Arches are a classic element of architecture. At GR Plume Company, we specialize in bringing this timeless concept to the world of timber.
The art of forming wood into curved shapes has been around for thousands of years; traditionally, a piece to be bent was heated and/or steamed, then forced into a pattern. Once the piece cooled it would hold its shape. This method has long been employed in boat-building and furniture making, as well as many small-scale carpentry endeavors.
However, wood is a living thing; once free of the pattern, steam-bent sections often straighten out and relax slightly (a phenomenon called “spring back”). Unsecured curves can straighten even further with time, as environmental moisture and temperature variations cause the fibers to soften. In the precise world of modern architecture, such idiosyncrasies are not desirable.
Laminate bends (where wood is sliced into sections and bent around a form with glue between the laminations) are much more stable and precise. Unfortunately many modern adhesives allow the glue seams to be clearly seen, degrading the appearance of such an arch.
In our process a straight member is sliced into sections and kiln-dried, then bent using clamps and glue into the desired shape. Care is taken at every step to minimize waste and control for defects such as knots and checking. Using this technique truly exotic shapes can be achieved; compound curves and forms out of imagination and whimsy are all possible. Also, this process is more controllable, repeatable and precise than traditional steam-bending techniques, and structural members curved in this fashion will not “spring back” or relax over time. As with all our gluing operations, we employ a chemically neutral clear-drying polymer adhesive, to eliminate unsightly glue lines and discoloration.
Our archmaking tactics are fully compatible with our veneered timber process, once again allowing clients the best of both worlds; the solid look of a steam-bent beam that also has the strength and precision of engineered wood.