I was bending ebony soundboard edge-bindings for a new batch of lutes this week, and realized again how much I like my little bending iron. It wasn't always this way--when I first got it, probably about a dozen years ago, I didn't care for it very much at all. Over the years, though, I've modified it in a few ways to really make it work for me.
I also screwed a plywood base to the thing, so I could clamp it more conveniently and securely to the work bench.
A second problem arose when I first began building lutes in batches, because occasionally the rib spacers for one back would be a different thickness from the spacers I was using on the other. This meant as I went back and forth, fitting ribs alternately on the molds, I would need to adjust the space between the hoops back and forth too, to accommodate the different sizes. Frustration multiplied. It was clearly time to call in--the Betterizer!
I have found that when I'm stumped about how to modify a piece of equipment, it sometimes helps just to take things apart and have a look at the insides. That's what I did with the bending iron, and found that it's basically hollow--just a teardrop-shaped aluminum tube with a small heating element that plugs into it. All that space gave me an idea.
Then I drilled holes into some other pieces of brass stock, of various thicknesses (to be exact, the thicknesses were 0.2mm, 0.4mm, and 0.8mm). I also shaped these pieces on the bench grinder, but I made them a little smaller than the 1/8" pieces--about 3mm smaller, all the way around. (I stacked these pieces and clamped them together for shaping on the grinder, so they would all turn out with the same profile when I was finished.)
Here's what I made, a veritable Roman hoard of brass shims (or perhaps a beautiful school of brassfish swimming by.) You can see the two larger 1/8" pieces at the bottom of the photo:
I usually have a few spacers left over, so I just stack them on top before screwing down the wing nuts.
I really like this setup. I feel that I've taken a tool which, when it came from the supplier, was really not that well made or well-designed for the job, and turned it into a piece of equipment that's essential to my professional workshop. For any builders out there who have experienced the frustrations I have, I recommend this fix. And I wish you well in your own adventures, shaping your tools to your needs. Do let me hear about them, if you like... and Happy Betterizing!