Bending wood in the microwave

Has anyone tried bending small pieces of wood in the microwave? I’m trying to make a 1/8 scale model of a chair (bent plywood).

I’ve never done this before…

I’d buy a sheet of birch veneer, make yourself a 1/8 scale hard foam mold, and form it yourself. It works just like full scale plywood layup.

I’d buy a sheet of birch veneer, make yourself a 1/8 scale hard foam mold, and form it yourself. It works just like full scale plywood layup.

thanks dude i’ll do just that.

i dont know if your could buy veneer over there. but that is a great idea.

we did some really killer 1/4 scale models of a bunch of bent wood projects (settee, chaise, side chair, tables, etc…) by taking the really thin ply used for model airplanes and literally building bucks just like you would for a real chair. We then sanded down that ply to just 1 layer of veneer and did a final lamination over the built layers to hide seams / gaps.

It’s time intensive, but the results are fantastic. I’d post pics, but can’t due to IP issues.

most models are made of balsa… i didn’t realize that it can be bent… seems like it would split when compressed around any radius cause it seems so flimsy. but i’ll try that… thanks for the suggestion OkayEnough.

where’s the best place to pick up some?

Not sure what size city you live in, but model train stores are a good source for thin wood (both balsa and micro ply), along with all kinds of other interesting things. You can get birch ply down to 1/64" thickness- six plies of that will get you to 3/32", which is 1:8 scale for 3/4" plywood. Depending on how you’re bending it, kerf cutting 3/32 stock might work well too.

after kerf cuts have been made, do you still have to soak in water or steam or something or are the cuts good enough? what’s a good saw to cut the ply’s delicately enough? also how wide must the cuts be, how deep and how far apart from each other?

sorry for the flood of amateur questions but i’m in learning mode at the moment.

thanks by the way for the advice on where to obtain the modeling wood.

one more question to add to above:

what are the best glues or adhesives to use? i don’t really want to use something too difficult to work with like plastic cement…

Kerf width and spacing is something that will depend on the radius and thickness. You can get pretty close by modeling it in a 3D CAD program, but otherwise you’ll just have to play with a piece. If you make them too deep, they’ll telegraph through to the other side. Not deep enough, and it won’t bend.

You don’t have to steam it, the thin layer left behind at the bottom of the cut will bend readily. As for saws- not sure. I’ve never done it on such a small scale. A fine coping saw is where I would start, but there may be something better. An Xacto might even work. For adhesives, plain white glue should be more than adequate.

thanks… i picked up some 1/16 balsa sheets at Michael’s craft store… do you think that’s thin enough to start? that was the thinnest sheet size they had.

huh, not sure about the solid balsa business, but we use this type of stuff:

we soaked it a a short amount of time, maybe 10 min’s tops, and if you keep a decent radius, no kerfs are needed.

You can glue up paper in the same fashion as veneer, too. Heavy card stock works best in my experience, and you can get a very small radius (smaller than veneer at this scale unless you want to get into steam bending). You’ll still need to create a form to clamp the part to while the glue dries, but it doesn’t need to be elaborate unless the part(s) you are making warrant it. The finished parts won’t be as strong as real laminated ply, but its a model not a real chair right? Regular white glue works well as does yellow woodworking glue. Give it time to harden before removing from the form. Glue sticks, rubber cement, and anything with a lot of flexibility will give poor results, just like real laminated ply.

If it has to be wood, look for the very thin plywood in hobby stores as previously mentioned (its usually with the balsa display). Also, check out paper-backed edging at the hardware store. Its real veneer, but can be bent to a smaller radius than thin ply, and comes in rolls of various widths. Just glue it, don’t try to mess with ironing it on a small scale form (although a heat gun might be a different story). I would be wary of trying to kerf wood at a small scale, you need the kerfs to be uniform in width, depth, and spacing to get smooth bends, which will be difficult to achieve by hand. Its difficult enough to do at full scale.

OkayEnough - thanks for the link dude! a bit less expensive than Michaels was.

73Lotus – Would you use the same number of ply’s for paper/card stock as with wood? Also I did try gluing with rubber cement and it certainly is VERY difficult to keep the shape. I wish I knew that in one of my earlier experiments… I’m just using all purpose wood glue now. Works fine so far.

