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I'm about to build a tile counter top (or bench top as we call it here) for a new kitchen. I'm going to be using large porcelain floor tiles on top and thought I'd finish the edges with a nice native timber.

The top I'm working on is the breakfast bar where one end sticks out a little way. I thought perhaps I could lightly curve it to give it a more natural feel and take away the harsh lines.

However, the timber I have in mind for the edging is some old and dry wood I have lying around called Rimu. Is it even possible to curve this timber or would I need a new timber that is perhaps softer?

I've heard that people can use steam or a series of cuts. I don't have access to a steam box and cutting it the traditional way with lots of fine cuts only leaves one edge nice not the top and the side. Is there perhaps another method I could use in my home workshop?

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Unless the wood is rotted or extremely old I doubt its age will have an effect on shaping. Commercial lumber is kiln-dried to a relatively low humidity anyway.

I can think of a couple of options for bending the wood:

  1. Depending on how thin the edging is and how much it's going to curve, you may just be able to bend it by hand as you attach it. If you're talking just a gentle arc along the counter edge I think this would work, but if you want a tight turn at the corner than definitely not. Of course there is a risk of breaking it, so I would only try this if you have a spare piece or don't mind buying another.

  2. Making a homemade steam box is easier than you might think, especially if you're a little handy and only want to bend a few pieces. You just need a closed container that's long enough to hold the item (a PVC pipe, or metal dryer vent, or some scrap plywood assembled in a box), and an electric kettle as the source of the steam. Cut a hole in the side of your box and connect it somehow to the spout or top of your electric kettle. E.g. a piece of garden hose, some tubing, more pipe, etc. Get the whole thing sealed up as best you can with duct tape / caulking. Then just fill up the kettle with water and turn it on! Ideally you would stick a meat thermometer in there so you can tell when the wood reaches an appropriate temperature. Any insulation you can wrap around the outside of the box will make the steaming process faster.

  3. If the piece you want to bend is small, you can actually just stick it in the microwave to soften it up.

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Thanks. I think just try to bend the wood it will definately crack. But after looking up home made steam boxes I might give that a try. I actually have a wallpaper steamer handy so I might use that as my source of steam and make the box out of old plywood. The wood is about 20mm or 3/4 of an inch thick. –  Matt Jun 30 '13 at 0:43
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There are two traditional ways to bend wood:

  1. You can cut it into very thin sections, and then laminate them into a bend. This works better on some woods than others.
  2. You can steam the wood. This is done in a box or in a plastic pipe.
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The third way is to cut kerfs on the back of the wood, across the grain. This weakens the wood enough to be able to bend it. The downside is as stated - the kerfs may be visible. –  user558 Jun 30 '13 at 2:42
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Another way to trim a rounded corner is to use wood stock that is custom cut to fit the curve. This can be particularly effective for small radius corners and can be done in one or multiple pieces around the corner. If multiple pieces are used they would be mitered as appropriate. The choice of multiple pieces or not would depend on the lay of the wood grain in the final installation. More pieces exposes less cross grain of the wood.

Here is the basic way that the piece is cut for a one piece corner:

enter image description here

These can be cut with a bandsaw and sanded to fit. The parts can also be cut with a router and jig to get precise curves. The router technique is particularly useful if you are fitting up multiple corners with multiple pieces at each corner.

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