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How do I Bend Wood Beams?

Brenda Priddy

Bending wood beams is a fascinating process that works by saturating the wood with enough water so that it bends rather than breaks. This works best with thinner pieces of wood, but even thick beams can bend slightly with enough water saturation.

Wood beams can be bent into unique shapes.

This project can be dangerous, so take all safety precautions possible such as eye and hand protection.

  1. Make the shaped form to hold the beam on while it is drying. This form should be the same shape as the final shape that you want the beam. Glue enough pieces of fiberboard together to equal the width of the beam. Allow the glue to dry. Trace the shape that you want to bend the beam into onto the top piece of the fiberboard. Cut out the shape with the saw. Make sure to make smooth cuts. The two cut pieces should fit together like a puzzle. The two pieces placed above and below the beam will help shape the wood. Glue a thin strip of cork to either side of the fiberboard.

  2. Set up the steamer. Use a piece of PVC pipe long enough and wide enough for the beam to fit inside. Drill two or three holes into the PVP end cap so that steam can escape. Drill a hole into the other PVP cap large enough to slip the hose into. Seal the connection with duct tape.

  3. Slide the beam into the pipe. Attach the other end of the hose to the nose of the tea kettle where most of the steam escapes. Hold in place with duct tape. Plug the other end of the pipe.

  4. Pour water into the kettle. Heat the water in the kettle on a hot plate. Wait until the water heats up. When steam starts to leak out from the end of the pipe, you can start the countdown for steaming time.

  5. Steam the beam for one hour per inch of thickness. For a five inch thick beam, this equals about five hours of steam time. When the water level gets low in the tea kettle, stop the clock and refill the tea kettle. Start the timer again once steam starts to emerge again from the kettle.

  6. Remove the beam from the pipe after the allotted time. The beam will be hot, so wear thick gloves. Do not place your face near the opening to prevent getting burned.

  7. Place the end of the beam over one side of the form. Hold in place with clamps. Slowly pull and bend the other end of the wood down until it matches the shape of the form. Place the other side of the form on top of the beam. Release the first clamps. Attach large clamps over both sides of the form holding the entire unit together. Allow the wood to dry out for several days before removing it from the forms.