Building a Bowed Service Counter Front

Tips and techniques for creating the curved plywood front for a long bank counter.

I'm looking for suggestions to efficiently lay out and construct a bank teller line with a bowed front. Bow is 2' over a 24' cord. There are applied 1" thick panels on the face. I'm more concerned about getting the panels to conform to the profile of the main front. What material is best to build up for 1" thickness? Is there any lightweight structural board out there?

Forum Responses
(Architectural Millwork Forum)
From contributor R:
I am unclear on what you mean by bowed? Are you trying to build a simple wall curved in plan, or a wall curved in plan and tilted in section?

From contributor J:
A wall curved in plan. The wall is part of the millwork. The radius works out to be 39'7". The height of the chord is 21 3/4". Nothing severe, just a large span. I can break it into sections, but am not comfortable that it will all fit together without a dimple or a ridge at the seams.

From contributor D:
Use a vacuum bag with 1/8 or 1/4 ply. You can use bending ply, also. Use plenty of wood glue with a paint roller, toss it over a mold, stuff it in the bag and the next morning you are ready to go with it.

From contributor R:
There are half a dozen ways to approach this, depending on such factors as how big it is, how many joints are involved, whether there are reveals, etc. Wood glue in a vacuum bag is one way. Contact cement on the completed carcass is another. The first and most critical is to get a true arc that is consistent vertically and squared up side by side. This is where a CNC router is invaluable, especially for an arc as large as you describe. If you have trouble with the top and bottom plates, you might find someone who has a CNC to cut them for you. It may be worth the time and money.

We sometimes use bending ply and, less often, Kerfcore. We often make our own Kerfcore out of prelaminated panels on gentle arcs and this works especially well for veneered faces. If weight is a really critical consideration, you could build up the edges of each panel to 1/2" and then complete the face over the void. The older cabinetmakers in my shop favor laminating with contact cement directly onto the completed carcass. Some of the more production-oriented guys prefer to laminate the panels in the flat, kerf the backs, edge them and then fasten them to the carcass from inside. Castle screws predrilled in the studs and plates work great for this.

From contributor L:
In our shop, we cut the curved plates and studs on the CNC router. Kerf the veneered panels on our Schelling (automatic program - start and walk away). Use the Castle pocket screw machine on the studs and plates. Glue and screw the faces on. The curved, applied front panels would be made with strips for the top and bottom rails and solid edges with a kerfed infill. Put them and the veneer face in the vacuum bags and press over form. Attach them from the inside of the wall with screws. Normally the studs have wiring holes in them and some of the interior panels are removable to chase the assorted wiring and cables and to allow the plates to be bolted to the floor. If there are areas without access, put a horizontal tray from stud to stud right at the bottom of the electrical holes. The electrician or data cable guys ought to thank you (or buy you a beer). If you need to have a really big vacuum bag, just buy some 6 mil poly at the lumberyard and make a disposable quickie. I'm not much of a fan of using contact cement for this type of thing.