DIY Inspiration: How to Bend Wood for Furniture Making

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You can create some beautiful effects with bent wood.  But for most, the ability to do the bending itself seems beyond our level of DIY skill and often conjures up images of complicated, expensive machinery, and tools we just don’t have.

Fear not, friend.  There are some simple ways to get the job done, and plenty of folks out there on the Interwebs who are more than happy to show you how to do it.

As outlined in this article from Popular Woodworking magazine, two of the most popular methods are steam bending and cold bending.  Steam bending heats up the wood, softening up the natural substance  called lignin that holds the wood fibers together.  Once the lignin is soft, the wood can be bent (although it will still tend to break at places where the grain runs out of the wood).

You can DIY your own steam box to bend wood using this method, and there’s an Instructables user who goes by the name of nativewater who’s been building skin-on-frame kayaks for 25 years.  In his Instructable, he shows you how to make a DIY steam box for bending wood, and offers up some terrific shots of the beautiful results the method can produce.

If you’re looking to bend wood where the grain isn’t necessarily 100% parallel to the actual length of the wood, cold bending might be more your speed.  The tools are arguably simpler (a table saw, glue and some clamps will get it done) , there’s less spring-back the way there can be with steam-bent wood pieces, and from what we’re told, the finished product often ends up being more durable because rather than weakening the wood’s natural fibers the way steam does, cold bending incorporates strong adhesives, which in many cases are stronger and longer-lasting than what lignin offers.

Here’s a terrific video that outlines the process.  Note the important caveat in this video that the guard has been removed from the table saw, and that creates myriad safety issues.  But we assume that if you have your own table saw, you kind of know your way around operating it safely.

The full Instructable for the cold bending method simply shows the same video with a list of supplies you’ll need, and suggests using Gorilla Glue for the best bond.

Got other ideas? We’re all ears.

(Flickr image by Ctd 2005)

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