How to Soften Wood for Bending: 5 Best Ways to Bend Wood

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Wood bending is a crucial technique that has been used to create furniture such as tables, chairs, beds, cupboards, and rafters. However, you must understand how to soften wood for bending for better results. 

Fortunately, there are numerous techniques for bending wood, which I will detail in this article. Continue reading to learn more!

How to Make Wood Soft and Bendable in 5 Methods

Method #1: Bending Using Water

The most common way to soften wood for bending is by soaking it in boiling water. Get a pot, fill it with water, and heat it until the water boils the first step. 

After that, carefully insert the wood into the boiling water, allowing the water to permeate the wood fiber cells and create a soft, flexible material. 

However, I wouldn’t recommend boiling water if you are worried about the color of the wood. Additionally, hot water can discolor wood and harm its internal structure. 

Nevertheless, a lot of people prefer to soften wood for bending in boiling water since it preserves the wood’s shape, which is crucial for wood bending.

bending wood method using water



Method #2: Curving the Wood Using Chemicals

The wood can also be made more flexible for bending by spraying chemical agents like WD-40, ammonia-based treatment, or ammonia gas. By soaking the wood fibers in these chemical substances, which act as steam, the fibers become pliable and bendable.

The wood should be bent the day prior to the process, followed by the application of chemical sprays. It is crucial to carry out these steps in a well-ventilated area to prevent any potential adverse effects and to achieve the best possible outcomes.



Method #3: Bending with Kerf Cuts

Another way to soften wood is to make many cuts on the back of the piece, a technique known as “kerf cutting.” 

It is one of the best methods for softening wood without having any negative effects like wood discoloration. It only requires a few electric saw strokes on the back of the wood, not any soaking or steaming.

The wood becomes softer and more pliable as a result of those numerous cuts. The kerf-cutting technique, which doesn’t harm the interior and exterior structure of wood, can be used to soften too-thick timber and big chunks of wood.

bending wood using kerf cuts

It can also be used to soften any type of wood, including particle boards and synthetic wood. It’s possible to cut kerfs perpendicular to the kerfs. 

Alternatively, kerf cuts can be used to bend wood parallel. After you soften the wood after kerf cutting, just be sure to bend it as slowly as you can because doing so too quickly could cause the wood to split or crack.



Method #4: Curving the Wood Through Steaming

The following technique uses steam to soften the wood. Due to its simplicity and ability to soften wood without changing its shape, this method is widely used. 

The wood pieces only need to be placed in a hot, steamy, and humid environment, where the steam will loosen the wood fibers and make them pliable and soft.

Although it’s important to remember that you must work swiftly to bend them once you’ve taken them out of the chamber.

In contrast to kerf cutting, which requires progressively bending the wood, this technique is the opposite. The wood should be kept in the chamber for steaming once more if it is still too hard to bend.

Steaming woods

Soaking Time of Wood in Water Before Steaming

Before steaming, wood typically needs to soak for at least an hour before being removed and clamped to the form. The longer the wood soaks in the hottest water possible before heating, the easier it will be to work. 

Additionally, keep an eye on the temperature and soaking duration, and make sure that there is a gap for the steam to pass through and around the wood pieces.



Method #5: Bending Using Alcohol

The final technique involves soaking the wood in alcohol to soften it. Simply combine 50% alcohol and 50% water in a container, transfer the mixture to a spray bottle, and evenly apply the solution to the wood surface. 

The wood fibers become saturated with alcohol after being sprayed, softening both internally and outwardly.

There is no need to combine them with water if you plan to use rubbing alcohol. Use denatured alcohol instead of the 50-50 alcohol-water solution as it contains 94% alcohol, which is stronger. 

Before directly spraying the alcohol solution on the main project, consider using some scrap wood first because different types of wood have varying reactions to alcohol.

sanding bend woods



Why Do You Need to Make Your Wood Soft Before Bending It?

Since wood is firm and hard, you need to make your wood soft before bending it to prevent breakage, cracks, and splits. Wood will simply break apart, shred, and snap if you attempt to bend it without first softening it. 

I usually use a steam box to heat the wood, which helps the lignin—the stuff that makes wood rigid—loosen up. When that happens, you can pretty much shape the wood however you like without it falling apart on you.

Can You Use Vinegar to Soften Wood?

Yes, you can use vinegar to soften the wood. The wood fibers become saturated and pliable after being soaked in vinegar. Simply apply some white distilled vinegar to the wood and bend it freely without fear of breaking it.

How About Soaking Wood in Cold Water to Bend It?

Ah, cold water. Sounds like a tempting shortcut, doesn’t it? But I’ll save you the time and frustration: it doesn’t work. You see, lignin needs heat to soften up. You can either use hot water or, as I usually prefer, a steam box. Cold water just won’t cut it when you’re trying to bend wood.

bending woods

How Long to Wait Before the Wood Softens and Bends

Wood typically takes between one and three hours to soften and bends. Although it may change depending on the type of wood and the process, you use to soften the wood. Fresh, unseasoned wood often takes a long time to soften enough to bend correctly without breaking or cracking.

Suggested Readings

Tips & Tricks for Wood Bending

drying FamoWood 40022126
Test on Scrap Wood First


Is it possible to bend wood without a steam box?

Yes, it is possible to bend wood without a steam box. The best technique to bend wood without steam is through bent lamination. Another technique is kerf bending, and last but not least, direct heat can be used to bend wood without a steam box.


Wood bending is a good technique to reduce waste. So, learning how to soften wood for bending is essential, which includes using kerf cuts, boiling water, steam, alcohol, and chemical agents. These methods are guaranteed to be effective, efficient, and valuable for your woodworking.

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You've probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.
Robert Johnson

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