The Bentwood Furniture manufacturing process:
Stage 1: Timber Sorting, Seasoning and Milling
First and foremost, working with timber is unlike working with any other material. It’s not like metal or plastic which have static, predictable and highly measurable properties. Timber is an alive material and no two pieces of timber are ever the same. One of the factors critical to the final quality of timber furniture, is the moisture content of the timber prior to cutting, bending, sanding, staining and finishing. Only FSC certified European Beech is used in the production of all Bon bentwood furniture. Massive European beech logs arrive at the factory, where they are sorted by size. The logs are left exposed to the elements to season slowly and naturally for at least 3 months. Each log is then cut into large planks and stacked and stored in a particular way to allow for proper ventilation and secondary seasoning. It’s stored like this, undercover but still outside, for a period of 3-6 months depending on the size of the planks. Once optimum moisture content levels for stage 1 seasoning is measured and passed, the planks are then sorted into lots according to size, quality, timber grain and length.
Stage 2: Secondary Cutting and Natural Drying
The long planks that have now been allowed to naturally season for up to 6 months and have been sorted, are then cut a second time into smaller and shorter pieces according to chair requirements and components. This is still a very rough cut. Once cut, the pieces are then stacked again in a particular way to allow for maximum airflow and left to dry naturally undercover for another month.
Stage 3: Controlled Kiln Drying
Once optimum moisture content levels for stage 2 natural drying have been measured and passed, the neatly stacked pallets of wood are put into a temperature controlled room for final kiln drying. This can take up to 6 weeks. This final drying stage is critical. If the timber dries too quickly, it can shrink at the surface and cause ‘case-hardening’ in the centre. This can cause the timber to warp, rendering the entire batch unusable. If it is not dried enough and the timber is used ‘green’ or has too much moisture, it can cause delamination and cracking months after the chair is finished. The fine things in life, often take time and Bon knows this. There are no shortcuts in making Authentic European bentwood furniture.
Stage 4: ‘Blank’ Cutting
After the final drying stage, the rough cut timber pieces are sent for blank cutting. This is where the timber receives its profile according to its chair component. All pieces of timber come through this stage essentially straight. Note*There are many replica furniture companies that produce what they call ‘bentwood’ by cutting the bent shape out of the timber. Where they cannot cut a long bent shape out of one piece of timber, they cut a number of small pieces and glue them together. All that happens in that instance, is that the timber has been cut across the fibres, making the component weak, not only within the timber, but also along the joins.
Stage 5: Steam Bending the Timber into Shape
Straight timber components on cart outside, prior to steaming
Bentwood timber component in mould after bending
After ‘blank’ shaping, the long, straight timber pieces are placed into high pressure steam ovens. After a set amount of time according to the size of the timber piece being steamed, the ‘blank’ is quickly extracted and while it remains in a semi pliable state, it is bent into shape around a metal mould, by 4 highly skilled craftsmen. As 2 people bend the timber around the mould, another 2 craftsmen clamp the timber down. This is a difficult and delicate process. Consider bending a straight piece of timber into a circular shape. Too much force too quickly and the timber will simply snap. Too little force too slowly and the timber becomes too rigid too quickly. The process is simple, yet every piece requires 4 highly skilled, highly experienced artisans to get it right. Once clamped into place within the mould, the timber is then left to dry completely in a temperature controlled room.
Stage 5: Sanding
Once dried, the bent timber is removed from the mould and checked for any abnormal and/or structural flaws. The approved bentwood components are then sent for sanding. Each piece is sanded several times by hand, using increasingly finer grades of sandpaper to achieve a silky smooth finish.
Stage 6: Assembly
Sanded bentwood chair components are stacked onto trolleys and moved into the assembly area. A trained machinist then carefully assembles each bentwood chair using a combination of high strength beech timber glues and specialist screws. With a lot of the magic happening in the preparation stages, this is a relatively quick stage and is the one of the keys to the classic bentwood chair gaining such critical mass worldwide.
Stage 7: Staining and Lacquering
Once assembled the chairs move through the factory into the staining section. Big ‘baths’ containing the various EU approved water based stain colours await. The bentwood chairs are then dipped by hand into dye baths and sent through a drying oven on a moving conveyer belt. Once dry, they are then placed on a turntable where each bentwood chair is sprayed with two coats of EU certified water based lacquer. The chairs are then sent again through a temperature controlled drying oven.
Stage 8: Packaging
Finally, the chairs are quality checked one final time prior to being packed for shipping.
Bon produce bentwood chairs to a standard, not to a price point. At every single stage of the production process, quality is checked to ensure standards are met. The final outcome is a beautiful piece of handmade furniture that will forever remain quality.