The Best Way to Bend Thin Wood

Wood is a very versatile material to work with as it is not only durable but also flexible. Good woodwork can last for centuries before it needs to be decommissioned. With routine maintenance, you can push the limits to how long your wooden furniture might last. When it comes to flexibility, wood can bend without breaking apart. However, it requires preparation as you can’t just bend wood as it is, the fibres will tear and it will break apart. In this guide, we will tell you the best way to bend thin wood without breaking it.

The best way to bend thin wood is through cold lamination. This is because it has the least amount of drawbacks among all the methods. In this method, you take a lot of thin strips of wood and glue them together. Afterward, you bend the pieces in a jig template of your design. Keep the thin wood piece you are trying to bend clamped inside the jig for at least a day. Once you remove the piece it will have bent into the shape of your jig template.

There are a few methods of how you can bend thin pieces of wood. All of these methods have their own pros and cons, even cold lamination has its drawbacks. However, since we are talking about thin pieces of wood, cold lamination is the easiest of them all if you have a jig template ready. For a thicker piece of wood, you might want to consider other methods since they are way more practical than cold lamination. Since this article is specific to thin pieces of wood, we chose the best method for bending it.

Step-by-Step Guide to Bending Thin Piece of Wood

As we said earlier, this method is best for bending specifically thin wood. For thick wood pieces, you might want to try another, but for thin wood, just follow this step-by-step guide and you will have no trouble bending it.

Step 1 – Taking Measurements of the Strips

In cold lamination, you need to stick very thin strips of wood together. To do so, you need to take measurements of these very thin strips. They all need to be equal in size, there cannot be any error, otherwise, the end product will end up needing work. If you are cutting on a table saw, then measurements are not necessarily required since you just need to adjust the fence once. After that, it is smooth cutting for all the strips without needing any measurement whatsoever.

Step 2 – Constructing a Jig

Depending on the shape of the bend for your thin piece of wood you will need to make a custom jig. You need to cut out the shape of the bend on a piece of plywood or MDF. The piece you cut out and the piece you cut out from, both will be used to shape the bend in the wood.

Step 3 – Glueing the Strips

Using a wood glue that has a very nice bond like Gorilla Glue or Titebond III, water-based wood glues, you need to combine the strips of very thin wood together. You need to apply glue on both sides of the strips and then join them together.

Step 4 – Clamping the Strips

Once you glue the pieces together, you need to bend the piece into the jig that you cut the shape out into. Now using the other piece of the jig, the cutout, slide it into the main template piece. You might want to use force when bending the piece into the jig. You can use clamps to help you bend the piece and tighten its grip. Make sure the tightening force of the clamps is even throughout the jig.

Step 5 – Removing the Piece from the Jig

Once a whole day has passed and the glue has dried completely, it is time to remove the piece from the jig. Release the pressure on the clamps slowly and remove the piece you inserted into the jig to help bend the piece of wood. Now slowly pull the bent piece of thin wood out of the jig template.

Step 6 – Cleaning Up

Once you remove the piece of thin wood from the jig template, you will be able to see that the glue has made a mess by seeping out between the strips. This dried-off glue can be easily sanded off using either a random orbit sander or by hand using a sanding block. You can scrape the glue off as well if you want, you can choose the method most convenient to you.

With multiple jig templates and cutouts, along with clamps, you can bend more than one thin piece of wood at a time. This will save you a lot of time since it takes a lot of time for the glue to fully dry and the piece to retain the shape of the bend.

Alternate Ways of Bending Wood

There are other ways to bend wood as well, you can bend wood using steam. Steam bending is one of the most preferred ways of bending thicker pieces of wood. Though it requires you to make a steam box and pre-soak wood if it isn’t air-dried. Not all woods react well to steam bending either, which is why people don’t use steam bending as the preferred method.

We also have kerf bending, which most people prefer due to its ease. It literally takes no time to bend wood using this method. However, it does make the wood weaker and susceptible to damage due to the nature of the method itself.

Here is a table to help you show what are some of the advantages and drawbacks to these bending techniques depending on the type of wood you are working with.

Wood TypeSteam BendingLaminate/Cold BendingKerf Bending
Thin WoodPossiblePossiblePossible
Thick WoodPossibleNot PossibleNot Recommended
PlywoodNot RecommendedNot PossiblePossible

It is possible to steam bend, laminate or cold bend, and kerf bends thin wood. However, when it comes to a thick wood, you cannot use laminate bending or kerf bending for this. Though technically you can bend thick wood with kerf bending it is not recommended since the technique will severely weaken the wood itself. 

Lastly, it is possible to steam bend plywood, but it will be a hassle to insert a large sheet of plywood into a steam box. You will either need to cut compatible-sized pieces of that plywood or build a large enough steam box to accommodate the whole sheet which is impractical. You cannot cold bend or laminate bend plywood since you need very thin strips to glue together.

The plywood itself is made out of thin sheets of the wood itself, so it is again possible but impractical. Kerf bending is the preferred method of bending plywood amongst woodworkers.

How to Bend Thin Wood Without Snapping It

There will always be the possibility of snapping the piece of wood you are bending. Of course, you can significantly reduce the chances of breaking that thin piece of wood using a few techniques. People consider soaking the piece of wood overnight a great way to avoid snapping or breaking it. Since wood is constructed with a lot of fibres, soaking it overnight helps in softening them. When these fibres are softened, they tend to bend a bit more easily.

Some people also use a fabric softener to help soften the fibres of the wood further. Also, woodworkers prefer using air-dried wood compared to kiln dried wood when they are planning on bending it. This is because of the moisture content of wood and how both air and a kiln will dry wood differently.

When using cold laminate bending you don’t need to soak wood overnight. This is because you are not bending a solid piece of thin wood but bending a lot of very thin strips of wood. These strips are very flexible by themselves, and you are bonding them together with glue after these strips have taken the bend. So once the glue dries it helps in retaining the bend in the thin piece of wood.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

How to bend thin plywood?

You can bend thin plywood using kerf bending the best. Since plywood is constructed by glueing together thin sheets of wood, you cannot cut thinner strips of plywood and join them together for cold bending. You cannot steam bend the plywood sheet without cutting it into pieces that fit into the steam box. However, with kerf bending you can make kerf cuts throughout the piece and then bend the whole sheet if you want to.

Can you bend thin wood with a heat gun?

You can bend thin strips of wood with a heat gun but not thin pieces of wood. Due to the nature of wood, the thin piece will be affected by the changing of seasons. The bend in the wood will contract and expand as it gets cold and hot. 

Is it better to bend thin wood with or without steam?

When it comes to bending thin wood, using steam is more of a waste of resources and time. You can bend thin wood with steam and it will produce the results you need. However, you will first need to soak the piece in water, and depending on the method of how the wood was dried, it might take more than a day for it to soak properly. After that, you need to steam it for a few hours and then insert it into a template for quite a while. Compared to that, cold or laminate bending takes half the time and does not require you to soak wood prior to bending it into shape using the jig.

Final Thoughts

Some people might find it surprising that bending wood would be possible, let alone there is more than one way to do it. When it comes to thin wood though, we feel our step-by-step guide is more than adequate to help you bend it. Bending thin wood can help you on several projects, and knowing the best way to do it will give you an edge. Hopefully, any questions you had about bending wood should be answered in this guide.

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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