You’re no novice when it comes to bending wood and although bending wood with steam is your usual go-to, there are other techniques, but you’re yet to try them out. You perform your research and see that apart from the steam route wood can be bent using lamination and kerf-cutting techniques.
Yet, a question remains. What are the top three wood species for bending without steam, and why are they the best? Some wood species do not bend easily around tight curves without breaking. Bending with steam especially makes matters worse.
Oak is your best bet for bending without steam. The prominently straight pattern and coarse texture gives it its excellent bending quality. Mahogany and Walnut are two other species that bend remarkably well without steam.
Oak, Mahogany, and Walnut and how they perform when bending wood without steam will be discussed to a great length in this article. We’ll explore the features that earn them the right to the top spot. We’ll also give you a reasonable estimate of how much they cost and point you in the right direction where to find them.
So, make sure you digest all the information we have packed, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a wood-bending genius.
Top Three Best kinds of wood for Bending Without Steam
Here are the top three wood you should consider when it comes to bending without steam
Why is Oak sitting at the top of the list? Well, the answer to this question is traceable to its plastic-like properties which are far greater when you compare it to other species. It is ring-porous and has a coarse texture, not to mention that it is a strong hardwood that bends with little or no compression or tension failures.
These qualities make it nearly impossible to break when bending with lamination, kerf cutting, or other techniques asides from steam. Additionally, the likelihood of experiencing a spring back after turning is also minimal with Oak.
This naturally beautiful hardwood used in making furniture, flooring, joinery, paneling, and many other projects comes in more than 600 species and is native to the Northern Hemisphere, i.e., many deciduous and evergreen trees spread across Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Europe. Of these areas, North America has the highest number of oak species.
The two commonly used species in the industry are red and white oaks. Red oaks are found in the eastern and central United States and southeast and south-central Canada. In contrast, white oaks are found in these regions and South and South Atlantic states.
This hardwood is known for its incredible strength and density. It is also solid and long-lasting. It is known for its high tannin content that confers resistance to damage by moisture, rot, insect, and fungal infestations. It is also less likely to wear or tear.
You’ll find that the color varies across and within species. Averagely, White Oak tends to have light brown to olive hues while Red Oak species incline towards slightly paler and redder shades. Its natural beauty can be enhanced with finishes like stain and polish, which it accepts very well. Due to its high tannin content, it may not take oil finishes well.
White Oak is a close-grained wood with a relatively straight pattern, while red Oak is open-grained. Red Oak is not as resistant to rot or insect infestation as white and is suited for indoor applications. However, both are hard, relatively easy to work with, and bend splendidly.
One of the highly valued and priced lumber types, Oakwood, is commonly available as quartersawn lumber. With its features, looks, and functionality, it is not surprising to find oakwood priced around $1505 to $2520 per cubic meter.
N.B: White oak species are slightly costlier than the red ones.
Here we have another interesting wood species you can bend without steam. Mahogany has a relatively straight grain and is finely textured; hence, bent lamination is an excellent approach. It reduces the risks of spring back or bending failure.
So, where does Mahogany come from? Well, it’s a close-grained hardwood of the chinaberry family. It belongs to the genus Swietenia and has three species: Honduran, Cuban, and Swietenia humilis. They are found in Mexico, Brazil, Peru, other Central and South American countries, and the Caribbean.
These three species are genuine types of Mahogany. Other true mahoganies include African, New Zealand, Pink, Indian, and Chinese mahoganies.
The wood’s color ranges from yellow, red, pink, to brown. Mature mahogany wood has a rich reddish-brown color which deepens over time. Also, you’ll notice that Mahogany is either fine, straight, or uniform-grained. This hardwood is solid and dense. It is less likely to be affected by rot and insect attack.
Mahogany species are highly valued for their aesthetic quality, fine texture, durability, and rich color. They are excellent to work with. It is stable, less likely to warp, and very solid. They are used for paneling, cabinets, boats, furniture, and musical instruments.
