How To Bend Wood

How To Bend Wood

Imagine you’ve got the perfect piece of wood for your project. It’s just the right thickness and texture! However, it isn’t the right shape.

How To Bend Wood

You want something bent, with curves to it. What are you going to do? How can you bend the wood?

Well, we’ve got the answers for you! You can use three main methods to bend wood into the shapes you want.

Below, you’ll find a detailed breakdown of how to do each one. Some are easier than others, so pick whichever will work best for your skill level!

Bend Wood With The Kerf-Cutting Method

If you want to bend your wood but are no expert, you’ll want to try the kerf-cutting method – it’s the easiest! Kerf refers to the slit you cut into a piece of wood, the hole left when you sawed in.

You’ll need a saw for kerf-cutting, but most will do. For example, you can use a table saw, but a handsaw or circular saw will do just fine.

Now, you want to make a series of cuts along parts of the piece of wood, allowing you to bend it. You want to have these cuts on whichever areas you want to bend.

For example, if you want to bend the two ends of a piece of wood to make something like a tiny table or stool, you would want to make those cuts on each end – but not the middle!

You want to leave the middle flat with no cuts at all. 

You’re probably wondering how far apart these cuts should be. Not very; you only want about 1.25 cm between each cut.

Make sure you keep it regular, leaving roughly the same space between each. You don’t want it to be uneven, as it could affect the bend.

Also, you must be careful about how deep the cuts are. You want them to be deep enough to allow the wood to bend, but not so deep that they make the wood flimsy and fragile.

You probably want to aim for about 3/4 of the thickness of your piece of wood, giving it plenty of room to move as you bend it. 

Once you’ve done that, you want to take the cut areas in your hands and bend them – inwards or outwards, whichever direction you want. Be careful, though. Bend it very slowly and carefully so that the wood doesn’t crack. 

Bend Wood With Steam

On the other hand, steam is probably the most difficult method for bending wood. That said, if you have the confidence, these instructions should help you pull it off! 

First, you will need to build something called a “steam box.” This is exactly as it sounds – a box for steaming your wood in!

This will take some extra time, but at least you’ll have it as a resource for any wood that you want to bend in the future.

Essentially, you need to build a box out of heat-resistant and waterproof materials so that it can withstand the steam that will be at play.

On one end of the box, you need a hinged door to allow you to insert and remove your piece of wood. On the top, you need to make sure you have a vent, allowing the steam to get out when you need it to.

On the back, you want a place for the steam to come through. 

Use a hose for this, attaching one end to the box and the other to a steam generator or something like a pressure cooker.

You’ll use the hose to channel the steam into the sealed box. Finally, you’ll want a hole added for drainage on the bottom of the box. And that’s all the hard stuff done! Now for the bending.

You want to insert the wood that you want to bend into the box, close the door, and switch on the steam generator. If you have about 2cm of wood that needs bending, it should take around an hour – if you have thicker wood, wait longer. 

When that’s done, carefully remove the wood with a pair of gloves. Then try to bend it in the direction that you want.

You can also place the wood into a special frame, that will bend it too. Once that’s over, leave the wood to dry for about a week. When the time is done, you should have a firm, bent piece of wood!

Bend Wood With Water

This is a slightly easier method because you don’t have to build an entire contraption to get it done!

All you’ll need for this is a large tub (a bath could do!), a pot for boiling water, some clamps, and a pair of heat-resistant gloves. Remember, when dealing with scalding water, you need to be safe!

How To Bend Wood (1)

First, you want to boil your water. You don’t have to have scalding water necessarily, but it will make the process much quicker.

If you don’t, it could take days! You’ll need enough water to submerge the wood you want to bend fully.

If you only have a kettle, that will take a lot of trips to your bath and back, so you may want to invest in a much larger pot and put it on the stove for heating. 

Now put your piece of wood into your tub (bath, or whatever is easiest!). To stop a thin and light piece of wood from floating up in the water, put something heavy on top of it to keep it weighed down.

When that’s done, carefully pour the boiling water into the bath. When the wood is fully submerged, leave it to soak for at least an hour. 

When the time is up, put your heat-resistant gloves on and remove the wood from the water. Be very careful not to let any part of your skin go into the water at this stage, although it should have cooled down a lot by now.

But just in case, don’t! Now take the wood and clamp it to a form that will help you shape and bend it in whatever way you want. Bend each part as you see fit, adding clamps to help keep the bends in place.

With that done, you can leave it clamped into the shape that you want the finished wood to be. Leave it to dry for 3 hours, then check that it’s solidified into your bent shape.

If it has? Good! If it hasn’t? Perhaps add a few more clamps, and leave it to cool for a few hours more. 

Final Thoughts

There you have it! Three methods to bend wood, each with its own benefits and different skill levels. Whichever technique you choose, you should end up with exactly what you wanted.

Whether you steamed it, soaked it, or even kerf-cut it, you should have a piece of wood that is bent in all the ways you want.


Diarmuid Brock

I'm a carpenter by day and an amateur woodworker by night. I don't believe in limitations, and I love to help others. I'm here to answer your questions and make your life simpler. I craft and create with all-natural, reclaimed, and repurposed materials.

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