Michael Thonet started developing a process to produce bentwood furniture in the 1830’s with laminated veneers glued together. The initial tests and prototypes were produced using a warmed wooden form (Wilk, 1980). The experiments evolved to the use of thicker wooden rods that were boiled and glued together to become the furniture structural elements.
These methods created a distinctive approach to furniture design, in a time where furniture was made from carved wood.
Further experimentations led him to bend wood into compound curves by the use of solid profiles. By the application of this technique he was able to produce designs with integrated structural solutions.
The technique of bending solid wood had great developments during the 1850’s, the same decade he and his sons set up the company Gerbrüder Thonet. Mass production techniques were refined and the use of solid wood was required to decrease the cost of production with glued veneers. It consisted in steaming rods, then bending each rod fastened with steel or leather strips and clamped in both ends in a steel mold. The wooden rods in the molds were set up to dry in appropriate chambers. Bent pieces were sanded, stained ant assembled to produce the complete designs.
Since the 19th century Thonet chairs had been produced by similar techniques, as you may see on the video.
The header image is made by Mário Barros based on the source: Wilk, 1980, p. 25–26.