However, it is sad that Mahogany is listed as a vulnerable species. It has been overexploited and is at the risk of extinction. Most species are protected by law and are increasingly difficult to obtain.
Mahogany wood is highly sought-after and so highly-priced. The price varies between $6 to $28 per board foot, ten times higher than similar wood types. Better grades of Mahogany are more pricey.
Lumber from Walnut is another option that bends quite well without steam. This is because the grain runs in a relatively straight line. It delivers excellent results with kerf cutting and bent lamination techniques.
This wood species is obtained from deciduous trees native to the temperate regions. Most species of Walnut of the genus Juglans are European or American Walnuts. Non-Juglans species include the African, Caribbean, Chinese, and New Guinean Walnuts. The English Walnut and the Black Walnut are commonly used for wood projects of all the available species.
This hardwood is very dense, solid, and resilient. It is prone to damage from insect attacks, but it can resist decay, warping, and shrinkage. It responds well to both hand tools and machines. It poses little difficulty with carving, turning, and profiling.
English Walnut trees are located in parts of Western Asia and Eastern Europe. Also, lumber from the heartwood of English Walnut trees has colors alternating between light brown to dark chocolate colors streaked with even darker shades of brown. Sometimes, they may have red, purple, or gray colors. The sapwood, on the other hand, appears nearly white.
The Black Walnut is one of the industry’s popular and highly preferred hardwood. It is distributed around regions in the Eastern United States. Its heartwood alternates between light pale brown colors to darker hues of chocolate or coffee. In contrast, the sapwood ranges from pale blond to yellow-gray.
The color of lumber of this type depends on the species and part of the wood it was gotten. Unlike other types of hardwood whose colors darken with age, Walnut wood becomes lighter with time for several reasons such as exposure to the sun, steaming, and other processes.
Walnut wood has a straight grain and is uniformly textured, but sometimes the grain can be irregular. The grain may be figured with curly, burl, or crotch patterns. It has distinct growth rings in its end grain and is slightly porous. It is moderately easy to work with. It accepts stains, glues, and other finishes well.
Walnut wood is an expensive species compared with other hardwood. Black Walnut, for example, costs between $2 and $38 per board foot.
Walnut wood is not listed as a vulnerable species but is very likely to be listed in the near future. It is used in making furniture, interior paneling, floorings, small decorative items, and similar projects.
How to Soften Wood for Bending?
Timber in its natural state may not easily bend without steel straps for support or the wood fracturing. This is why softening is essential to ease the process of turning. It makes the wood more elastic to facilitate the process of bending.
Wood is usually softened by steaming. Other softening methods include the application of dry heat, immersion in boiling water, and chemical impregnation. Each has its downsides.
Dry heat puts wood at risk of excessive drying and, subsequently, checking. Immersing wood in boiling water requires more heat and more re-drying periods. Chemical impregnation has been confirmed to be effective in softening wood.
Steaming entails preheating the wood in a steaming chamber. But this has to be done at atmospheric pressure and one hour per 25mm of the lumber’s thickness.
You must be careful to avoid over softening the piece of wood, or else it will lose its strength and integrity. Another caution is to prevent steaming for more extended periods. This makes the wood very liable to shrink, check, and warp due to the increase in its moisture content.
How To Select Wood for Bending
One way to reduce bending failures is to select from good stock. When choosing a species, the wood’s bending ability, appearance, color, weight, and availability in the market must be considered and the proposed use. These are why species like Oak, Mahogany, and Walnut have been rated the top wood types for bending without steam.
Grains that are relatively straight and uniform are suitable for bending. Lumber with interlocking grain or knots do not turn well and should be avoided.
There is not one level of moisture in wood deemed optimal for bending. But experts recommend that lumber should have between 20-25 percent moisture content, as this is the range where most species curve excellently.
Besides steam bending, other wood techniques deliver excellent results with specific wood species. The top of which is Oak, with Mahogany and Walnut closely behind. These hardwoods have straight grains and turn quickly with kerf cutting and bent lamination. With any of these, you are sure to get those curves and turns nicely done without minimal damage.