The Invention Of Curved Wood (1830)

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

Thonet bentwood chairs.

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A Bentwood chair is sometimes called a Thonet Chair in honor of its creator, Michael Thonet. While bentwood chair were actually being made at least two centuries before Thonet was even born, he perfected the process of steam bending.


After years of bending laminated wood, he discovered that by attaching a metal strip along its length, solid wood could be bent in a similar way.

Wood bending process.

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

This eliminated the costly lamination process and earned patents guaranteeing a virtual monopoly on production, enable him to design a lightweight, durable and comfortable furniture, which  aesthetic and functional appeal remains to this day.

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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 process.

The moulding 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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