How do I bend wood?

I’m planning on making something sort of complex, but the part that I need help on can best be described as a wooden tray, oval in shape and with about a 3 inch edge. So I need to find some wood (thin, obviously) that I can bend into either a full oval or do it in two parts… but I have no idea how to curve wood like that without breaking it. With no advice, I’d probably soak it in the bathtub for a while and try to bend it and let it dry, but that probably isn’t the way to do it. I know it works for making bracelets out of tongue depressors, but that is quite different.


Wood-workin people? How do I do this? What thickness of wood should I get?

I’ve seen Norm Abrams do this on “The New Yankee Workshop”. It involves building a steamer using PVC pipes. You steam the wood and QUICKLY put it into a pre-made form that will hold the pieces into the shape you want. You then put the whole thing into an oven and “bake” it. When you remove it from the form, it’s perfectly curved.

From the official site:

Steam is usually used on larger pieces- like the sides of ships. A lot depends on the type of wood. Here is a good place to start, but I can’t overstress: Be careful.


By the way, Opal, a LOT of what you see out there called “bent wood” is actually “bent plywood”. A form is built up, and very thin(hence easy to bend) pieces are glued to it, layer by layer, until a large thick piece of wood results. Manufacturers of really fine furniture with “bent” wood pieces will take a single piece of wood and “veneer saw” it, bend and re-glue it so it looks like the original piece of wood. A time consuming and laborious process, but well worth it in the results department. You can do the same thing by hanging out where veneers are used and picking up scraps, the little pieces can be bent to virtually any shape when warmed.


Just visit a lumber store, Im sure they have just what you need for materials & free info.

How did the Shakers bend wood into ovals for their famous boxes? That wasn’t plywood.

The proper term for the “plywood” that Billy Rubin referred to is “bent lamination”. Thin strips of wood glue up around a form to acquire a shape but unlike plywood the grain runs in the same direction. Requires a lot of clamps.

We watched a craftsman do this on a studio tour a few months ago. The wood, very thin like veneer, is immersed in very hot water for I think about three minutes. Then they remove it, bend it around a metal form, and quickly nail it together with tiny brads.

I just do it with my mind… I do spoons and forks too if you are interested.

I threw this together to help explain bent lamination. It is a photo series of a job I’m currently involved in. It’s a quickie lash up type tutorial, so don’t be too hard on me for it’s incompleteness. Bent lamination requires a lot of clamps, and is quite messy with all that glue.
A google search for techniques on how to build shaker boxes would be helpful too. Steam bending is best done with air dried stock, not kiln dried. Also plainsawn is best, not quartersawn.
Sorry I can’t offer too much more, but I really do need to get back to the bench.

Hi OpalCat!

I know they have made a lot of investments in this are in Finland.
I think it is called thermowood, in Finnish “lämpöpuu”. (If the letters are not seen properly = the second letter is an “a” with two dots and the fift letter is an “o” with two dots.

In France they sell wood that You can bend as You wish.

The process is that they worm up the wood to 200 - 300 degrees Celsius. If the temperature is taken down to normal within 3 - 6 hours, You get wood that acts as normal wood, except for that it does not take so much moisture from the air as usual wood. And that is very important when You make e.g. floors.

If You take out the wood when it is still very hot, it will be easy to bend.
The problem is that this kind of facility costs about 1 million dollars. And this makes the processed wood quite expencive.

Because I work with wood, mainly birch, I will try to get some more specific information about this.

If there is anyone of the readers in the wooden business, please send me an E-mail.

Tell him you want to have his baby. That’ll do it every time.

That’s what I thought; I vaguely remembered watching a craftsman make boxes at the Hancock Shaker Village in Massachusetts years ago. Wouldn’t this process work for Opal?

This page has very detailed instructions on building a Shaker box, and if you scroll down about 1/2 or 2/3 down the page he talks about how he bends the wood (using a tray full of boiling water).

Looks like a very complete site racinchikki.
Try those techniques Opal.
BTW, this type of work is advanced. It will take a long time to master.

How thin does the wood need to be to work with it this way? The oval will be about 18" x 12"

The link I provided says near the top (which, I’ll admit, you would miss if you scrolled down to the bending instructions), that the wood should be 1/10th to 1/16th of an inch thick.

Yeah but that technique isn’t really possible for me :confused:

Ask Uri Geller. :wink: :smiley:

I used to subscribe to a woodworking magazine and I think I read something about wood that had been longitudinally compressed, making it easier to bend because the wood fibres were slightly ‘crumpled’ like a paper fan, so the fibres on the outside of the bend simply unfurled, rather than having to stretch or snapping.

Veneers are available through Constantine’s, linked here.
I would advise against trying to steam bend thin lumber.
I recommend you buy some veneer and attempt a bent lamination.
You will have to build a form similar to what I illustrated in my pictures. A lot of clamps are required as well, but bent lamination seems more feasable for a beginer. I used paper on my bench, and then just let the mess happen. Throwing the paper away after is easier than trying to do this work in a neat way.

I have read this thread, and I’m not sure if all the readers/posters understand that bent lamination, and steam bending are different techniques.

Steam bending=wood (air dried preferably) is steamed or immersed in hot water until flexible, then clamped to a form to cool

Bent lamination=thin veneers (which are already flexible) are glued together onto a shaped form, and retain their shape when the glue dries