How to Bend Wood for Furniture and Other Projects
Bending wood is a technique people have been using since ancient times to make objects such as sleds, canoes, barrels, bows etc. Wood was a material used for building dwellings and transport arrangements like wheels and carts. For all these projects, people had to bend and shape the wood the way they wanted it. As you learn how to bend wood, you’ll discover that it’s not a difficult process. You just need some simple equipment and to know the techniques.
There are a number of ways in which bending wood can be useful in woodworking. Once you know the steps to take, you’ll be able to shape chair backs, spoons, picture frames, toys and more.
Best Wood for Bending
Softwoods are seldom used in bending operations. However, Alaska-cedar and yew are exceptions. Atlantic and Northern white cedar, southern yellow pine, redwood and Douglas-fir are often bent to moderate curvature for boat and ship planking. Some American species that are known to have good bending quality are white oak, yellow birch and white ash.
Techniques for Bending Wood
You can bend wood into many different shapes. You can form an arch, a boat, book stand, barrel or some other container. There are 3 basic techniques you can use to bend wood. They are steam bending, laminated wood bending and Kerf-cut bending. Craftspeople usually use these methods for bending larger pieces of wood in furniture-making.
There is, however, another process – microwave steaming – that craftsmen use for bending smaller pieces of wood to make small wooden items, such as toys and other crafts.
A major piece of equipment that you will require for any form of wood bending is a mold or form for shaping your project. Depending on your type of project, you will most likely need to do some clamping as well.
People have been using steam since ancient times as a means of bending wood. It remains one of the most popular methods today. To bend wood using steam, your first requirement will be to build a steam box. This video shows how you can do it:
To provide the steam for your steam box, we recommend the Rockler steam-bending kit, which also comes with step-by-step instructions on how to build a steam box. You can purchase the kit from Amazon here:
The steam will gradually soften the wood and make it pliable enough to mold it to your desired shape. Be sure to wear protective gloves when you remove the hot wood from the steam box!
The steaming process can take some time, depending on the hardness and thickness of the wood. It is, however, one of the most effective methods of bending wood.
Laminated Wood Bending
This process is quite simple, compared with steam bending. You won’t require a steam box for this one, but you will need to prepare a mold for the wood. In order to bend the wood, you will first need to cut it into thin strips, then position the strips in your mold with wood molding glue.
Thicker strips won’t bend so easily; thinner strips will be much more effective in bending. After you’ve cut the pieces, you will be gluing them together and clamping them in your mold until the glue is completely dry. Your laminated wood will now be very strong. You can follow the laminating process in this video:
Kerf-Cut Wood Bending
If you’d like to know how to bend wood using an easier way, you’ll want to try the kerf-cut bending method. The word, “kerf”, refers to the narrow channel left behind by a saw-blade cut. To kerf-bend wood, you will need to saw a number of slots along a length of wood. You can use a table saw to cut the slots.
Once you’ve created the series of slots or “kerfs” on your wood piece, it becomes very easy to bend. You can make the kerfs in different patterns, such as “S” shapes, for different purposes. You can “mold” your wood this way. This video shows the different effects you can achieve:
This is another simple method and is similar to steam bending. What you need to do is wrap your piece of wood in some wet paper towel and microwave it on high setting for about one minute. Wearing heatproof gloves, carefully remove your wood piece and mold it to your desired shape. You might want to practice this method on some scrap wood before using it on your project.
Now that you know how to bend wood, which method will you try first?