3 Ways to Bend Wood Into a Circle


Cutting wood into a bend or into a circle means you are wasting a precious resource. That’s because if the cut-out parts are too small to use, they will mostly go to waste. Instead, woodworkers usually bend wood for this purpose. However, bending wood into a complete circle is something most woodworkers don’t commonly do. If you have no clue how to bend wood into a circle, you are in luck. In this article, we will tell you 3 ways to bend wood into a circle instead of just one. So read through the whole guide to find a way that is more suitable for you.

The first method of bending wood into a circle is by using steam bending. The second method requires you to use kerf bending, one of the more common ways to bend wood. The third way is by using the cold lamination method for bending wood into a circle. For steam bending, it is best to use wood that is air-dried. Also, not all species of wood give good results in this technique. For cold lamination bending, you need to use thin strips of wood. So you are limited by the thickness of wood that you can turn into a circle.

Bending wood has been a common practice amongst woodworkers for a long time now. In the old days, people used to boil wood in water to bend it. These days you don’t have to boil wood but can use a steam box for the purpose of introducing heat. The only issue with steam bending is the limited number of species that react positively to it. You can bend other woods with steam too but they will have their own set of problems. Kerf bending is pretty easy and most people consider it the standard method.

Making a Jig for Turning Wood into a Circle

Since we are going to be making a circle by bending wood in all three methods, they will be utilising one jig. To design this jig you just need a wooden wheel, on which the wood can bend around. It needs to be hollow in between which will be used to clamp the wood that needs bending. To make a wooden wheel you just need to cut it out from either a solid stock. You can also stack multiple sheets of plywood that can be stuck together and then cut a wheel out of.

You will also need multiple jigs that will be used to hold the wood in a circle around the jig. The jig needs to be solid, you will also need to put it on a heavy workbench that does not move when you bend wood into a circle around it. Also, the heavier the wooden piece is the harder it will be to turn it into a circle in a homemade jig. You will need something industrial almost to turn a thick piece of wood into a circle.

3 Ways to Bend Wood Into a Circle – With Pros and Cons

1. Steam Bending Method

The steam method is said to be the best method of softening and then bending wood. It requires you to heat air-dried lumber using steam, so the wood will be heated around approx 100-Centigrade or 212-Fahrenheit. It takes about an hour per inch of thickness of the wood for it to soften properly.

For this method to really work you need to have a steam box. You can buy a steamer from your local hardware store. However, you need to build a steam box yourself from scratch. Building a steam box is not that difficult, you just need to build a box big enough to house the lumber you want to bend. It is not different from building any other ordinary box. Just needs dowels to hold wood so that it steams from all directions. You also need to make a hole in the back for the steam pipe and a hole in the front for steam release.

The lid will need to have a gasket to seal it when it is closed so it does not allow all of the steam to escape. But the hole is necessary since you don’t want to build a lot of pressure inside it. When your air-dried lumber from the species we mentioned earlier is fully softened, you need to hook it up to the circular jig, and then clamp it tightly. You have around 3-5 minutes before the wood starts to harden again, so time is of the essence. Later on, you can either use glue or any other method to stick both the ends of the wood together into a circle.

Pros

  • Softens wood for easy bending.
  • The steam box can be reused for other bending projects.
  • Gives guaranteed satisfaction if you use the lumber most suitable for this process.
  • Can bend wood that is thick as well.

Cons

  • Requires you to build a steam box.
  • Need to hurry before the wood hardens.
  • Works only with air-dried lumber of a few species of wood the best.

2. Kerf Bending Method

Kerf bending requires you to make kerf cuts on one side of the wood. Once you do that the wood will want to bend into the kerfs themselves. You use this technique to your advantage and make multiple cuts using a circular saw blade throughout the surface of the wood. Once you do so it will bend in the direction where the kerfs are and you can easily make a circle out of it.

First, prepare a piece of lumber that you want to turn into a circle. Now make kerf cuts throughout the surface. Put an adhesive in all the cuts that you have made. Now slowly bend the whole piece and use clamps to tightly hold it around a circular jig. Let the glue dry and you will have your lumber bent into a circle.

Pros

  • Kerf cuts can be made with multiple tools, i.e. circular saw, table saw, and mitre saw.
  • Does not require any additional items as most of these types of saws are already present in most workshops.
  • Does not take a lot of time.

Cons

  • Weakens the integrity of the wood.
  • You need to make the kerfs at an angle if you don’t want them to show.

3. Cold Lamination Bending

This method does not work with thicker pieces of wood, so you can only bend thin pieces using this technique. To start off you need to cut many thin strips out of one solid piece of wood. Once you are done with that, use an adhesive, something like water-based glue, to stick the pieces together. Now you need to make a secondary wheel which will be placed over the primary one to kind of choke the strips glued together.

After placing the secondary wheel over the jig that has the glued strips on it, clamp them tightly together. Some glue will spill out from the cracks between the strips. Now, wait for the whole thing to fully dry. Once it is done drying, you can release the clamps and pull out your circular bent piece of wood. You can sand or scrape the excess glue that was spilled out of the cracks because of the clamp tightening or choking the wood.

Pros

  • Easy to work with.
  • Works best with wood that is thin.
  • Does not take a lof time of prep time other than cutting wood into strips.

Cons

  • Works only with thin pieces of wood.
  • Requires a secondary cut of the jig to press or squeeze the strips once glued.
  • Glue spill out needs to be cleaned afterward.

Best Wood to Bend Into a Circle

For the steam bending method, it is vital that you use an air-dried piece of lumber. The kiln hardens lignin fast making it hard to bend. It also burns out more moisture in the wood than when it is air-dried. However, that is not all, some species of wood work best with bending than others. One wood that is the best for any bending method is maple. Maple being a hardwood that is best known for its durability and resistance to shock will do great in any bending technique you apply.

Other than maple, one surefire species of wood that works great with any bending technique is oak. White oak is known for being the best lumber for steam bending when air-dried. You don’t even need to pre-soak white oak if it is air-dried before steaming it. Not to mention, oak is a pretty resilient wood similar to maple, not as hard though. So both maple and oak are the best woods to bend into a circle for your project.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

Which method is best for bending thick wood?

Using the steam and kerf method is the best for bending thicker pieces of wood.

Is there any specific requirement for the wood in any bending method?

Air-dried lumber is much more preferred for bending wood than kiln-dried. The reason is that when wood is dried in a kiln, it hardens the lignin fast. In air-dried lumber, the lignin does not get heated up as much and as a result, it does not harden as much and softens easily as well.

What glue suits well for the cold lamination bending technique?

A water-based glue works great since it becomes integrated into the wood itself and adheres very strongly when it comes to cold lamination bending.

Can you bend any species of wood?

Certain species of wood bend better than the others. This is mostly due to the composition of its organic polymers that differ in each species.

Final Thoughts

We hope this article solved all your queries if you ever wondered how you can bend wood into a circle. All of these three techniques can also be used for bending wood into an arch or semi-circle as well. By bending wood you are saving an incredible resource that can be used in other projects. Wood bending is not only about saving resources and time, but also about using the potential of lumber to its fullest.

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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