As a woodworker, you spend a lot of time and effort in making great pieces of furniture, toys or some other stuff. The most of your tasks require making things straight, but some other projects will require different methods like bending wood. It is natural that you move on to advanced techniques as you widen the scope of your creativity and develop your skills.
“The feel and beauty of finely crafted wood…the refreshing smell of your workshop…the absorbing joy of cutting and joining that makes the hours race by… These are the reasons you love woodworking.” says Jack Neff, author of “Make Your Woodworking Pay for Itself”.
In this article, we will show you that there are several techniques for forming wood into curves. We will look at three methods such as microwave, kerf-cut, and steam bending. It will be easy for you to decide which one is best for the job you need to do after reading our article.
If you want to know more all you have to do is read on.
1. Microwave Bending
We must say that this microwave bending is the only modern woodworking technique that we will mention. As you probably know it is easier to manipulate with the thin and small piece of wood. Therefore, it’s a very easy process bending it with the use of this kitchen appliance.
For all purposes and intents, this technique is also a steam bending but in more manageable and much quicker way. When microwaving, to generate steam, you must wrap the piece of wood in a wet paper towel and put it in your kitchen device.
Set it on high.
The heating time will vary depending on the thickness and the size of the lumber you want to bend.
You also can experiment a little to find out what will work best for your project.
To understand the heating requirements, you will need some practice and to be very comfortable when using it.
It is best to start out with some easier projects that are not so important to you. Heat the lumber for 25 seconds and test to see how pliable it is at that time. If it is not enough, just repeat this action until you are satisfied with the results.
2. Kerf-Cut Bending
Kerf-cut bending is a technique for flexibility that is geometric and simple. It can become increasingly malleable as selective portions are removed, as long as the material can maintain its internal structure.
‘’Kerfing is in simple terms the act of cutting a series of kerfs (cuts) in a piece of wood nearby, so it can be curved. It is important not to make the cuts too deep, resulting in the lumber cracking entirely through, or not deep enough so instead of bending, it snaps. The wood needs to be cut to the point that the remaining fibers are free to flex.
You can only kerf by crosscutting- you cannot kerf with the grain as the likelihood of the workpiece splitting is huge. This doesn’t have to be solid stock either – you can kerf whole sheets and bend entire panels. However, it is very dependent on the type of wood, the moisture content, the relative humidity, the width of the blade, etc.’’ according to The West Virginia Blogger.
3. Steam Bending
It is the easiest and most popular way to bend wood. Depending on the thickness of it, steam bending can be a lengthy process. On average, for every inch of thickness in one piece, it will take you one hour of steaming.
Make sure to wear leather builders’ gloves, because the steam is hot. So, be careful not to hurt yourself while doing on your project.
According to Learn Steam Bending, this is the equipment you will need to use for this woodworking method:
“A steam-maker. Any way of boiling water and venting/piping the steam into a steam chamber. A $20 electric ‘wall paper stripper’ is very convenient, but you will also find many other good solutions. You can also boil or microwave the wood if possible/practical with great success.
Steam chambers. Really anything to contain the steam which you can get the lumber into.
Plastic pipes are great (be aware PVC gets soft when hot), plywood boxes are good, we make boxes of 50mm foam lined with thick polyethylene as they can be any size and very well insulated as we sometimes work outside.
Lids, racking, faceplates, venting pipes, etc. can all be added if desired.
Jigs. A ‘jig’ is a generic term for a tool made for a particular purpose, and for steam-bending, these are almost always home-made. If you are starting out, for a ‘bending form’ (a jig to bend around) find something solid with a radius similar to what you want (a spare wheel, stone pillar, lamppost!) or cut the shape (-15% of the final desired radius) from plywood.
Clamps. These are normally ‘G-Clamps. If you are starting out, I recommend buying at least one decent square threaded G-clamp such as by Bessy and other cheaper ones for holding the wood in place. As you make ‘jigs,’ you may start to use wedges to clamp the lumber which is very fast, effective and cheap.
Compression Strap. Only needed for tighter bends or thicker wood. This is normally a piece of >1mm thick steel secured to the ends of the hot lumber, on the outside of the bend. As wood will break (snap) in tension before (kinking) in compression, a compression strap which does not allow the lumber fibers to stretch at all enables bends to be much tighter.”
As you already read, there are three bending methods that you need to learn to develop your skills. As you widen the scope of your creativity you will move on to these advanced procedures and with some practice become better at it. We hope that our article helped you to learn more about these techniques and to decide which is the best one for you and your projects.