Though most woodworking projects can be done with straight wooden boards, every once and a while, you need to use curved wood or bent wood to give a finished product that unique and eye-catching look and design.
Depending on your means or preference, there are several different techniques you can employ to bend wood. In this piece, we look at how to bend wood while specifically focusing on three distinct wood bending methods.
Using the Steam Box Technique
When steam bending wood, you first need to set up a steam box that holds the wood while it is being steamed. A steam box can either be a wooden box that you construct yourself or simply a piece of some sort of piping. Whatever sort of box you use, it needs to have a hole that you can pump steam into as well as a hole that allows steam to escape from the box so that the box does not blow up.
After you set up your steam box, you need to construct a form. This form will hold the wood after it is steamed. Once the wood dries, it will maintain the shape of the form. During the form constructing process, you will likely need clamps (which you can either make yourself out of wood or buy) so that the wood is properly secured into the form.
Next, you can actually begin steaming the wood. Simply turn on the heat, place the wood inside the chamber, and begin steaming. As a general rule, the wood should be steamed for about an hour per inch of thickness.
Finally, after the wood is steamed, remove it from the box and place it in the form until it is completely dry. You will need to be especially careful during this process to ensure that the wood does not snap. Place the wood gently into the form and secure the clamps.
Using the Lamination Technique
The first step to making curved wood using the lamination method is to prepare the wood. It is important to note that when you cut your wood strips, they should be longer than your intended final measurement as bending them will shorten their length.
After cutting your wood strips, you will want to line your form with cork liner. This will help to secure the lamination to the form as well as smooth out any irregularities.
The next step is to spread glue on top of one of the wood strips. This glue is vital to the wood maintaining its curved shape. Now, there are two things to keep in mind during the glue dispensing process. One, you will want to use a disposable roller to apply the glue to the wood. Two, you will want to avoid using typical wood glue, as this will set softly and quickly, which is not what you want for this type of project. Consider using either an epoxy or urea-formaldehyde glue.
Once the glue is applied, you will then want to place the wood in the form. Make sure to do this quickly, before the glue sets. Depending on how thick you want the finished product to be, you can add as many glue-covered wood strips to the form as you like. When you have the right level of thickness, clamp the strips into the form and wait until the glue is dry before cutting the ends of the strips into your preferred measurement.
Using the Kerf Cutting Technique
Kerfing is a bending technique that involves cutting grooves, which are known as kerfs, into a piece of wood. It is crucial that these kerfs are deep enough to shape the wood (though not too deep that the wood breaks) as well as evenly spaced apart.
After you carefully make your cuts via power saw, you will then want to construct a U-shaped jig that will help to effectively bend your wood piece. Cut a U shape from a scrap piece of wood. Place the cutout on top of the kerfed piece of wood and underneath the kerfed piece should be the U-shaped jig. Clamp all three of these pieces together and let them sit overnight. Your wood should have formed inside of the U-shaped jig, creating your bent piece of wood.
To hide the cuts, you made to your piece, you should glue a veneer on the front side of it.
Choosing the Wood Bending Technique That Works Best for You
Whether you are bending plywood or mahogany, there are a number of things you should take into account before jumping headfirst into that wood bending project. Most importantly, you want to consider your exact purpose for bending the wood. Do you need the wood to be especially sturdy? Then consider either steaming or laminating the pieces, since cutting into a piece of wood will weaken it. On the other hand, kerfing a piece of wood tends to make it more flexible.
The type of wood you are bending also makes a difference as do the materials that you have on hand as well as your expertise level. Like with any woodworking process, be sure to do plenty of research to determine the method that will work best for you.