How to Bend Wood That is Thick

Wood bending is often used when making furniture out of bent wood. It is usually believed that if you try to bend wood it will snap or break. However, by using wood bending techniques you can not only bend wood but you can twist it as well. With this in mind, what most people find difficult is bending thick wood. This is why we are going to help you out by telling you how to bend wood that is thick.

The best way to bend wood that is thick is by using the steam bending method. With this method, you can bend wood of pretty good thickness without breaking it. First, you soak wood overnight, increasing its moisture content. After which you introduce it to high temperatures through steam, causing the fibres of the wood to soften. This allows it to bend without snapping or breaking since now the fibres that constitute the wood are more soft and pliable.

While steam bending might be the best way to bend wood that is thick, it works best with a few wood species. Although the same can be said about other wood bending techniques as well, they work best with some wood species but not others. So if you want to get the best results from any wood bending technique then use the species that respond best to it.

Step-by-Step Guide on Bending Wood That is Thick

As we said before, this method of bending wood is best for bending thick wood. If your project requires you to bend thin wood, then you can click this link for an extensive guide on how to do so. For this method you need to build a steam box, you also need a steamer, a pipe, and a container for soaking wood overnight.

Step 1 – Making a Steam Box

To make a steam box you need to get your hands on a steamer, you can purchase it locally. You can also order this Earlex Steamer for Wood Bending from the comfort of your home. Other than the steamer, you will need to design a box for steaming the wood. This can be either made out of a large PVC pipe that can withstand high temperatures or you can make it out of wood. Making it out of wood is recommended because you can customise it according to your needs.

Once you are done designing the box, take a steel pipe, and make holes in it using a drill. These holes should be placed 3-4 inches apart from each other and there should be a few rows of these holes in the pipe. This pipe will be connected with the steamer and then inserted into the steam box using a connector. You also need to make a stand in the box to make sure the wood is elevated and not placed flat on the surface of the box. This way the wood can absorb the steam from all angles.

Once you have made the stand for the wood, you need to make a lid that is attached to the box with hinges. You also need to make a hole in the lid so that steam can escape and not build up inside. To avoid a lot of steam from escaping you can use a rubber gasket and use it on the lid itself. Now there is enough ventilation so that there isn’t too much pressure building in the steam box, but enough sealing that all the steam does not escape as soon as it enters the box. 

Step 2 – Pre-soaking Wood

After your steam box is ready, it is time to pre-soak your wood to soften its fibres. Wood is constituted of hardened fibres, so when you soak your wood ahead, it absorbs moisture. It also slightly softens the wood but not enough so that it can bend. If your wood is air-dried, then just overnight soaking is enough. However, if you have kiln-dried wood then you might want to soak it for at least 3 days. One thing that helps tremendously with the softening process is adding a fabric softener into the water. This way the kiln-dried wood fibres get further softened thanks to the fabric softener’s ingredients.

Step 3 – Making a Bending Jig

While your wood is soaking you have time to make two jigs for bending the wood. Now you will want to first make a jig that is going to be the shape of the bend itself. There will be a slight spring back in thick wood so when making the bending jig you need to account for it. You also need to make a jig that will avoid the fibres of the wood from expanding. This is because you need the fibres to bend but not expand. When they stretch and expand the wood will tear apart, and you want to avoid that.

To make this jig that will avoid breakage and tearing in wood, you just need two steel sheets the size of the wood you are bending, and two blocks of wood. First, you need to attach both these steel sheets together, you can use rivets for this purpose or weld them together. Afterward, attach the two wooden blocks at the end of the sheets using screws. Make sure that there is enough space for your piece of wood to rest in between these blocks. The steel sheets prevent the wood from stretching while the blocks hold the wood and press them inside as they bend.

Step 5 – Steaming the Wood

Once your wood has been soaked in water for sufficient time, it is time to steam it. The rule is that you need to steam your wood for an hour for every inch of thickness. This is just a general rule that woodworkers follow and it works pretty much all the time.

Step 6 – Bending The Wood on the Template

After your wood has done steaming for an amount of time according to its thickness, it will soften. Though this will not last long, you will have around 5-10 minutes before it will harden. So you quickly need to place your wood in the jig to avoid it from stretching and tearing. After that, you need to place the wood on the bending jig and use clamps to keep it in place. Now you just need to wait it out, we would suggest at least half a day.

Step 7 – Releasing the Clamps

Now that half a day has passed, you will want to release the clamps and see the result of your hard work. As you will release the clamps and remove the wood from the jig, you will notice a slight spring back. However, if you designed your bending jig accounting for that spring back you will have no issues with the measurements of the bend.

This process may be hard and tedious, but once you make the steam box, you only need to pre-soak wood and design the bending along with the jig that will avoid the wood from stretching. You can reuse the steaming box for steaming as much wood as you want for future projects.

How Long to Soak Thick Wood to Bend It?

Depending on the method of how your wood has dried, your wood will need either 1-3 days of soaking. If your wood has been air-dried, it will only need one day of soaking in water. You don’t need to add anything to the water when soaking it either. For kiln-dried wood, you need to soak it for at least 3 days in water and also add in something like a fabric conditioner or softener. This will help with the softening process of the wood fibres. 

Does Thick Wood Stay Bent?

If you have followed our step-by-step guide, chances are even if the wood is thick it will stay bent. Although depending on the species of wood and its thickness, it might spring back over time. It is a rare occurrence, and not many cases of spring back have been seen. This is because the fibres, lignin, and hemicellulose that constitute the wood structure cool down into that bent-up shape. 

Does Wet Wood Bend Easier?

If you have an air-dried piece of oak you want to bend, you don’t need to pre-soak it in advance. It will bend with the steam bending technique without any problems with the help of the jigs. Though soaking wood will help with softening the wood better. Specifically, if the wood is kiln-dried, soaking it will help it bend much easier.

By introducing moisture to wood by pre-soaking it, when you steam it and introduce it to high temperatures, it rapidly softens the fibres, the resins, lignin, and hemicellulose in it. When these cool down after you have bent the wood in the jig and clamped it, they retain their shape.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

How to bend wood with boiling water?

You make a container in which you boil your wood for 30 minutes per inch of thickness, take it out and then bend it using jigs and clamps. Let it cool and it should retain its bent-up shape.

What is the best wood for bending without steam?

Maple, Poplar, Spruce, and Mahogany are the best woods to bend without using the steam bending technique.

How to bend a 2×4 wood?

You can use the steam bending technique to bend a 2×4 with ease as it is one of the best methods of bending thick wood. A 2×4 is usually 1 and a half-inch thick, which in terms of bending is pretty thick. You can also use kerf bending on wood this thick but you cannot use laminate or cold bending.

Final Thoughts

Bending wood might sound outlandish at first, but it is not a new technique and has been used for a long time. There are tons of projects that can benefit from this technique and it actually also prevents waste of wood because if you were gonna make this out of one piece of wood, you would need to cut it out of thick stock. The rest would have either gone to waste or most of it would become unusable. However, if you follow our guide on bending wood that is thick you will have no waste whatsoever.

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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