One more question:

Does anyone know about printing graphics on wood? Skateboards have graphics laminated on them with heat/pressure… Is the same possible for a chair? I mean instead of painting a stencil on… how else would one do it?

there is some sort of printing method (can’t remember the name off hand) that can print on anything up to (i think) 1/2". Check some of your local larger print bureaus, and you’ll probably be able to find out what it’s called an who has it. I’ve never used it but was told about it by my go to printer recently.

just a quickie google search and i found the following. a more intensive search might yield more info.

another cool option to check out might be laser etching on the wood.

a cheaper way to accomplish a similar look for a model might be to print something on clear overhead transparency film, them put it on the wood, and varnish over the whole thing. not sure what kind of varnish should be used though that wouldn’t eat the film/ink. might need to experiment. obviously if you are making it out of paper, it would be pretty easy to print on the paper before laminating as well.


awesome. thanks for the link rkuchinsky! i’m a big fan of prints, patterns and other nonsensical imagery sporadically placed on furniture and upholstery (rugs, wallpaper, etc).

About the only way to print directly to wood is a direct-to-substrate printer, exactly like a giant ink jet with similar resolution. Problem is that you are somewhat limited in size and the part being printed on needs to be flat, like glass or a sheet of veneer, plywood, etc. You can however get very nice results using this method, and the cost is relatively low because there is minimal set-up involved.

I’ve seen a dye-sublimation printing process used on wood panels also, which borrows technology from photo printing. I am not too familliar with it, the company doing it had developed their own process and used some highly modified equipment to pull it off. Results were spectacular, though.

Screen printing is an easily-repeatable moderate-volume method of printing on flat surfaces, a complex stencil really. Each color needs its own screen, so multiple colors can make things a lot more time consuming and expensive. Graphics tend to be more basic, but I have seen pretty detailed and complicated images printed with this method.

Decals are commonly used on residential furniture (probably contract, too) for various types of decoration from “hand painting” to creating faux grain effects. The decal technology that I am familliar with is a reversed image printed with lacquer-based ink on a paper or plastic backing. The decal is applied by wetting with solvent and placing onto a lacquer-primed surface. The decal inks chemically bond to the lacquer and you then proceed with final finishing. It is most easily done on flat or simple curved surfaces since the decal backing won’t let it conform to ‘complex’ surfaces. The maximum size is typically limited - usually around 2’ x 3’ - so one piece of furniture will usually need several decals if there are a lot of graphics or a large area to cover.

Embedding something in the finish is pretty common in crafts - check out a product called “ModgePodge” to see a craft-based example. You can do something similar by adding printed graphics, etc. into wet clear coating then sealing them in. Paper is pretty common and seems to work well, although thin paper may become translucent when it soaks up the finishing material. Clear transparancy film might work, but I would be suprised if it would let the finishing material stick to it, its pretty slippery. There may be special clear films available for this kind of thing, but I have never looked into it.

I like the laser etch idea. There are CNC engraving methods that might be interesting to explore as well.

I don’t know if you can print on veneer before laminating into the final item. The laminating process may abrade the printed area, and you wouldn’t be able to sand the surface. It would be terribly difficult to keep adhesive off the outside face. Adding a final face veneer using contact cement might have merit.

73Lotus -
Thanks for your reply. that’s a lot of good information. i am quite familiar with printing processes for paper as I used to work in graphic design, but printing on wood is very new for me.

can you print alternative colors like silver or gold? similar to foil stamping but more heavy duty? eg. a flower printed in silver foil-like ink/material?

The two other areas of strong interest for me are the use of CNC engraving which you mention… Are there “attachments” for a CNC unit that actually carve patterns pre-programmed?

The other area is the use of Decals; how do they actually apply this? I mean physically with a person holding the decal in place once wet with solvent? Or does it get pressed into place with a machine? Also are there companies that specialize in producing these types of decals for furniture makers or is it something all done in-house?


Decal application is very simple - here’s a video of a decal being applied: Cranford Decal Video - YouTube

I am aware of one decal manufacturer in NC, there most likely are others but I do not know if their products would be applied in the same manner.