Bending Wood for A Banister Worth Holding On To.

A few years back Craftworks worked on an amazing residential project in West Vancouver. Working with Bakken Construction (General Contractor), we had the opportunity to manage all of the finishing end trades and carried out a large portion of the finishing carpentry on a luxury home.  This was an amazing project in that we had little to no restrictions on budgets – in my experience, this is rare.

The grand foyer of the house is a great example of the design and craftsmanship coming together in showcasing a large space, if you paid attention to all of the details, you could tell that  it was done with a great deal of care and attention (sparing no expense). We’re talking about hand-cut pieces of stone, venetian plaster, plaster crown detailing copper leaf, and then some.

In the mix of all of these awesome elements was a 26ft-long banister of what looks to be a long, continuous piece of curving mahogany.

What ends up looking like a solid piece of curving wood, actually starts out as a piece of wood that gets cut into thin strips to be put back together, piece by piece.  The strips were numbered so that it could be put back together in the right order to make sure the wood grain matched up.

We laid down the wood piece by piece, 2 to 3 at a time, we’d glue and then clamp them into place, bending it to match the curve of the staircase going up, but also to make it curve on the horizontal axis.

The whole time we were building up the curved banister, we had to be careful that everything lined up.  “Everything” being how it was in relation to the wall, the height of the banister and where the ends of each piece would connect to each other.  There was a lot of math involved in calculating curves and distances, and a lot of mock-ups were built to support the work in progress as it “grew” and “bent”.

Once the entire length had been formed to hold its shape, the piece was sent off-site to have the profile shaped.  If you can imagine, at this stage the wood was fomed into position, but was still very much a block and needed to be shaped and profiled.  Think of a giant curving piece of wood being put through a giant router.  We weren’t able to take on the shaping of it then, but with our new shop space, we could and we would have had 100% control over the whole process.

The small curled end was hand-carved

 

The wood came back shaped, we then had to extra carefully cut the ends to length (measure twice, cut once) and install it.  The various pieces were connected and a single bending, twisting  length began to take shape, punctuated with a hand carved spiral at the bottom.

We worked with many different trades throughout the entire process, and I had the fun (or unfun) task) of coordinating everything to make sure everything (literally – all the pieces, from the banisters to the stone stairs, the wrought iron, the rosette pattern on the floor and the windows in the rotunda) came together seamlessly.

There was a lot of coordination, and in a project like this you have to strike a balance between having control and going with the flow. In carpentry, you always have to stretch yourself, test your knowledge and improvise by taking the skills, tools and techniques that you know and use them together and bend them to fit different scenarios.

 

The coolest part is seeing everything come together to create the end result. You almost forget the months of chaos, coordination, crazy math and construction – all you have left to hold on to is the pride and hardwork, in the form of an elegantly flowing, one-of-a-kind staircase .

A thank-you to Max Bakken for all the photos in this post.

 

 

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