How To Bend Plywood Properly: Top Effective Strategies

Effective ways on how to bend plwyood

Working with timber can allow for a dynamic range of creative possibilities and plenty of opportunities to think outside the box. As a natural origin material, timber possesses some unique qualities when it comes to malleability. For instance, with the right method and equipment, you can soften and bend raw timber into curved shapes, allowing for furniture and wall cladding with softer angles.

But can you bend plywood sheets in the same way that you can bend timber? The short answer here is no in most cases, as being a wood composite material, plywood possesses structural characteristics that you don’t have to account for when working with raw timber. This isn’t to say, however, that bending plywood is impossible.

If you know how to do it, bending plywood can yield some unique and fantastic results, providing eye-catching designs that are suitable for a range of applications. For furniture makers in particular, knowing how to bend plywood effectively can help expand on their product offerings. And thankfully, learning how to bend plywood is so simple that even hobby woodworkers can experiment with plywood bending methods at home.

To provide some guidance in your own plywood bending experimentations, our experts here at Cabinet Timbers will be sharing our top tried and tested methods on how to bend plywood safely and effectively.

Article Contents Our Top and Tried Methods on How To Bend Plywood::


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Make kerf cuts for low-maintenance plywood bending

Known as one of the simplest and least labour-intensive methods for bending plywood, kerf cutting involves making uniform cuts along a plywood panel in order to allow for natural bending between cuts. Kerf cutting is a suitable plywood bending method for any application where you want your plywood sheets to be able to move in a functional capacity.

Historically, kerf cutting has been a great wood cutting technique for producing wooden toys for children – think those wooden slithering snakes. Nowadays, however, kerf cut plywood is a popular material amongst furniture makers to produce plywood cabinets with curving wooden doors or even convertible kerf-bent wooden chairs and tables.

We recommend practising kerf cutting using our furniture-grade birch plywood sheets. The uniform strength and durability of birch plywood makes it a great choice for furniture making.

how to bend plywood
bending plywood for your project

Clamping plywood to bend into shape

If you’re working with plywood sheets or MDF boards that are thin yet still strong enough to maintain their shape while bending, then you could be able to use a clamp or some ratchet tie down straps to hold your plywood sheets in a particular position. The clamps and tie down straps can provide a modest amount of pressure that aids in bending plywood without causing damage to your sheets and compromising their structural integrity. 

Understanding how to bend plywood using this clamping or tie down technique begins with determining the amount of force that can reasonably be applied to your plywood materials. An incorrect calculation can result in your wood cracking or snapping entirely under excess pressure, so your best step forward with this method is to add your pressure incrementally and really pay attention to how your wood materials respond to that pressure. 

Clamping or tying down plywood for the purposes of bending your sheets delivers the best results if plywood is clamped overnight or for at least 6-8 hours. We also recommend using a form to support your plywood during the clamping process.

Can you steam bend plywood?

If you’ve already done some background research on the best methods for bending plywood, chances are you’ve come across some resources that recommend steam bending. This process involves applying steam or warm water to plywood sheets in order to soften them and make them more susceptible to bending. 

Whilst this could be effective with marine grade plywood if conducted correctly, our experts don’t recommend steam bending plywood or applying moisture to plywood in order to change its shape. This is primarily because the application of steam or water could delaminate the substrates or glues holding your plywood panels together, reducing the quality and usability of your plywood materials.

Bending plywood using heat

Another effective method for bending plywood includes applying focused heat to localised areas across your plywood materials. This process can help soften the plywood enough to allow for easier clamping or even just bending by hand.

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that plywood panels may also become delaminated when exposed to extreme temperatures, as high heat may degrade the glue bonds between panels and result in peeling. As exterior plywood is less likely to delaminate when exposed to extreme temperatures, it may be worth experimenting with this plywood bending technique using exterior-grade plywood first.

Similarly, excessive heat can damage your wood materials by producing cracks or even scorch marks. We’ve found that the best way to apply heat for the purposes of bending plywood is to use a heat gun at a safe distance from your plywood. We also advise regulating the temperature of hot air being emitted from your heat gun and to keep your heat gun moving constantly across your plywood panel to reduce risks of overheating.

Amongst learning how to bend plywood, this plywood bending technique is also best practised using suitable safety equipment like your standard protective gloves and eyewear. It’s also best to perform this technique in a well-ventilated area with fire prevention equipment on hand if required.

Laminating plywood for improved bending

What if you have a plywood panel that’s thin enough to flex but not strong enough to bend? Well you have two options here: you can either swap it out for a bendier plywood or you can laminate these plywood materials to improve bendability.

Laminating your plywood is as simple as selecting thinner, malleable plywood sheets to adhere to the external faces of your plywood by the use of epoxy or other adhesives. This effectively adds additional layers to your plywood panels. If performed correctly, manually laminating your plywood materials can help ensure your plywood is more suitable for bending using clamps or tie down straps.

Keep in mind, however, that as you’re adding extra layers to your plywood, you will need to make sure that those layers are adequately bonded to the original faces of your plywood materials. Here, we recommend applying your thinner laminates in a configuration that ensures your wood grains run perpendicular to one another. It’s also important to apply pressure to your freshly laminated plywood to consolidate the new adhesive bonds. This can be done by using clamps or even a hydraulic press.

Laminating plywood for improved bending

Buy bendy plywood

Finally, if you’re looking to bend your plywood for interior applications (i.e. interior wall cladding, furniture making, etc.), you may benefit from investing in bendy ply for your woodworking project rather than laminating existing plywood materials. Bendy ply is basically a type of exterior and interior grade plywood that has been made up of thin layers of ply, allowing it to bend easily around a tighter radius. This superior flexibility ensures that bendy ply is suitable for a range of different plywood applications, including furniture making and inner wall cladding.

We also happen to stock bendy ply here at Cabinet Timbers, so you can secure this easy solution today and get to working on your first plywood bending project tomorrow.

Secure plywood for bending at Cabinet Timbers

Working with plywood and learning how to bend plywood requires an in-depth understanding of what plywood is and how it can not only be bent, but also how it can be cut to quality standards and to ensure it’s suitable for your unique woodworking or construction project. Given that plywood is a composite material however and that each plywood panel possesses its own unique characteristics based on the type of timber used or the plywood grade you’re working with, it can be tricky to determine how to bend your plywood products sustainably. 

That’s actually why our team at Cabinet Timbers develops woodworking guides like this one – to ensure that our customers can get the very best value from all their plywood products. Whether you’re looking to know about how to bend plywood for your use in furniture production or to create unique interior cladding or other designs, our range of wood panel products will be able to provide you with the highest quality materials for your project. 

Explore our full selection of plywood and other wood composite products today or get in touch with our team at Cabinet Timbers for more information on any items across our range.


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