How to bend wood without a steamer?

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Forum topic by shifthappy6 posted 545 days ago 18724 views 0 times favorited 70 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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20 posts in 545 days

545 days ago

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

View sprucegum's profile


323 posts in 629 days

#1 posted 544 days ago

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


1964 posts in 908 days

#2 posted 544 days ago

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

View pwalter's profile


77 posts in 1216 days

#3 posted 544 days ago

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.

View Francisco Luna's profile

Francisco Luna

936 posts in 2025 days

#4 posted 544 days ago

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


803 posts in 742 days

#5 posted 544 days ago

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

View 404 - Not Found's profile

404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 1601 days

#6 posted 544 days ago

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

View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

1656 posts in 1554 days

#7 posted 544 days ago

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.

-- In God We Trust

View Loren's profile


7425 posts in 2280 days

#8 posted 544 days ago

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


View shifthappy6's profile


20 posts in 545 days

#9 posted 544 days ago

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?

View shifthappy6's profile


20 posts in 545 days

#10 posted 544 days ago

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

View a1Jim's profile


112015 posts in 2209 days

#11 posted 544 days ago

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.

-- Custom furniture

View Loren's profile


7425 posts in 2280 days

#12 posted 544 days ago

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


112015 posts in 2209 days

#13 posted 544 days ago

View DS's profile


2131 posts in 1052 days

#14 posted 544 days ago

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


2199 posts in 1790 days

#15 posted 544 days ago

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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