Best wood to steam bend

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Forum topic by Donlore posted 10-24-2010 10:21 PM 62523 views 2 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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16 posts in 4245 days

10-24-2010 10:21 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question

I’m curious, from everyone’s experience of steam bending different types of wood, what were the easiest and hardest woods to bend, IE.. oak, ash, beech, walnut…..redwood….?

Also, I’ve tried bending kiln dried with little success and am about to try bend air dried. Any comments on this?

Thanks, Don

-- Don, Indiana,

11 replies so far

View Moron's profile


5048 posts in 5137 days

#1 posted 10-24-2010 10:29 PM

As a rule AD bends easier then KD, some KD doesnt bend period

Birch, Ash, White and Red Oaks, Beech, Elm all bend quite well. I’ve had good luck with cherry too.

Good luck

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View Howie's profile


2656 posts in 4166 days

#2 posted 10-25-2010 04:21 AM

Don’t forget hickory. Lots of chairs are made from it.

-- Life is good.

View shipwright's profile


8751 posts in 4041 days

#3 posted 10-25-2010 05:48 AM

Building wooden boats involves lots of steam bending. The common woods we used were Oak for ribs ( I’ve bent up to 2 1/2” x 3 1/4” stock) and Yellow Cedar, Red Cedar and Doug Fir for planking. Gumwood will steam bend if you’ve got enough clamps and a come-along. I know of other woods that bend well but these are the ones I have experience with. Kiln drying pretty much “Kill Dries” as far as bending is concerned. The wood never seems to regain it’s elasticity after kiln drying. My tips would be:
1) you want wet, white steam. If it gets clear it’s too hot.
2) you can help yourself a lot by chamfering the corners before bending.
3) a coat of linseed oil will help hold the heat and keep the material moist and flexible longer
4) be aware that a wide piece will cup quite a bit when bent
5) if you aren’t fastening the bent piece hot expect substantial spring-back
It’s a lot of fun to see the things you can do with well steamed wood. Have fun!

Paul M

-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

View Scott_F's profile


1 post in 2170 days

#4 posted 11-12-2015 09:27 PM

I’ve had good results using poplar ribs on a SOF canoe. It was mostly chosen for price, but it’s held up well for a couple of years now and was really easy to bend.

View jdh122's profile


1268 posts in 4061 days

#5 posted 11-12-2015 09:31 PM

I’ve had fantastic luck with still green red oak, decent luck with small bends in kiln-dried yellow birch and nothing but failure when I tried trembling aspen (don’t ask).
I also experimented a bit with a bending strap but found that for the smaller bends needed for chairs (and especially with green wood) it wasn’t needed, although it does seem to allow you to do some pretty amazing stuff.

-- Jeremy, in the Acadian forests

View bearkatwood's profile


1835 posts in 2255 days

#6 posted 11-12-2015 11:09 PM

Lon Schleining said you can steam bend any wood you want as long as it is white oak. ;)
Many different species will bend well. Try to stay away from kiln dried and use as straight a grain as you can.

-- Brian Noel

View JAAune's profile


2036 posts in 3560 days

#7 posted 11-13-2015 05:09 AM

Most of the domestics will bend if they are air-dried and still above 10% moisture content. Ash is an exceptional wood for bending. Walnut is very good and cherry will bend but is more prone to compression wrinkles when the radius gets tight.

-- See my work at

View Terry O's profile

Terry O

163 posts in 2508 days

#8 posted 01-23-2018 01:24 PM

I have not had any problems steam bending kiln-dried maple or kiln-dried cherry—rule of thumb 1 1/4 hours per inch of thickness, use a compression strap and don’t relieve the strap until the piece has cooled, usually about an hour.

-- Terry O, Stonewall, MB, Canada

View PPK's profile


1872 posts in 2053 days

#9 posted 01-23-2018 02:23 PM

I’ve steamed kiln dried hickory, as well as air dried walnut. The walnut steams and bends like a stick of butter! :-)
Have fun. Steam bending is really fun, and it’s an art… I like to recommend this booklet by Lee Valley. It is well-put together and quite helpful in my opinion…

-- Pete

View MrRon's profile


6184 posts in 4487 days

#10 posted 01-23-2018 07:26 PM

I have heard that you can steam bend just about any of the domestic woods, but the exotic imports do not bend well.

View Dark_Lightning's profile


4845 posts in 4352 days

#11 posted 01-24-2018 03:58 AM

Old thread! My dad steam bent the bows for an old pre-war Rolls Royce convertible top out of white oak. I knew it was a tough job, but I didn’t realize how tough, until I read about steam bending here on this site. I’d ask him, but he’s been dead for almost 30 years. :(

-- Steven.......Random Orbital Nailer

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