From canoes to rocking chairs and baskets, bending wood as a technique to create strength and beauty has been around for centuries. At Northwood most of our wood inlays are made in the bentwood style (exceptions being intricate cut-out designs).
The bentwood method of making wooden rings is superior to cut wood as the grain is steamed and spiraled layer over layer to create a solid, interlocking piece. With no end grain (the most porous part of wood) exposed, these rings can withstand harder wear than their cut-out counterparts and can be worn daily.
In 2019 we made the decision to stop crafting our all-wood versions of bentwood rings in favor of a union between more traditional gold bands with wood inlays. We are still happy to consider a custom request if our order volume allows us to take on the task.
Why did we make this change?
We found that the fusion of metal and wood allowed us the ability to offer more services to our customers and a better product overall. While an all wood ring is unique and beautiful, it cannot be resized and the craftsmanship that goes into these rings can add up quickly. Over time, the cost and flexibility of the gold fusion rings become a better value for a lifelong ring.
The process of making our fusion rings is mostly the same. You can read about how bentwood rings are made, along with why they are the best option for a wooden ring, below.
How Bentwood Rings Are Made:
Next, the wood is cut into long thin strips following the grain. This is so that the wood is easier to work with. The straighter the grain, the easier the wood will bend.
The wood pieces are then steamed and curled around a form and left to set. After partially dried, the wood is removed from the forms and set aside to dry fully.
The bentwood curl is slightly dampened and wrapped around a form in the right ring size. This tightens the curl further and makes it ready to take its final form as a bentwood ring. The curl is again left to dry. Finally, the curl will be wrapped and adhered into a tight spiral of four to five layers. These layers of wood grain going around each other is what adds strength to a bentwood ring.
Eventually the excess wood is shaved off, and the wrap is shaped and smoothed into something looking more like a ring.
If you order a gold base ring, your inlay may already be attached, otherwise all of the little details are added at this stage.
Every inlay is done by hand for the best effect. Small chips and shells, like our mother of pearl, are placed piece-by-piece like a miniature puzzle for the best shine and fit of the tiny little line.
A ring filled with the customer’s own sand is shown off to the side. The excess will be sanded away to leave a beautiful offset inlay with a personal story for the customer.
We’ve been making and finishing bentwood rings since 2012. As a result, we’ve created the perfect finish. The finish we use is hard enough to protect your bentwood ring, but just a little flexible to keep it from breaking up as the wood ages.
We know our finish is the best available option to complement our hand-crafted wood rings.
Our own custom-built machine, seen in the image, ensures that each coat dries evenly as it cures for the perfect result.
If imperfections are spotted in the finish we’ll strip the ring back down to the wood and start all over if needed. Our philosophy is: If we wouldn’t give the ring to our own family, we won’t send it out to you.
We know you’re expecting top craftsmanship from us, and that’s what you’ll receive every time.
Why A Bentwood Ring Is Better
When we started Northwood Rings in 2012 there were very few bentwood rings on the market. Bentwood rings cost more, and take a lot of time to make right. A lot of the wooden rings people can find are made from cut-out wood.
So why go to the effort of making a bentwood ring when using a cut-out is faster, cheaper, and easier? It’s simple. A bentwood ring creates lasting strength in the way the grains are handled.
What is Bentwood?
Bentwood is a method of bending long pieces of wood into a rounded or curved shape.
The process of bending the wood along the grain provides strength to the piece. If you picture a tall tree bending and swaying in the wind you’ll have a perfect idea of how working with a tree’s own nature can create a superior product.
In order to take advantage of this give that a tree’s grain has, the wood has to be dampened or steamed rather than dry. Then the piece needs to be bent and left to set that way. Because our rings are made with such thin slices of wood, we’re able to bend long pieces of wood into tight spirals.
Other examples of bentwood are traditional wooden canoes and boats where the hulls are made from bent ribs of wood. Old rocking chairs with rounded wooden feet, curved backs, and arms are also a good example. In fact, now that you know about bentwood, you might start seeing it all around you.
What other methods of making wooden rings are there?
There are two main options when choosing a wood ring: bentwood or cut-out.
In a cut-out ring a piece of wood as thick as the ring will be wide, is drilled with two holes – one for the inner part of the ring that will be the ring size, and one for the outer part. The ‘ring’ of wood is then shaped, smoothed, and finished. A ring like this has two end-grains which introduce weakness to the ring.
If you imagine cutting a branch at both ends, the cut ends are your ‘end grains’. These ends allow water to pass through the wood and can split easily. Imagine chopping firewood, it’s the ends of the wood that get chopped and split apart. Chopping through the middle would be much more difficult.
End grains also don’t show the beautiful pattern of the grain of the wood, just the circular layers of the tree. Using the bentwood technique means using the best the tree has to offer. It’s both stronger (the grains interlock and create strength in the wood), and more beautiful.
So how do you know which wooden ring is made using bentwood, and which is made using cut outs?
All Northwood Rings are constructed in our shop using our knowledge of bentwood for a superior ring.
Most other makers will list if their rings are bentwood since the technique itself is a feature. If nothing is listed you can look at the wood itself. Seeing circular grain patterns, or the lines running up and down the width rather than the length of the ring are giveaways that the ring is made using a cut out piece of wood.
Does adding a metal liner or choosing a mostly metal ring make cut-out wood better?
When you’re choosing your wooden ring, whether that’s for your wedding, engagement, or any occasion where you’ll want to wear the ring on a regular basis; choosing bentwood just makes sense.
There are a lot of options for metal rings with wooden cores available on the market, and that may make you think they’re just as good. The reality is that these rings are likely being crafted by jewelers without a lot of woodworking knowledge.
A lot of these wooden rings are even being mass-produced in factories where the wood chosen and used is given little thought. This means the wood could be of lower quality, or that it could be sourced unethically.
If you can get both metal and bentwood together in your ring, you can be confident that you’re getting a higher quality ring that will last much longer and be made with better craftsmanship.