how do you bend veneer?

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Forum topic by harum posted 11-23-2016 01:10 AM 1544 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View harum's profile (online now)


304 posts in 1791 days

11-23-2016 01:10 AM

Hello, looking for tips on how to bend thin strips of hardwood (sapele, rosewood, purple heart, padauk, yellow heart). I’ve cut strips off different hardwood cut-offs for bending them into rings. The strips are around 1/32” thick, some just below 1/32”, some 2/3 of 1/32”, and 1” wide.

I boiled most of them for 15 min, and microwaved several in a wet paper towel for 30 sec to a minute.

I could only make one 1” diameter roll with a strip of ribbon sapele. All other strips of different woods broke or split—failed totally.

Was wondering about what I should fix. I can think of making thinner strips, or changing the cut direction (switch to face-sawn from quarter-sawn), or orienting a strip in a certain way for a stronger grain direction, or boiling for longer, or that my table saw-cut strips is no match to commercial veneer in bending properties.

I could roll some of the woods into 2” rolls, which is too wide for a ring. Any suggestion would be appreciated. Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving! H.

-- "If you're not counting the ripples when throwing pebbles in the water, you're wasting your time."

8 replies so far

View JAAune's profile


1838 posts in 2465 days

#1 posted 11-23-2016 05:09 AM

Veneer softener from Vacuum Pressing Systems might do the trick. I have the product but haven’t tried using it to get veneer to do severe bends. I’ve only used it to soften old, stiff veneer.

-- See my work at and

View runswithscissors's profile


2843 posts in 2173 days

#2 posted 11-23-2016 05:52 AM

I haven’t tried bending all the species you mention, but I suspect the culprit is the very quick cooling time with such thin strips. You don’t need moisture to bend, you need heat. I suggest you bend them around a hot cylindrical form—a rod or tube. You’ll have to work out how to heat the cylinder—torch, or whatever. If it’s solid metal, though, it should retain the heat for quite a while. Wear thick leather gloves.

I first ran into this on a very different project—bending thin ribs for a scale model of a small boat. When I tried steaming (or boiling) them in a kettle, they were cold by the time if got them to the project. I happened to be standing next to a hot stovepipe, discovered that it worked, and never looked back. I have since used “dry” heat in many projects, and it has almost always worked well for me. I often use a heat gun for my projects, but they are of a different scale than yours.

It’s true that not all species of wood respond well to heat bending, however.

-- I admit to being an adrenaline junky; fortunately, I'm very easily frightened

View harum's profile (online now)


304 posts in 1791 days

#3 posted 11-23-2016 06:52 AM

Thank you JAAune and runswithscissors! Will see if softener works for me; and try to steam new strips one at a time and roll them right away. Accidentally or not, the sapele strip that formed a nice tight roll without breaking was the first one I pulled from hot water after the heat was turned off. All other strips broke. The cooling down might be it. I’ve also read that some species require 30-40 min. boiling.

-- "If you're not counting the ripples when throwing pebbles in the water, you're wasting your time."

View dbray45's profile


3320 posts in 2925 days

#4 posted 11-23-2016 01:09 PM

Iron pipe from HD and a Bernzomatic torch. Heat the pipe by running the flame through the inside of the pipe. Start with a low flame and increase as needed.

Heating with water is problematic for wood, it will crack and split, steam is a much better way to go. If the veneer is composed of pieces glued together, heat and steam will fail the glue.

To make a solution to soften veneer, I have found a bunch of recipes. If you are using hide glue to glue up, 4 parts water, 1 part alcohol, 1 part glycerin should do it – spray it down and let it set for a few minutes. Adjust as you see fit and depending upon the thickness, may require more than one application.

Good luck

-- David in Damascus, MD

View OggieOglethorpe's profile


1276 posts in 2258 days

#5 posted 11-23-2016 01:16 PM

It’s common to bend stringing and banding around heated shafts, like the pipes mentioned above and soldering irons before inserting into the slot. I’ve never used liquid while doing this. I can get stringing down to about a pencil diameter without any twist.

I’ve never bent wide strips, but it seems like it would work. Too much heat may “toast” certain woods, like maple. This is how shading is accomplished. Practice on extra material if you’re not sure how much heat your material can take without changing color.

View dbray45's profile


3320 posts in 2925 days

#6 posted 11-23-2016 01:23 PM

Always practice on scrap. Make pieces to work out what is good for you.

-- David in Damascus, MD

View harum's profile (online now)


304 posts in 1791 days

#7 posted 11-23-2016 01:49 PM

David and Oggie! Appreciate your responses! Yes, cracking and splitting is what’s happened to my boiled strips during bending. Will look up the “heated shaft” technique.

-- "If you're not counting the ripples when throwing pebbles in the water, you're wasting your time."

View DS's profile


3001 posts in 2568 days

#8 posted 11-23-2016 02:51 PM

Luthiers commonly use a bending iron with a metal strap to heat the wood.

You can actually feel the moment the wood fibers relax under your fingers to make the bend.
Patience is the key to avoiding breakage – heating and bending a small section at a time.
Whenever I rush, I inevitably end up with lots of scrap wood.

The pipe and torch method above is good, but I use a cheap chinese-made electric bending iron.

I’ve tried most of the other methods mentioned above—Boil, Steam, Microwave—The temperature controlled electric iron works best for me. (And lots of patience)

-- "Hard work is not defined by the difficulty of the task as much as a person's desire to perform it.", DS251

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