How to Bend Wood with Steam at Home: 4 Easy Steps

How to bend wood? Curved wood gives a piece of furniture an ultra decorative note and a look as elegant as it is original. Seeing this type of furniture, many hobby carpenters wondered how it was achievable. 

If you want to get started, know that you have at your disposal different techniques for bending wood. Here are some tips and tricks for a good result.

How to bend wood at home in details?

List of equipment:

  • Wooden board not too thick (5mm seems to be a maximum)
  • Heat gun
  • 5 m of cord
  • Webbing
  • A free workbench
  • A garden sprayer filled with water

Even amateur carpenters may need to bend wood to make a piece of furniture, for example. If you are more used to working straight-shaped pieces of wood, it is a bit more complicated and a little hardware will be needed.

By being patient, methodical and precise, you should achieve this without a problem.

To bend wood, you must first learn to master certain tools. It is recommended that you experiment with small pieces of wood before embarking on the big adventure. You will be more confident and more precise.

Choose the right wood: the wood you are going to bend must be of good quality and must not have any knots or cracks. The risk would be to break the fibers completely during this curvature work.

The fibers of the wood should be as straight as possible.

Bending is always done in the direction of the grain of the wood. What is the grain of the wood? It is the direction of the sap in the tree which goes up from the stump towards the top or the direction of its fibers.

You see it by putting a solid wood plank in front of you, these are the horizontal lines.

How to bend wood with steam box?

1st step: assemble your steam box

The steam box can come in different forms: a PVC pipe or another pipe or a wooden box that you have made to contain the wood that will be bent. 

Your box must contain a hole which will be useful for pumping the steam. Another hole must be made which will serve as an outlet so that the box does not risk exploding under the pressure exerted by the steam.

For the best result, the drain hole must be positioned so that it faces the ground. Under the effect of the steam pressure, the water will be pushed out of the box more easily.

2nd step: making the mold

This is the mold that keeps the heated wood in the shape you choose. Once the wood is dry, it retains its shape.

It must be remembered that fixing the wood with clamps to the mold is often necessary. You can make your own wooden clamps or buy them in the store.

Try to find circular scraps of wood, then drill an off-center hole, pass a screw through this hole and drill another hole on the side you use as a lever to close the clamp. You thus have a clamp which will be effective.

3rd step: vaporization of the wood

Turn on the heat source of your choice, lock the wood inside the box and start the steam. You will spray the wood for an hour on average when your wood is 2.5 cm thick.

4th step: place the wood in the mold

Once sufficient time has elapsed, you must remove the wood from the box and place it in the mold. Perform this operation very quickly after removing the wood from the steam box. Leave this until the wood is completely dry.

Bend the wood gently with care, some types of wood are more elastic and depending on the cut they take more or less force. It would be a shame to break the board during folding.

As soon as the wood is in place, secure it with the clamps. You can also attach it little by little during the shaping operation. Try both methods to see which one works best. The second is perhaps more easily controllable.

how to bend wood

Hot (or steam) Bending Tips:

This technique is little used because it requires very specific and very expensive tools: An oven.

The process consists of placing the pieces of wood to be bent in the oven for several hours, the heat and steam will then relax the fibers of the wood making them very flexible.

Once the parts are out, they can then be easily “modeled” on a mold made beforehand.

The wood will thus keep the shape it was given when cooling (the fibers stiffening again).

The luthiers on the other hand use a variant to bend the ribs (sides) of violins or guitars.

They heat the wood (previously moistened) by applying it to a kind of cast iron cylinder heated to high temperature, which causes the same effect of loosening the fibers of the wood.

Cold Bending Tips:

This bending method does not bend solid wood, only sheets of wood or bendable plywood.

However ! It is the easiest to implement and it gives excellent results.

The technique is simple, we glue several layers of bendable plywood (depending on the desired thickness) on a mold.

The main drawback is that one cannot therefore use solid wood, which means that the plywood must be veneered with a sheet of wood in order to obtain a nice final appearance.

Some people prefer to replace plywood with thin layers of solid wood (called glulam, these will be flexible enough to bend over a mold).Others, like Pierre Renart  even use carbon fiber as a structure instead of the traditional bendable plywood!

The use of such composite materials makes it possible to have very thin thicknesses and enormous resistance.

Bending with glued laminated timber

1st step: preparing the wood to be bent

Cut the wooden planks to a length longer than you want. The curvature will in fact reduce this length.

Before you start, draw with a ruler and a pencil, a diagonal at the bottom of the boards. This way you will know in which order your planks will be lined up, it can be useful if they change order or fall.

Cut the wooden planks in the direction of the grain. This then allows you to assemble the wooden planks without discontinuity.

2nd step: cover your mold with a thin cork coating

Cork offers you the possibility of fixing the glued laminated timber in the mold. It also makes it possible to remove irregularities in the sawn mold so that the bending is sharper.

3rd step: apply the glue

Spread the glue on the top side of one of the wood planks, they will hold the wood in the folded shape.

  • Use a disposable roller to spread the glue on the wood.
  • Use the right kind of glue, there are two kinds including: formaldehyde glue which gets very hard, but dries slowly. Epoxy is a very effective glue, but expensive. Standard wood glue for curved glulam is not recommended, however normal wood glue dries quickly and does not harden, so it is ideal for these projects.
  • Place the wood in the mold very quickly before the glue sets. Cover it with a wooden board covered with glue. Repeat this process until you get the desired thickness. Hold the parts with the clamp. Once the glue is dry, trim the ends to be the correct length.

Bending wood with grooves

how to bend wood

1st step: preparing the wood

Dig the grooves or saw cuts, their depth is 2/3 of the thickness. They should be located inside the curve you are going to form. Too deep grooves can cause the wood to break.

  • The grooves must be spaced very evenly, this is what then allows you to bend the wood. Place them 1.3 cm apart.
  • Always cut against the grain, if you cut in the grain, the wood may split more easily.

2nd step: compression of the extremities

Compress your ends to tighten the spaces created by the grooves. This represents the shape that the wood takes after the job is finished.

3rd Step : fix the bend

Cover the exterior face of the wood with a wood veneer or imitation wood. Not only does this operation make it possible to fix the shape and to hide any notches made during the realization.

To disguise the grooving, mix wood filler or sawdust with glue and fill in the remaining spaces in the bentwood.


Whichever method you use, the wood will sag once you remove it from the mold. Take this into account and exaggerate the camber of the mold to compensate for the effect.

The kerf method can also be used to bend the angles of metals or section tubes.

Also Read : How to Bend PVC Pipe ? PVC Pipe Bending Tools
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