Antique Lumber: Steam Bend or Laminate?

Upon consideration, a furnituremaker decides to laminate a curved table apron rather than try to steam and bend historic old wood. October 17, 2012

I have a supply of long leaf pine that was air dried and cut down approximately 159 years ago. I need to make some 34" diameter aprons for tables. I have read most of the posts regarding steam bending and I do own the Lee Valley strap kit. Is it possible to bend this material in full 3/4" thickness or do I have to bend 3/16" laminated stock? Is it possible to bend a full 360 degree circle?

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor E:
In my experience, it is best to do some tests. It might be possible to steam bend it, but I think resawing it to a thickness that will bend to the required radius, then laminating it in a form, would be the best way to go, especially since only the outside will be seen.

From contributor D:
I agree. I seriously doubt you could successfully steam bend 3/4" pine into a 34" diameter. I'd make a form and laminate 3 layers of 1/4" bending ply around it. Finish that with an 1/8" thick piece of your pine. It'll be stronger and more stable in the long run.

From contributor W:
Contributor D is right. That is precious wood and no one will be interested in the fact you used solid 3/4 stock. The 17" radius is tight. Use about 36" long strips to make the circumference and stagger the butt joins to make a strong and stable apron.

From contributor K:
Where did the questioner mention that this apron was for looks only? If it has any role in supporting the legs, I'm having trouble going along with using bending ply for the internal plies. I have to wonder if you cut M&T joints on that cross grain luan, and how that is working out for you?

From the original questioner:
Contributor K, I understand you concerns. I recently completed a 4 piece round apron that was made up of 4 laminated layers and had M&T joints. It does require careful layout of the laminations, so some of each layer is in the mortise. As far as my current project goes, I was hoping to make the entire table out of just the antique lumber and not introduce other woods. I guess I'll just do as everyone suggests and laminate the LLP in 1/4" layers on a form. Thank you all for your input.

From contributor W:
I wasn't suggesting using luan bending plywood as the core. I use cold bent laminations many times to get the shape desired and the outer layers being 1/4 inch lams of the really nice stock. Done well, the laminated final pieces can be M/T or dovetail joined without any problems. I suggest using Titebond II Extend for the lamination. It gives you the time.