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How to Bend Balsa Wood: 4 Methods to Do It

This article is for informational purposes. Always seek the advice of qualified professionals.

Someone new to model shaping must be confused while working with woods.

You need to bend your wood sheets for each and every model.

Be it an airplane or car, your wood needs to be bent.

But, does wood bend? Wood is quite strong.

It’s sometimes difficult to break. And I’m talking about bending. 

For model shaping, balsa wood is used commonly. But, again how to bend balsa wood?

Bending balsa wood can be done in four ways. You can do steaming in a large pot. Soak the wood strips into ammonia and water or spray the mixture on them. Give moisture or heat on one side of the wood to bend the other. Lastly, cold bent lamination for a long-lasting bend wood. Try any of the ways.

This is just a precap. You’ll get a detailed description below. 

Continue reading for more.

Can You Bend Balsa Wood?

Whenever we imagine wood, we think of it as a strong object. That means it’s not flexible enough to bend and it can only be broken. But, this isn’t the case for all types of woods.

Talking about balsa wood, you can bend it easily. This wood is soft in nature and lightweight. You can bend it to get your desired shape for modeling.

Using balsa wood, you can actually build model airplanes and buildings. Also, you can shape surfboards, fishing floats with bent balsa wood.

A common use for bend balsa wood is for models. You can give any arc with any radius to bend balsa wood.

So, if you’re a creative soul and interested in modeling, grab a balsa wood. The rest is on us. 

Keep on reading to know more! 

How to Bend Balsa Wood? (4 Simple Ways)

Till now you’re convinced that you can bend a balsa wood. But, how? 

There are a few ways to bend balsa wood. All the ways mentioned below are all tried and tested. Some of them you may have heard before. A few techniques are similar to the ways of removing old masking tape from wood

Some of them may be completely new to you. Whatsoever, I’ll help you to pick the best technique for bending balsa wood. 

First: Steaming

Steaming is the most popular way to bend wood. It’s convenient and doesn’t need an extra workload. You can use this for both thin and thick balsa wood.

Let’s get to the steps for steaming right away!

  • First, take out a large pot and put it on the burner.
  • Add balsa wood into the large pot.
  • Then pour water to an inch on the bottom of the pot.
  • Turn on the burner and let it boil for 30 minutes. You can boil for thirty minutes for every half-inch of wood.
  • When the water starts boiling, turn the burner down to stop evaporation.

See, steaming is super fast and anyone can do this. But, you need to be careful while taking out the wood from the pot.  Better use a rubber glove for this.

You can check out some rubber gloves below for reference.

Product 1
Product 2

Without safety gear you may burn yourself while steaming balsa wood.

Now, get back to steaming. As soon as you take the wood out, bend it to shape. You can bend it up to any radius according to your requirements. 

Always bend a bit more than needed. Because it’ll get relaxed once dried out. Then, you’ll lose the radius and the shape won’t come out as desired.

Second: Ammonia and Water Spray

Bending balsa wood with ammonia and water spray is another option you can try.

For this, you need to make a 50/50  mixture of ammonia and water. Ammonia-based window cleaner can also be used for this.

To bend balsa wood strips, spray the mixture on them. Don’t stick them together all the time. Keep creating gaps in between to ensure ventilation. Ventilation is important in this method. 

After spraying, rub it all over the surface of the wood strips. Once you’re done with this, you’ll need a foam board form. 

Tape the strips around the foam board to protect the edges. Cut the board according to your desired shape. Let it dry there for 4 to 6 hours minimum. Once it’s all dried out, you’ll get your bent balsa wood.

Now, it’s time to form a model. For this, glue all the strips together with foam board to give the final shape. 

Aliphatic glue is highly recommended for this job. It soaks easily but is slow to dry. Choose a wood glue that is strong enough to stick the wood strips. 

Wait for a few hours and see the final arc or bend. It’ll look strong yet flexible.

You can also do another thing. Soak the strips in ammonia and water mixture overnight. The next morning, take them out and bend as your desire. Wait until they dry.

There are two more ways left. Stick around!

Third: Make it Dampen or Heated

Balsa wood has a certain nature. It curves away from the side you give any moisture. Suppose, you soaked only one side in the water. The wood strip would start to bend from the other side.

Similarly, if you give heat with iron on one side, the other will expand. This is how balsa wood sheets work.

This is super easy unlike clearing a wooded backyard. Definitely worth trying. 

Fourth: Cold Bent Lamination

If you have a thinner sheet of balsa wood, do lamination. Bending a thin balsa wood demands lamination.

Cold bent lamination requires professionals. If you have all the equipment and craftsmanship, go for it.

The entire process will take more time than other techniques. But, it makes the perfect and strongest shapes. 

Steps in this process are-

  • First make a bending form according to your shape.
  • Make the strips go through the sand rough machine for flat sides.
  • Next, Bend the strip onto the form to get the shape.
  • Then, glue up all the strips and stick them on the bending form. Use screws to make them stay together overnight.

The next day, you’ll get the exact same shape you wanted. Your modeling skills will do better if you use lamination for bending.

However, it has some cons. Cold bent lamination uses a lot of glues. At times it becomes messy and difficult to clean up.  

But, this process is lengthy. It’s even more difficult than removing hair dye from wooden cabinet.

These are all four ways you could do to bend balsa wood. But, which one is preferable to you?

I have my personal favorite. If you haven’t made up your mind yet, check out which one I prefer.

Which Way Is Preferable?

I personally think the second way which is ammonia and water mixture is preferable. It’s convenient, harmless, and easy to apply. Also, you get better results than other techniques of bending.

Talking about other techniques, steaming has one con which is to burn you. The dampen one isn’t really effective for locking the bend longtime. And cold bent lamination requires machinery and time.

Keeping all pluses and minuses in mind, 50/50 ammonia and water mixture is preferable.

FAQs

How Long Should You Soak Balsa Wood to Bend?

If balsa wood is already exposed to ammonia, soak it for an hour or so. Make sure to use warm water for this. However, the timing also depends on its thickness. A thin wood sheet will take less time than a thick one. So, knowing the thickness is important for perfect bending.

Is Balsa Wood Good for Bending?

Yes, balsa wood is good for bending. It’s strong and soft but also flexible enough to bend. Most people bend balsa wood for model shaping. You can’t get a certain shape without molding the wood. Balsa wood is ideal for bending in any shape. You just need to know ways to bend balsa wood. 

How Do You Bend Wood Without A Steamer?

You can bend wood without a steamer by soaking it in ammonia and water mixture. Also, you can wet one side of the wood or give some heat. It’ll bend the other side. Another way is to perform cold bent lamination. These ways can be done instead of steaming in a steamer. 

What Are 3 Ways To Bend Wood?

The 3 ways to bend wood are cold bent lamination, steam, and kerf bend lamination. Cold bent lamination is basically done with thin woodcuts for making sides flat. Steam bend is easy and can be done with any thickness of wood. Kerf bend lamination also allows all sorts of thickness.

Final Thoughts

This is all from my end. Hope you are now all set to answer how to bend balsa wood. All the ways are doable. You’ve listened to my opinion as well. 

Time to make your call. Do you pick anything with glue or liquid? 

Till then, keep on shape modeling!