Bending Question: Douglas Fir? Is it possible?

Brett S.

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Apr 7, 2019
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I have it in my mind to make a uke of all Douglas Fir. It's started already actually.

But...bending the sides? I tried a scrap piece yesterday, on a hot pipe, and it didn't seem to budge, until it broke.

Can you bend this stuff?
You can bend any wood. However soft woods like Doug Fir and so on are challenging. One wood I have not been able to bend is redwood. Below is an answer I got off the web. Since Doug fir is sometimes used as a tonewood and not as a back and side wood, why not just use a hard wood on the back and sides and go for a Doug Fir top?

According to the US Forest Products Laboratory in this 1957 Publication softwoods do not in general work as well as hardwoods in bending applications. Indeed, USFPL cites yew and Alaskan yellow cedar as exceptions. Other species of softwoods (Douglas-fir, southern yellow pine, northern and Atlantic white-cedar, and redwood) are perfectly good for bending, but usually cannot be used for extreme bends. With any species of wood the success rate for bending apparently varies from tree to tree.

To answer your explicit question - it looks like the answer is "no".

However it sounds like you can use other softwoods if you are willing to accept a high level of failures between successful bends. So the alternative answer is "yes" if you're lucky and follow some tips and guidelines:

Softwood requires more steaming before it becomes sufficiently plastic for successful bending
But over-steamed wood is more likely to fail during the bending process
Use straight grained wood that is free of flaws
Surface the wood before bending
Don't try to bend wood that's thicker than you need
I've not bent fir, but have bent redwood sides a couple of times. No issue, other than more springbuck than usual. Had to heat set the sides a couple of times. I've seen fir bent, so I know it can be done. Probably going to be more difficult on a pipe rather than a blanket bender.


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I've only used Doug fir for solidbody guitars, but I built a uke completely out of white pine. It was VERY cooperative. Rather than spring back, it sprang into tighter bends as it came off the bender. When cut to the proper length the sides snapped into the mold perfectly. I swapped away the body and neck before finishing them for an expensive set of classical guitar tuners, but I have little doubt it would have sounded fine. Here's pics of the raw sides and the finished body with my shop light behind it.


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I built this fir and cedar uke earlier this year. I had to baby the fir a bit while bending, but we got there in the end.
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I built this fir and cedar uke earlier this year. I had to baby the fir a bit while bending, but we got there in the end.
View attachment 123742 View attachment 123743

Pretty uke.

I have bent softwoods quite a bit, maybe 20 guitars worth. The wood likes to crush rather than bend at the waist. If you are in the US I would advise getting a small bottle of SuperSoft II. Other options is to soak it in a solution of water and fabric softener, about half and half to 1/4 softener to water. Soak for a few hours, rinse the sides off and then bend. Also what thickness you are bending at has a influence.

Also, I let the sides sit overnight on the form and I generally get no spring back.
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If you are going much tighter than the above you might have to thin the waist area a little more than the rest of the side.
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