The Invention Of Curved Wood (1830)

How a German cabinetmaker’s experiments with bentwood furniture influenced both modern and contemporary styles.

Thonet bentwood chairs.

image source: by Mark B. Schlemmer

A Bentwood chair is often called the Thonet Chair in honor of Michael Thonet, its creator. However, the bentwood chair was made at least two centuries before the birth of Thonet, who instead perfected the steam bending process.

The Discover

After years of bending glulam, he found that by attaching a metal strip along its length, solid wood could be bent similarly.

Wood bending process.

image source: by joncallas

Thonet’s essential breakthrough was his success in having light and strong wood folded into graceful curved shapes forming the wood into hot steam.

This eliminated the expensive lamination process and obtained patents that guarantee a virtual monopoly on production, allowing him to design a light, strong and comfortable piece of furniture, whose aesthetic and functional appeal remains to this day.

image source:

Steam bending

A woodworking technique where strips of wood are steam heated using a steam box. The applied heat and moisture make the wood pliable enough to easily bend around a former to create a specific shape.

Wood bending

image source: by Phil_Parker

The molding process is usually done by clamping the strips of wood to a positive form, with the strips of wood often reinforced on the outside with a metal band to prevent blowout.

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