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How to Bend Wood

Want to learn some useful techniques in bending wood for your woodworking project? How are you going to bend wood?

Woodworkers spend an enormous amount of time and effort in straightening out wood of different kinds. If you are into woodworking, it is likely that you will be bending more than straightening.

To set things straight for your first wooden learning curves, woodworkers have developed two of the most popular methods of bending wood. These are wood steaming and wood laminating.

Wood Steaming

The logic of timber steaming is that wood can be easily bent when it gets heated. It involves boiling water of about 200°F (depending on the thickness). This is to make the wood as pliable as it gets so that bending to a form can be easy. The time length of steaming ranges from more or less 20 minutes for a ¼ inches board to 2 hours for a 2 inches thick table post.

One of the advantages of this method aside from not wasting materials is that there are no traces of glue lines. Also, the wood’s continuous long-grain pattern is retained.

Some drawback has to be also taken into consideration. This includes the difficulty to contain spring-back which can lead to losing some shape on the form. Breakage is likely to occur, especially if you use wood with reduced grain orientation.

So to avoid miscues from happening in your woodworking, better use a lumber with a straight-grained direction.

Benefits of Wood Steaming

  • Cheap, efficient, clean and eco-friendly and can be practically done by anyone
  • Ideal for fresh wood which gives around 8% moisture
  • Likely results to a well-designed form
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Things You Need to Consider When Wood Steaming

When you are planning to do this method, you have to consider some things. These include:

1) Ideal Types of Wood

All kinds of wood can be steam-bent to some extent. Temperate woods such as Oak, Ash, Cherry, Walnut, Sycamore, Elm, and Beech are great to bend.

2) Tightness of Bend

This aspect relies on how wood is straightly grained. With the use of compression strap, the best ratio is 1:5. Some wood types can be bent for up to a ratio of 1:2 with a compression strap and 1:7 without compression strap.

3) Thickness of Wood

No limit in this case. It is the force over a thickness that we are talking if you need to figure out this matter. If your wood is twice as thick, then you need a force of four times stronger or even more as the thickness increases.

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Equipment You Will Need for the Process

Keep in mind that having the best equipment is essential for your woodworking needs and having your own gives you the freedom to use it whenever you need to.

While these tools can be bought at any builders or DIY store near you, most woodworkers prefer modifications for perfect use.

1) Steam Maker

This involves any method of boiling water while venting the steam into a steam chamber. If you have the budget, you can opt to buy a steam generator.

2) Steam Chamber  

This includes anything that can accommodate the steam to be vented onto the wood. Plywood boxes are ideal since plastic containers will melt with the heat.

Make sure the wood heats at 100 degrees Centigrade for best results. You can also use digital meat thermometers for checking the temperature inside.

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3) Jigs  

A jig is a generic term for tools made for a certain purpose. As in the case of steam-bending, jigs are mostly homemade like the one shown on this video by Lowe’s Home Improvement.

4) Clamps

These are practically called G-Clamps. In woodworking, you cannot effectively bend wood without the use of this tool.

5) Compression Strap

This strap is needed for tighter bends which are appropriate for thicker wood. Typically consists of a piece of 1 mm thick steel secured on both ends of the curve. It allows tighter bends without stretching the wood fibers.

Bent Lamination

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This method is one of the most widely used in the annals of woodworking. This is best explained by just cutting board into thin strips then bundling together with adhesives.

So, the result is one board that can be flexed to a preferred shape. In guitar-making, some solid-body electric guitars are built with laminated sheets of wood for crisp and brighter sound.

Procedural Steps in Bent Lamination

To leave a little room for error and to produce a form that is reusable from time to time, you may need to follow these steps in your woodworking project. You can also watch these steps on how to laminate bends on YouTube.

1) Bending for Form

Prepare the necessary equipment you will need. You can use ¾-inch plywood by cutting and finessing it into your desired shape and a flush trim. The trim will help you to make sure the layers can perfectly conform to the shape.image1 1

Create a negative of the curved wood to serve as the caul for applying pressure in pushing the laminations into form. You can also use cork on the bent surfaces for equal distribution of weight. Check out this video for bending ideas on YouTube.

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2) Cutting for Strips

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So the first thing to do if you choose to apply this method is to form the wooden board then cut it into sheets. Cut the pieces on a band saw or table saw. Thin factors vary by the severity of the bend and spring back tolerance at about 3/16 inches.

Once the sheets are cut into thin strips, they should be smoothed to the final preferred thickness. You can use a drum sander or a planner in smoothing out the strips.

3) Adhesive for Bundling

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Glues are essential in woodworking. To prevent the bent wood from springing back, the type of adhesive to be used is resin or polyurethane based. For long-term durability, highly-recommend glues are the ones made of resin or PVA. Each strip must be adequately fixed using a glue roller for best results.

4) Overnight Patience

Once pressed, leave the laminates under pressure overnight. Let it seat until the adhesives are dry. The next day, sand the excess glue off the surface for a smoother and finessed finish.

Make sure you achieve your desired result for this. You can also trim the edges with a band saw for better consistency and appearance.

Conclusion

Woodworking is a very hard but fulfilling endeavor for which sometimes people take the work as a hobby, passion or even a labor of love. That is why woodworkers managed to develop these two simple and widely used methods.

As a matter of fact, these bending methods date back to ancient times where creativity is purely born out of curiosity.

For suggestions or feedback, you may leave your comments below, or you can also share this tutorial if you like. Have a fun and productive wood bending!

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