How to Steam Bend Wood Into a Ring
Bent wood rings are fun to make and very durable.
I recently taught myself how to steam bend wood into a ring so that I could incorporate wood into my real butterfly wing rings. Since it was difficult for me to find information about the process, I thought I would write up a quick tutorial that demonstrates how I go about making a bent wood ring.
I'm using a microwave to steam bend the wood. I've also made bent wood rings by submerging the strips of veneer in boiling water for 10 minutes, but I happen to like using the microwave better - probably because I don't have to do any dishes when I clean up. :)
This tutorial is just for a simple wooden band - I'm using walnut wood veneer.
Materials Needed to Steam Bend Wood Into a Ring:
1. wood veneer ~1/32" thick; at least 10" long
3. box cutter/razor blade
4. ring mandrel (no groove)/wooden dowel/round object
5. Sandpaper in the following grits: 60 coarse, 100 medium, 150 fine, 220 very fine, 400 super fine
6. Grade #0000 extra fine steel wool
7. Gorilla super glue (clear)
10. stand to hold ring while drying
11. paper towels
Please make sure you're working in a well-ventilated room, and taking the proper safety precautions to prevent yourself from inhaling wood dust. I usually start the rings inside, and then move my work outside when it's time to sand. I also apply the super glue outside, as well.
Step 1: Cutting the Wood Veneer
Using your ruler as a straight edge, make a light cut running down the strip of wood veneer. Keep making cuts until the strip separates from the main piece of wood. If you try to remove the strip in one forceful cut, you will end up with an uneven strip - the blade will follow any irregularities in the wood. It's much easier to control where you are cutting when you aren't exerting a lot of pressure on the blade.
Once you have a strip of veneer to work with, take your 60 coarse sandpaper and sand down both ends to a taper. Doing this will allow the wood to form a better circle when it comes time to bend it around the mandrel. I forgot to take a picture of what the strip will look like when you're done doing this.
Supplies to Make a Bent Wood Ring:
Step 2: Steam Bending the Wood Strips
Run 2-3 paper towels under water until they are completely wet. Place the paper towels on a microwave-safe plate, and set your strip of wood veneer on top of them.
Start wrapping your wood veneer in the wet paper towels. Make sure the entire strip of veneer comes in contact with the paper towel - it helps to run your finger down the veneer as you roll it in the paper towel.
Place the plate with the wood veneer in the microwave for 25-35 seconds, working in five second increments and checking the towels as you go to ensure they are still moist. Unfortunately, I can't tell you exactly how long it will take for your wood to become flexible. With the walnut veneer that I was using, it took 30 seconds. We're working in five second increments because veneer is very thin - it wouldn't take long for it to become charred in the microwave.
Remove the plate from the microwave, and start unwrapping the paper towels with a pair of tongs. The towels will be very hot, but the wood will cool down quickly once it is no longer wrapped.
I wear gloves for the next few steps because I hate getting super glue on my fingers. I didn't wear them the first time I tried to make a bent wood ring, and I ended up sanding glue off of my finger tips for days afterward.
Step 3: Forming the Ring
Slowly bend your strip of veneer around the ring mandrel (or other round object). Stop once you have made one complete circle.
Apply a small amount of super glue to the wood veneer. Carefully spread it until you have covered approximately 1/4" of wood (I use a small piece of wire to do this). Press the two pieces of wood together firmly until the glue sticks.
Make sure you don't put too much glue on at this point - if you do, it will seep out of the edges as you bend the wood and result in a very sloppy looking ring. Because we're applying the glue while the wood veneer is still wet, it will end up drying white instead of clear; you will not be able to remove all of the white from your ring if too much seeps out from in between the layers.
Start with a tiny drop, and if that doesn't cover the area you're working with, then apply another small amount - keep doing this until it does.
Keep applying glue in small increments and pressing the wood together. Take your time! The work you do at this point will largely determine how well your bent wood ring turns out. You want to avoid gaps between the layers of veneer.
Step 4: Shaping the Ring Band - Use the 60 coarse sand paper.
Moving your ring over the 60 coarse paper, sand each side down until they are even and smooth. I move the ring in a circular motion as I sand.
Here's what the top of your bent wood ring should look like now:
And, here's what the side should look like:
Still using the 60 coarse paper, sand down the seams of your ring - you will have one on the outside and the inside of the band. If you took the time to sand the edges of the veneer so that they tapered before steaming the wood, this step won't take very long.
This is what the seam should look like when you're finished:
At this point, you will need to decide what you want the final steamed wood ring to look like. For example, I happen to like the way rings look with a rounded top, so I sanded down the edges. If you don't want a rounded ring, then you're done using the 60 coarse sand paper.
Step 5: Refining the Ring Band
Using 100 grit sand paper (medium), go over your ring several times. Make sure you get the top and sides, as well as the inside of the band. Do the same with the 150 grit sand paper (fine), too.
Next, do the same thing again with a piece of 220 grit sand paper (very fine).
Repeat the process again using the 400 grit sand paper (super fine). The end result should be much smoother than what you started with when you had only sanded the ring with 60 grit.
Now, wipe the wood with a piece of grade #0000 extra fine wool. This will smooth the finish on your bent wood ring even more. Again, pay careful attention to both the exterior and the interior of the ring band.
Find the Best Deals on Wood Working Supplies:
Step 6: Cleaning the Wood Pores
When you're finished wiping the veneer with steel wool, you will notice that the pores of the wood are dirty. You will need to remove the dust from them before adding a finish to your ring. If you don't clean the pores of the wood, you will end up with a very dull finish.
I use a toothbrush to scrub the ring. When I'm done scrubbing it, I also take a very fine cloth and wipe it down well to ensure I've gotten everything that I can.
Let the wood dry thoroughly before moving onto the next steps. If you don't, the glue will dry white instead of clear.
Step 7: Applying the Super Glue
Find something to hold the ring while you work. I usually use my third hand stand that I purchased for my soldering projects, but I just decided to use a clip for this ring. Regardless of what you choose to use, it needs to be able to stand up on its own.
Apply a small amount of super glue to the wood.
Spread the glue so that there is a very thin layer coating the wood.
Let the glue dry thoroughly before picking the ring back up. If you touch the glue while it's still wet, then you will end up leaving a white mark on your ring. When it's finished drying, it won't look very smooth or shiny.
Step 8: Finishing the Ring
Using your 400 grit sand paper (super fine), go over the entire ring again.
Repeat the same process with the grade #0000 extra fine steel wool.
Clean up your new bent wood ring with a wet cloth to remove any wood or glue dust that's on it. At this point, if you want a shinier finish you can put another layer of glue on, let it dry, repeat using the 400 grit/steel wool, and so on until you get the finish you desire.
So, did you have fun learning how to steam wood to make a ring? - This is what it should look like when you're finished.
Hopefully this tutorial gave you an idea of how to steam bend wood using the microwave to make a ring. If you have any questions, or think a step might be missing, feel free to let me know with a comment.
You can find more tutorials and tips like this on my blog. If you would like to see what I'm doing with my bent wood rings, I'll be putting them up for sale in my Etsy shop and at Caterpillar Arts - Nature Inspired Handmade Gifts.