Wood is a very versatile material, it cuts easily, can be drilled, and also bent. While cutting and boring into wood is pretty easy and normal, bending isn’t. It requires more than tools, bending tests your knowledge of wood itself. Usually, people use the steam method to bend wood. Steam softens the wooden fibres allowing them to bend easier. However, it is limited to a few species of wood as not all woods react favourably to steam bending. Also, it requires you to build a steam box or purchase one, which can be expensive. So here are 3 ways to bend wood without steam to help you save up money and hassle.
The best way to bend wood without steam has to be cold lamination. In this method, you cut out thin strips of wood, glue them together, and bend them inside a form or jig. The other method we have is the kerf bending method. This method requires cutting kerfs in the wood and using them to bend it. Lastly, you can bend wood using heat. It is basically a similar principle as steam bending but using direct heat.
Bending wood is not a new practice, people have been doing it since the middle ages. The methodology has been refined over time but people have bent wood for many purposes. Mostly it was for construction and making furniture. People boiled wood to be able to bend it, which is similar to using steam. Steam reaches a much higher temperature than boiling water itself. It is an efficient method, but making a steam box and purchasing a quality wood steamer can be expensive. So using methods like cold lamination, which is a bit more work, is a cheaper alternative.
Cold Lamination Method Guide
In the cold lamination method, you just need glue, a table saw, and a jig. This jig is going to be a bending form with a male and female form that will squeeze in the wooden strips after you glue them together.
Step 1 – Making the Jig
To make a wooden jig for cold lamination, you need a female and male bend form. To do that, just mark two bending lines parallel to each other one bigger than the other. The smaller one will be cut out to be a female bend form and the larger one a male. Carve a few grooves in the male form and the female form that will be used for clamps.
Step 2 – Cutting Strips and Gluing Them
Using a table saw cut out thin strips of the wood you want to bend. Make sure they are all equally thin. Take a good glue like Titebond or something even stronger and apply it together. Make sure to clean off any excess that is flowing out from the sides.
Step 3 – Clamping the Strips
Once you are done gluing the strips together, while the glue is still wet, push them between the female and male bend forms. When you are done trapping the strips together in the forms, clamp them together tightly.
Step 4 – Clean Up
Wait for the glue to dry up, which usually takes less than 4 hours, and unclamp the female and male clamps. You will see there is a lot of excess glue that has been squeezed out. Use a scraper to scrape the excess glue off and clean the piece.
- No need for expensive equipment.
- Works faster than the steam bending method.
- No seasonal movement due to changes in moisture levels.
- Requires cleaning up afterward.
Kerf Bending Method – Step-by-Step Guide
Kerf bending is exactly what the name implies, by making multiple kerfs in wood you can bend it. You just need glue, a thin veneer sheet, and a table saw for this method.
Step 1 – Marking the Wood
You need to mark the wooden piece you will be bending at equal intervals. These will denote where you will be making your cuts. The number of cuts you need to make depends on how much of a bend you want in the piece. Lesser cuts equal shallower bends, while more cuts allow for a bigger bend.
Step 2 – Making the Kerfs
Set the depth of your table saw, make sure the cuts are not too deep or too shallow. If a cut is too shallow it will not bend properly and will be too rigid to bend. If it’s too deep, then it will break apart when you bend. Experiment on a scrap piece first if possible. Make kerfs throughout the piece of wood using the table saw afterward.
Step 3 – Glueing the Kerfs
Using the glue of your choice, glue the kerfs together and then clamp the ends. Clean up and excess flowing out from the kerfs. Once the glue is dry, remove the clamps and lightly sand the piece.
Step 4 – Hiding the Kerfs
Cut out a sheet of veneer from the same wood to hide the kerfs. Just glue the veneer sheet where the kerfs are and you will be able to hide them. You might need to clamp the piece together until the glue dries. Do this with the edges too if you don’t want people to see the kerfs at all.
- Easy to pull off.
- Inexpensive method.
- No seasonal movement.
- Weak structural integrity due to kerfs.
Heat Bending Method – Step-by-Step Guide
This is a more unorthodox method in which you use a clothing iron to bend wood. Of course, this method only works with thinner pieces of wood and requires a bending form or jig.
Step 1 – Soaking the Wood
First and foremost you need to soak the piece of wood you are planning on bending overnight. You can soak it for around 12 to 24 hours, the more you soak it the softer it will get.
Step 2 – Making the Jig
You will need to make a bending form with a piece of scrap wood. First, mark the bend you want to cut out on the scrap piece using a marker or pencil. Now cut the bend on the outer edge using the saw of your choice. Make grooves inside the bend form that you will use to clamp the wooden board you are planning on bending.
Step 3 – Ironing the Board
Take the wooden piece out of the water in which you have soaked it overnight. Now we need to apply heat, but you cannot put the iron on the wood directly as it will just dry the board and burn it. First, wrap the middle of the board with a piece of a damp cloth. Make sure to wrap it evenly after which you need to wrap an aluminium sheet over the cloth. Slowly start ironing out the board, the damp cloth will prevent the moisture from escaping too fast while also heating the board up evenly and sustaining the heat as well. The aluminium sheet will transfer heat fast and evenly through the cloth and board as well.
Step 4 – Clamping the Board
You need to iron the board for around 20-30 minutes making sure to move the iron slowly and not stay in one place for too long. Once 30 minutes have passed, take the aluminium sheet and the cloth off. Quickly bend the board around the form or jig you made earlier and clamp it tightly.
Step 5 – Removing the Clamps
Leave the board clamped onto the jig or form for around a few hours or until it dries. Once the wooden piece has dried off, you can safely remove the clamps and the board will stay bent in the shape of the jig or form. It will relapse a little bit but not all the way over so make sure to design the jig counting that in mind.
- Inexpensive method.
- Does not require a lot of tools.
- Seasonal movement in wood due to an increase or change in moisture.
- Takes a lot of time.
FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions
What temperature can you bend wood?
Wood starts to bend over 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Most woods will start bending at that temperature but might need to go higher depending on the species.
How long do you soak wood before you can bend it?
You need to soak wood for around 12-24 hours before you can bend it.
How do you bend old wood?
You can bend old wood by either cold lamination or kerf bending because it might deteriorate if you bend it using the steam bending method.
Woodworking is all about being creative. There are always alternatives if one method does not work out for you. Bending wood is not that difficult if you know the different techniques and have patience. You don’t always need a high-end steamer and a steam box to bend wood. You can do without that using any of the methods mentioned above.