How to bend wood without a steamer?

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Forum topic by shifthappy6 posted 03-01-2013 09:19 AM 47049 views 0 times favorited 70 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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20 posts in 1906 days

03-01-2013 09:19 AM

Im new here but am a 32yr journeyman carpenter and woowoker. I am working on an old buffet, turning it into a kitchen island. My problem is the base around the bottom was less than stellar and needed to be replaced, the issue is that on the center front there is a simi round portion! (If pics will help i can try and post some) and I’m having trouble trying to bend thie 3/4×6 inch base that I bought to replace it. It is about a 32 inch radius and I need about a quarter of that radius. I do not have accesess to a steamer nor do I have the disire to try and make one that i’ll never use again. this base is fairley detailed so i dont think I can make relief cuts in the back deep enough to do any good. So if anybody has suggestions I’m open, please feel free.

BTW, if it makes any difference the wood i am trying to bend is Alder I think ;(

70 replies so far

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324 posts in 1990 days

#1 posted 03-01-2013 12:01 PM

Not a clue how to bend without steam or relief cuts but I have rigged up a steamer in the past using a metal 5 gallon bucket and the gas burner from my turkey fryer. All you really need is boiling water and a way to pipe the steam into a wooden steam box. I used a bucket that had a cover, I simply cut a hole in the cover the size I wanted and placed the steam box on top. It was a long box so I made the steam come into the center and supported the ends with sawhorses. Some folks use stove pipe or old furnace duct for the steam box. Sorry I have no pictures it was a one shot deal to bend some shafts for a one hoss sleigh. Like you steam bending was not something I wanted to do a lot of but the time and money to rig up a steamer this way is minimal.

-- A tube of calk and a gallon of paint will make a carpenter what he ain't

View kdc68's profile


2657 posts in 2270 days

#2 posted 03-01-2013 12:27 PM

Without knowing exactly what it is your trying to do, I suggest you look into this option…..Thin strip lamination. Build a form to the shape you want out of MDF. Make your thin strips extra long and wider than finished size. Apply glue to all layers and stack together like the layers of plywood. Apply to the form and start in the center and work out to the ends. You will need lots of clamps. The pieces will slip and slide some, but they are oversized so no worries there. Let cure for at least 24 hours before removing clamps. Cut to finished size afer the 24 hour dry time

-- Measure "at least" twice and cut once

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79 posts in 2577 days

#3 posted 03-01-2013 12:38 PM

I know you said you don’t have any desire to make a steam box. But a lot are just made out of PVC pipe with the ends capped off. It would literally take you 10 minutes. Any I am sure somewhere down the line you could reuse the PVC pipe. Just a suggestion.

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Francisco Luna

943 posts in 3386 days

#4 posted 03-01-2013 12:40 PM

make a plywood or MDF form with a tighter radio, because after gluing up several layers of 1/8” of an inch, they are going to spring off about 25%.

I hope that helps.

-- Nature is my manifestation of God. I go to nature every day for inspiration in the day's work. I follow in building the principles which nature has used in its domain" Frank Lloyd Wright

View JesseTutt's profile


854 posts in 2103 days

#5 posted 03-01-2013 02:19 PM

I have no experience with steam bending outside of taking a couple of classes. Both classes recommended air dried wood as easier to bend.

-- Jesse, Saint Louis, Missouri

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404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 2962 days

#6 posted 03-01-2013 02:30 PM

Make a form and and do a bent lamination, as kdc suggests. Probably the easiest thing to do.

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Jim Finn

2656 posts in 2915 days

#7 posted 03-01-2013 03:18 PM

I have made a form and did bent laminations using 3/16” thick straight grained oak. I soak the oak strips for 24 hours or more in water and run hot tap water over them to warm them up just before applying yellow glue and lots of clamping together to the frame. Remove from the frame after dry, this takes about 3 days…. in my experience.

-- Website is No PHD just a DD214 and a GED

View Loren's profile


10371 posts in 3641 days

#8 posted 03-01-2013 03:33 PM

I think maybe he is trying to bend a fancy moulding.

View shifthappy6's profile


20 posts in 1906 days

#9 posted 03-01-2013 03:39 PM

Thanks for all the quick responses, unfortunately I can not laminate do to the piece I’m use already has a detailed face. I have however built a form to wrap it around, tried soaking for several days! Did nothing at all to soften it up so it looks like I will be steaming after all. I do have a turkey fryer so I hope this works, I just have to make a new lid for it as I don’t want to cut a hole in this one :) how long should something like this steam? And then how long do I have to work with it before it starts getting hard again?

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20 posts in 1906 days

#10 posted 03-01-2013 03:41 PM

Thank you Loren, that is exactly what I am trying to do!

View a1Jim's profile


117083 posts in 3570 days

#11 posted 03-01-2013 03:50 PM

Some woods do not bend well. soaking in hot water and or steaming should work in a couple hours max depending on the thickness of the piece your working on. I think a photo would help. It might be something you just have to make a new piece for.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View Loren's profile


10371 posts in 3641 days

#12 posted 03-01-2013 04:01 PM

How big a bend, again?

You said 32” radius, which is a doable bend. Then
you said 1/4 of that, which is an 8” radius – which is a
pronounced bend you will not succeed with.

You can make a shallow steam bend just using muscle
to get it on a curved form.

View a1Jim's profile


117083 posts in 3570 days

#13 posted 03-01-2013 04:08 PM

View DS's profile


2916 posts in 2413 days

#14 posted 03-01-2013 04:14 PM

IT will take heat to get this thing bent…
The form is a good idea. I would also consider a metal strap clamped along the outside face to prevent expansion along the outside face. (flashing will work—clamped on the ends)

If you wet the piece and heat it with a heat gun as you add clamps to your form you should have good results.

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

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3151 days

#15 posted 03-01-2013 04:39 PM

I would saw kerfs into the back of the moulding and bend it. If the kerfs show at the top of the moulding, I’d bend a small piece of trim (or trim segments) to cap it. By using segments of the trim, you should be able to soak them, heat them to about 400 degrees in an oven, and then bend them in place over the work. Tape them down until dry, then glue down.

Look at the bindings in a guitar to see the principle of a kerfed binding.

-- jay,

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