How To Soften Wood For Bending? (5 PROVEN Methods!)

how to soften wood for bending

Wood bending helps to convert straight wood into a curved shape that’s important in making musical instruments, toys, crafts, carving, and many more. In order to make a wood bendable, it needs to be softened. So, let’s find out, How to soften wood for bending?

Here’s what I know:

You can soften wood for bending by soaking it in boiling water or steam, making multiple cuts (kerf cuts) on the back of the wood, or by spraying alcohol or WD-40. Apply clamps on wood to hold and soften the wood. Softened wood leaves to dry by clamping into a frame.

But there’s a lot more to know about how to soften wood for bending.

So, in this article, we’ll explore deeply the 5 best methods to soften wood for bending with the pros and cons of each method. Plus, I’ll answer some frequently asked questions as well.

Let’s dig in!

How Do You Make Wood Soft and Bendable?

There’re several ways of softening wood for bending. Each method is efficient and useful if you follow the correct procedure. Otherwise, the wood may tend to split or crack during the softening process.

Here are the best 5 methods to soften wood for bending.

  1. Soaking in boiling water
  2. Making kerf cuts
  3. Steaming
  4. Spraying alcohol
  5. Spraying chemicals

So, let’s discuss each of the above methods one by one with the pros and cons of each method to identify which method suits you perfectly to make the wood soft and bendable.

1. How To Soften Wood for Bending with Water?

Soaking wood in boiling water is the most popular method of softening wood for bending.

First of all, you need to find a pot with enough space to fit your wood. Then fill it with water as much as possible and heat it to boiling temperature.

Then place wood inside the boiling hot water carefully and let the process begins. Large wood pieces need more time to soften with boiling water.

Boiling water will go inside the wood fiber and make the fiber cells saturated. Water will soak the wood fibers and make them soft and flexible. This will make the wood wet from both inside and outside.

You must be really careful with this method. Because, if you cannot boil water after filling up the pot, you may have to boil water somewhere else and add it to the pot when it’s boiling. It could splash or overflow the pot and can get in contact with your skin. Therefore, wear gloves and find a way to boil water when they’re already inside the pot.

Plus, hot water can damage the inside structure of the wood. for example, hot water can cause discoloration of the wood. Therefore, if you are concerned about the color of the wood, I do not recommend softening the wood with boiling water.

If the wood is not straight-grained, never use boiling water to soften them. Because you’ll probably end up with cracked or splintered wood.

People still like to use boiling water to soften wood for bending because it doesn’t cause to loss of the wood shape. Keeping a steady shape is so important in wood bending.

In a conclusion, here’re some pros and cons of softening wood for bending with water,

Pros And Cons of Using Water to Soften Wood For Bending

ProsCons
Doesn’t lose wood shapeChange the wood color
Make the wood flexibleIf the wood is not straight grain
Process is easyWood can be cracked or broken
Soften wood from both inside and outsideNot good for expensive woods
Cheap method 

So, let’s look for another one of the best methods to soften wood for bending by making kerf cuts.

2. How To Soften Wood for Bending with Kerf Cuts?

You can soften wood for bending by making multiple cuts on the back of the wood which is also known as the kerf cutting method.

Kerf cutting is one of the most effective ways of softening wood without having any drawbacks to the boiling water method like discolorations of the wood.

Kerf cutting needs no soaking or steaming. Make multiple cuts on the back of the wood with an electric saw. Those multiple cuts make the wood soften and ready for bending.

Kerf cutting makes the wood flexible to bend. Too thick wood and large wood pieces can be softened by the kerf cutting method which does not damage the wood interior and exterior structure.

Any kind of wood can be softened by the kerf cutting method. Including manufactured wood and particle boards.

Try to make kerf cuts perpendicular to the kerfs. But if you cannot cut kerfs perpendicular that’s totally fine. Bending wood parallel is also possible with kerf cuts.

Make sure to bend the wood slow as possible after you soften the wood after kerf cutting. If you the bending faster the wood may likely be cracked. Therefore, bend carefully with more focus to avoid cracking.

In a conclusion, here’re some pros and cons of softening wood for bending with Kerf cuts,

Pros And Cons of Making Kerf Cuts to Soften Wood for Bending

ProsCons
Doesn’t lose wood shapeNeed radial saw or miter saw
Make the wood flexibleMultiple cuts can damage the wood
Doesn’t change the wood colorWood can be cracked or break and should bend slowly
Able to soften any kind of wood 
No soaking is needed 
Able to soften thick and large wood pieces 
No waiting time 
User friendly 

3. How To Soften Wood for Bending with Steaming?

You can soften wood for bending by steaming it with water and it’s popular because it doesn’t change the wood shape during the softening process.

Place the wood pieces in a chamber that’s very hot, steamy, and humid. Then let the softening process happens.

