Making Lute Ribs

The bending tool I use is simply a piece of 1 1/4″ galvanized pipe connected to an inexpensive heat gun. The right angle elbow on the end of the pipe helps restrict the airflow but also helps warm your toes on chilly days. The heat gun allows different heat and airflow settings so you can control the temperature of the bending pipe to suit the wood you are using.

I spray the sanded & final thickness lute rib with water and free-form bend the rib by hand enough so it can be held in the rib form as shown. Make sure to put a pencil mark on all ribs and a corresponding mark on the bending form so you can align each rib during bending. That way any wood figure patterns match from rib to rib. It’s easy to provide downward pressure on the form based on how the rib is “giving” to the heat. Rocking the form slowly back and forth assures that the rib will eventually assume the profile of the form.

Once the rib is close to final profile as seen below, I use the form to mark in pencil the rib outline and remove all the extra wood using the band saw. Then, repeat the wetting and bending process again with the rib close to its final shape. Since a lot of wood has been removed, it’s now easier to bend the rib accurately to its profile. If you prefer you can use the poster board rib template produced when you made the bending form to mark each rib and cut off extra wood before bending.

After the rib is bent, clamp it back in the form and trim the edges to smoothly match the form. Here I have shown a large spokeshave being used for the smoothing operation (I find it easy to use), but I’m sure any really sharp tool would work. The caution here is to watch the grain carefully and plane accordingly – or you can get splitting – which requires appropriate language to match the degree of splitting….

As the last step, I lightly hand sand each rib on a flat board with various grits of sandpaper glued to the board.

Here is a complete rib. Once setup, it takes just a few minutes to make a fully formed rib that is ready for assembly.

Go here to see how to assemble the ribs without using a mold.