal experience):

Chinese: can be OK, but I agree with all the caveats expressed above. The first one I bought came very close to setting my workshop on fire due to electrical issues. I bought another via Dictum which is worth the extra in my opinion, as they make sure they conform to relevant regulations.  The shape of the iron itself is good, but they are underpowered, with only a single 100W heating element. For this reason the digital temp control is a waste of money as it needs to be on full blast all the time to get hot enough to be useful. Gets regular use in my violin making class though, and the students seem happy with it.

Ibex/Stewmac: Fine for guitars, useless for violins/violas

Luthier's Bench/David Stuttard: The one I use myself and like it very much. I bought mine many years ago, and I understand that communications/delivery times have caused issues more recently. There were a few people complaining about this on the Newark school facebook page recently, and maestronetters have also had some frustration. Great option if you're prepared to wait, though.

Gewa: Lovely but very pricy.

 

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I bought a Chinese one.  It works. It was 1/2 the price of anything else. Those are the only high points.

I reworked the shape a lot.  One side was way too flat, and the end radii were too big for a violin.  Maybe not so much too big, but nothing blended right.  I had to stop when it was cutting into the mounting holes! 

Really; if you don't know what you are doing; why are you doing it?

When I bought it, I don't know if Luthier's Bench was shipping to the US.  There was some discussion on MN. Theirs look very nice.  I like that the violin one is tall enough to do a cello if you get bitten.  Mine should work for the Archtop Guitar I'm doing; the ribs are only 3". But a cello would be a real stretch. 

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11 minutes ago, Julian Cossmann Cooke said:

I had one with aluminum and it didn't seem to heat evenly.  If you can find a Gewa, they are great.  I upgraded to an Aehnelt, but that's probably over the top (unless you are selling your Gewa to your apprentice at a heavy discount to help offset the Aehnelt's cost...)

Never seen an Aehnelt one in real life (only on the web page) but they look exactly the same as a Gewa to me?

Edit: after googling it looks like Gewa irons are a different design now. The old ones were the same as the current Aehnelt design.

 

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34 minutes ago, Emilg said:

maybe also a better heat conducter, so a more evenly temperature distribution? (less hot spots)

Possibly, but any well-designed iron should heat evenly. I would expect a good one to have more than one heating element, and for the elements to be placed sensibly to avoid one area burning the wood.

23 minutes ago, JohnCockburn said:

Never seen an Aehnelt one in real life (only on the web page) but they look exactly the same as a Gewa to me?

Edit: after googling it looks like Gewa irons are a different design now. The old ones were the same as the current Aehnelt design.

 

Yes, the old Gewa ones are the same as the Aehnelt.

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58 minutes ago, arglebargle said:

Worth the extra money?

I can't say. I've used brass and aluminium irons only. Brass can discolour wet wood though.

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Luthiers Bench say the only difference between aluminium and bronze is aesthetic.  I bought aluminium and it's fine.

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I'm sure a bronze one, polished up and gleaming would look great in one of those Strad mag workshop features, just make sure to have a few bronze busts dotted around the workshop too, and a Turkish rug on the floor :D

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FWIW, a couple of comments from the Peanut Gallery:

> I have used the Chinese digital iron for several years without a problem.  The iron shape is good.

> Bought a Luthiers Bench iron a couple of years ago.  I wasn't in a rush, so all went smoothly (it was shipped to a UK address and I picked it up later). Mr Studdard responded reasonably quickly to my emails.  Also, worth pointing out that they do a version that works at 120V - I simply cut off the UK plug and installed a US 3-pin on instead.

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10 hours ago, JohnCockburn said:

Never seen an Aehnelt one in real life (only on the web page) but they look exactly the same as a Gewa to me?

Edit: after googling it looks like Gewa irons are a different design now. The old ones were the same as the current Aehnelt design.

 

I couldn't remember whether the old Gewas (Gewae?) had temperatures marked on the dial as the Aehnelt does.  So far, I have been impressed by the speed with which the iron heats and cools.  Worth the extra money?  Don't know, but I did get this one at a discount because it was hardly used.

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10 hours ago, Muswell said:

Luthiers Bench say the only difference between aluminium and bronze is aesthetic.  I bought aluminium and it's fine.

Yup. That's what he told me. But fuck it. I bought a bronze one anyway. I had my first one for over 20 years, and I don't plan on buying another, so an extra 50 bucks so I can polish something shiny in my dotage is money well spent. 

 

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I made some bending forms that work well and cost next to nothing. It was not a five minute job but I think it was well worth the effort.

The bending straps need to be screwed to the forms accurately so it is best to do this with them clamped in place. I cut the steel sheet from a cooking oil drum for the lower and upper bout (about .5 mm), and, for the C bout, from a biscuit tin (about .3 mm). The clamps are made with 6mm flat and heavy wall aluminium pipe and 6 mm bolts. I've also shown a pair of clamps I use to glue the C ribs in place using the same aluminium. The paper clips with the alum. angle riveted to the straps work really well. I made pair of forms for the lower, upper and C bouts so I can bend them all and leave them for as long as I like before gluing them in. I got the electric frypan with a thermostat from a charity shop. I've only shown the lower bout forms here but the upper ones are the same of course. Spacers of the right thickness are required on the C-bout forms. I made some from flat brass to fit under the straps where they are screwed to the forms. The forms are made big enough to accommodate rib material with a bit of excess length.

 

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4 hours ago, arglebargle said:

 But fuck it. I bought a bronze one anyway.

 

I sensed my wife looking over my shoulder while I  placed my order :unsure:.

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On 2/17/2019 at 7:59 PM, Dennis J said:

I made some bending forms that work well and cost next to nothing. It was not a five minute job but I think it was well worth the effort.

The bending straps need to be screwed to the forms accurately so it is best to do this with them clamped in place. I cut the steel sheet from a cooking oil drum for the lower and upper bout (about .5 mm), and, for the C bout, from a biscuit tin (about .3 mm). The clamps are made with 6mm flat and heavy wall aluminium pipe and 6 mm bolts. I've also shown a pair of clamps I use to glue the C ribs in place using the same aluminium. The paper clips with the alum. angle riveted to the straps work really well. I made pair of forms for the lower, upper and C bouts so I can bend them all and leave them for as long as I like before gluing them in. I got the electric frypan with a thermostat from a charity shop. I've only shown the lower bout forms here but the upper ones are the same of course. Spacers of the right thickness are required on the C-bout forms. I made some from flat brass to fit under the straps where they are screwed to the forms. The forms are made big enough to accommodate rib material with a bit of excess length.

 

DSC_0013.jpg

DSC_0012.jpg

DSC_0002.jpg

DSC_0010.jpg

DSC_0016.jpg

 

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