Steaming loosens up the wood fibers and water molecules will go inside the fiber cells and make them saturated. As a result, the wood piece will be softened and flexible. Overall softening wood with steaming is almost similar to softening wood with boiling water method.

After keeping wood pieces inside the chamber for a long time, take them out and try to bend them quickly. If they’re still too hard to bend, keep them again in the chamber for any try on another time.

As you noticed in the steaming method, you’ll have to bend the wood quickly as soon as they take out of the chamber. Yes, that’s true. In the kerf cutting method, you should do the opposite by bending slowly.

Honestly bending quickly is one of the main drawbacks of the steaming method, because quick bending can cause wood to crack and break.

In a conclusion, here’re some pros and cons of softening wood for bending with steaming,

Pros And Cons of Using Steaming to Soften Wood for Bending

ProsCons
Doesn’t lose wood shapeNeed hot, humid chamber
Make the wood flexibleQuick bending can damage the wood
Doesn’t change the wood colorHigh waiting time
Soften wood from both inside and outside 

4. How To Soften Wood for Bending with Alcohol?

Add 50% of alcohol and 50% of water to a container and mix them well. Then pour the solution into the spray bottle and spray all over the wood surface until it softens.

Or you can put denatured alcohol into a spray bottle and do the spraying to soften the wood. Denatured alcohol contains 94% alcohol which is stronger than the 50-50 alcohol-water solution.

When you’re spraying alcohol, it will soak into the wood fibers and make them saturated. This makes the wood flexible and softens wood internally and externally.

However, make sure to spray prepared alcohol on scrap wood before directly spraying on the main project, because some woods react differently with alcohol. Scrap wood must need to be from the same wood type as the wood of the main project.

Tip:

You don’t need to mix alcohol and water if you use straight rubbing alcohol. Because they already have the ideal alcohol-water ratio.

In a conclusion, here’re some pros and cons of softening wood for bending with alcohol,

Pros And Cons of Using Alcohol to Soften Wood for Bending

ProsCons
Doesn’t lose wood shapeCan damage the wood due to alcohol
Make the wood flexibleAn experiment is needed before the application
Doesn’t change the wood colorSoaking is needed
Soften wood from both inside and outsideOver application can leave wood with watermarks.
Less waiting time 

5. How To Soften Wood for Bending with Chemicals?

Spray wood with chemical agents to soften wood for bending. Ammonia-based treatment is good to use as chemicals to soften the wood. Or you can use ammonia gas to soften the wood. ammonia gas acts as steam. It soaks the wood fibers and makes them flexible and bendable.

Other than that, you can use WD-40 to soften the wood. Spray WD-40 all over the wood surface and make the wood fibers saturated. This will eventually soften the wood. Better to spray WD-40 the day before bending the wood to get the best results.

Make sure to soften wood for bending with chemicals in a well-ventilated area. Because they’ve harsh chemical agents.

Like the alcohol method, test the project with scrap wood before heading into the main project.

In a conclusion, here’re some pros and cons of softening wood for bending with chemicals,

Read: How To Use Mineral Spirits On Wood? (6 EASY Steps!)

Pros And Cons of Using Chemicals to Soften Wood for Bending

ProsCons
Doesn’t lose wood shapeCan damage the wood due to chemicals
Make the wood flexibleAn experiment is needed before the application
Soften wood from both inside and outside 
No waiting time 
Expensive method 

That’s it, folks! That’s how to soften wood for bending with the most simple and accurate methods.

So, let’s answer some frequently asked questions as well.

Does Vinegar Help Soften Wood?

Yes, Vinegar help to soften the wood. Vinegar soaks into the wood fibers and makes them saturated. This makes the wood flexible.

You can easily bend wood using vinegar.

How Long Does It Take Wood to Soften and Bend?

The average take that takes wood to soften and bend is around 1 – 3 hours. But this can vary according to the wood type and the method you follow to soften the wood.

If the wood is fresh and raw, it typically takes a long time to soften. Patience is the key to softening and bending the wood perfectly without cracking or breaking the wood.

Did I cover all you wanted to know about: How to Soften Wood for Bending?

In this article, we have discussed the top 5 methods to soften wood for bending. We have talked about how to soften wood for bending with boiling water, steam, alcohol, and chemical agents and by making kerf cuts.

As a woodworker, I prefer of using the kerf cut method and the steaming method to soften wood for bending. Because those methods are easy to use and have less waiting time compared to other methods. But overall, all 5 methods are great in their own ways.

Furthermore, I’ve answered some frequently asked questions regarding softening wood for bending as well.

Hope you have gained good knowledge about how to soften wood for bending. Practice the things you have learned with scrap wood and then go for the main project. because practice makes you perfect!


About Walter Parker

Walter Parker is a father and woodworking enthusiast. He is passionate about woodworking projects & plays with woodworking tools having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Woodworking Planet. He wants to make people love woodworking!

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