Should I Steam Oak before Bending It?
Issue: Issue 341
Posted Date: 12/17/2013
I am going to build a headboard for my bed using two 4"X4" oak posts and 3/4" oak veneered plywood. The top of the plywood will have a slight arc from post to post. My question is, what's the best way to cap the raw edge of the arced plywood? My original plan was to cut a dado in a piece of solid oak and steam bend it to match the arc. Is it possible to bend a length of wood that has been dadoed? Is there a much simpler way to finish the plywood edge? I feel I'm over thinking this but I'm not sure. Thanks in advance. - Chris27
Tim Inman: I think you're overthinking this one. If you are just wanting to hide the core plys of the plywood you're using, here's what I would do: Cut a strip of oak about 1/4-inch thick. Wood this thin can be bent around that curve. Apply glue and "pin nail" the wood to the plywood to hold it in place while the glue sets. If you are just the least bit tricky when you drive the pin nails, you can spot them into the coarse wood grain of the oak. Grind a tiny punch which just fits the size and shape of your pins. Use it to countersink the pins if needed. Later on, during finishing, you can fill and hide these little dimples so they are virtually undetectable. (Hint: A triangular or oval-shaped pin punch makes an easily hidden countersink. Use it selectively to follow the natural direction and shape of the wood grain. Revealing this information is a violation of the Wood Finishing Magician's Union code of ethics, but you need to know about it, and it works.)
Chris Marshall: If the arc is gradual and the top "cap" piece of oak is less than, say, 3/8-in. or so thick, I don't think I'd go to the effort of steam-bending it. I'd cut the dado, bend it gently around the plywood with a generous bead of glue applied and squeeze the two together with lots of clamps. If anything, the dado will make the oak more flexible and easier to bend, and it will also hide the edges of the plywood. For a thicker cap, however, steam-bending is good solution, provided the wood you're using is air-dried and not kiln-dried. Kiln-dried lumber can crack if it's steamed and bent. Or, if you have a band saw, you could resaw the oak into thin strips and glue them back together around an arched form. The glue joints alone will hold the curvature, but there might be a bit of "springback" when you release it from the form.
Whatever approach you take, a solid wood cap is the way to go. The only simpler option would be to use iron-on or self-stick oak veneer, but that won't provide a high quality result. Go with your gut and stick with real wood. Keep it thin and it will bend just fine, with or without steam.