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How can I bend 1/4" plywood?

Updated February 21, 2017

Plywood is a wood composite material made of thin layers of wood veneer glued together into a panel of consistent thickness. It is usually sold in 4-foot-by-8 foot sheets. Plywood made from soft birch is designed specifically for bending and is known variously as bending birch or bending plywood. It is ideal for large projects that require a lot of bending, but may be cost-prohibitive. Standard ΒΌ-inch plywood can be bent to fit curved walls or furniture projects, if it is first soaked in warm water to make the layers pliable.

Measure and cut your plywood to fit the portion of your project that requires bending. Use a table saw to cut the pieces.

Soak your towels in hot water, the hotter the better. Lay the hot, wet towels on top of the cut plywood, covering the entire surface. Allow the moisture to soak into the plywood, replacing the towels every couple of hours--as they cool--with more hot, soaked towels. Continue soaking the plywood with the towels until it completely saturated and soft. (This may take 24 hours or more.)

Check the plywood for pliability. Once it flexes with minimal force, it is ready to install. Work quickly once you remove the hot towels, because the wood will lose flexibility as it cools. Attach the end of the plywood piece with staples or nails, starting from the end that has the most curve and working toward the lesser curve. If it is to be a freestanding shape, lock the soft plywood into place using clamps, so it will dry in its curved form.

Fasten the plywood along both edges, pressing it into place as you go. Apply hot towels, if needed, to keep the plywood flexible as you work. Allow the plywood to dry slowly for best results, do not apply fans or heat the surface.

Sand the dry plywood gently as it will have raised grain that can be easily damaged. If the project will be painted, apply a coat of primer with a brush and allow it to dry before sanding to present a sturdier surface for sanding.

Things You'll Need

  • 1/4-inch plywood
  • Table saw
  • Tape measure
  • Hot wet towels
  • Nails or staples
  • Primer
  • Paint brush
  • Sander
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About the Author

Mark Morris started writing professionally in 1995. He has published a novel and stage plays with SEEDS studio. Morris specializes in many topics and has 15 years of professional carpentry experience. He is a voice, acting and film teacher. He also teaches stage craft and lectures on playwriting for Oklahoma Christian University.