How to Bend Wooden Dowels

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Being able to bend wood allows the creation of beautiful wood projects
Being able to bend wood allows the creation of beautiful wood projects (Image: furniture image by Luisafer from Fotolia.com)

Hobbyists and woodworkers sometimes need to bend wood to a custom shape in order to satisfy the needs of a particular project or to add an artistic touch to an otherwise ordinary piece of work. Being able to bend a wooden dowel to fit a specific need is a skill that every aspiring woodworker should develop. Although it does not require a lot of expertise, some preparation and practice is required in order to bend a wooden dowel without breaking it.

Things You'll Need

  • Wooden dowel
  • Steam chamber
  • Small wood scraps
  • Timer
  • Safety glasses
  • Leather gloves
  • Worktable
  • Clamps
  • Woodworker's jig or template

Select the wooden dowel that you wish to bend. Some types of wood bend easier than others. Some are very difficult to bend without breaking. Dowels with a long, straight grain are the easiest to manipulate.

Insert the wooden dowel into the steam chamber and use the wood scraps to lift the dowel off the bottom and away from the sides. This will help prevent it from coming into contact with condensed water on the walls of the chamber.

Close the chamber and turn on the steam source. Be certain to use a steam chamber that has a venting hole or pressure release valve to prevent excess buildup of air pressure.

Use a timer or stopwatch to keep track of how long the dowel is in the chamber. In general you should figure on about one hour of steaming time for each inch of thickness of the wooden dowel. Hardwoods such as oak will require more steaming time than softer woods like pine.

You will need to experiment to find the ideal steaming time for your type of wood and steam chamber.
You will need to experiment to find the ideal steaming time for your type of wood and steam chamber. (Image: minuteur image by Danielle Bonardelle from Fotolia.com)

Put on your safety glasses and leather gloves. Carefully open the steam chamber and remove the wooden dowel.

Take the wooden dowel to your worktable and immediately begin bending it into the desired shape. It is extremely helpful to have a template or jig against which you can bend the wood to the exact dimensions needed.

A professional-grade wood clamp is an essential part of any dowel bending project
A professional-grade wood clamp is an essential part of any dowel bending project (Image: need a clamp? image by Paul Moore from Fotolia.com)

Clamp the bent wood in place against the jig or template until it has cooled completely and retains its new shape.

Tips & Warnings

  • The wood will immediately begin to cool upon removal from the steam chamber. You will want to begin shaping your dowel as soon as possible.
  • Steam chambers can be built from household materials (see Resource).
  • The steam used when bending wood can cause severe burns. Always wear protective clothing and exercise extreme caution when working with and around the steam chamber.
  • Scalding-hot condensation will collect on the inside walls of the steam chamber; it is a good idea to tilt the chamber slightly and allow the condensation to drain through a hole into an outside container.
  • Your dowel will typically be very hot upon removal from the steam chamber. Always wear leather gloves when handling freshly steamed wood to avoid burns.

References

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