Introduction: How to Make a Ring by Steam Bending Wood
If you're going to make one of these rings, please make sure you wear the proper safety gear (mask, gloves, eye protection), and work in a well ventilated area. For example, I sand the wood and apply the glue outside usually. In other words - breathing in noxious fumes from super glue and inhaling wood dust is bad for you.
I'm using walnut burl veneer for this ring.
Materials you will need to make a steam bent wood ring:
- Wood veneer ~1/32" thick
- Box cutter/razor blade
- Ring mandrel (no groove)/wooden dowel/round object
- Sandpaper in the following grits: 60 coarse, 100 medium, 150 fine, 220 very fine, 400 super fine
- Grade #0000 extra fine steel wool
- Gorilla super glue (clear)
- Stand to hold ring while drying
- Paper towels
Step 1: Cutting a Strip of Wood Veneer
Decide how thick of a band you want your ring to have, and place your rule on the veneer accordingly. Holding your ruler firmly in place, lightly score the length of the wood. Continue lightly scoring the wood on the same path until the strip cleanly breaks free. Avoid trying to cut the strip in one forceful motion; it's difficult to control where the blade goes, especially as it cuts over irregularities in the wood.
When you're done, take the strip of veneer and sand down each end so that it tapers to a thin edge. Doing so will make it easier to conceal the seam where the veneer joins later on.
Step 2: Steam Bend the Wood in the Microwave
Wet down the paper towels. They should not be sopping wet, but you do want them completely soaked through. Put them on top of a microwave-safe plate, and position the strip of wood that you want to steam on the towels.
Start wrapping the strip of veneer with the paper towels. You don’t have to make a tight roll; however, the wood should be in contact with the towels. I like to press the towels down onto the wood as I go.
When you’re finished wrapping the strip of veneer, place the entire plate into the microwave. Because veneer is so thin, it does not take very long to steam the wood in the microwave. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you exactly how long you will need to put your strip in for; each wood is different. Mine took approximately 30 seconds.
Microwave it in five second increments, and check in between each cycle to see if the towels are still wet. You don’t want to let them dry out because the wood will end up charring. The veneer should be flexible and easily bent (without splintering) when you’re done.
Remove the plate from the microwave and carefully start unwrapping the paper towels. You will want to use tongs for this because the towels will be very hot.
Fortunately, the wood cools very quickly once it is exposed to air. You’ll be able to touch it with your hands for the next step.
Step 3: Bend the Wood to Form the Ring Band
Slowly start bending the veneer around the mandrel, working carefully until you have made one entire circle. Stop bending the wood at this time, and get the super glue.
You will want to apply a small drop to the beginning of the veneer strip, and then work it around so that a thin amount is coating about a 1/4″ area. I use a scrap piece of wire to spread the glue. Firmly press the wood together until the glue bonds them.
It’s important to make sure you are only applying enough glue to thinly coat the veneer, and no more – you do not want the glue to seep out from the layers onto the edge of the ring. Because the wood is wet, the super glue is going to dry white instead of clear, and it’s very hard to remove it in large amounts.
Continue to apply the super glue in 1/4″ increments around the strip of veneer and pressing the layers firmly together until bonded. Take your time while you’re doing this! It’s a tedious process, but paying attention to detail at this point will produce a much better ring in the end. There should not be any gaps in between the layers of veneer.
Step 4: Start Shaping the Ring Band With 60 Grit Sandpaper
Place your ring on top of the 60 grit (coarse) sand paper, and sand down each side until they are even. Now, use the same piece of sandpaper (60 grit; coarse) to sand down the interior and exterior seams on your ring. Since we already sanded them down to a taper in the beginning, this step doesn't take very long.
Once you have finished evening out the edges and sanding down the seams, you will need to decide how you want the final ring to look. For instance, I’m going to make a rounded ring, so I’m going to use my 60 grit sand paper to round both of the edges before proceeding. You can always leave your ring square.
Step 5: Keep Sanding the Ring Band
Using your 100 grit (medium) sandpaper, sand down the top, edges and interior of the ring band. You will also do the same thing with the 150 grit (fine) sandpaper, too.
Next, go over the entire ring band with the 220 grit (very fine) sandpaper.
Repeat the same process one more time with your piece of 400 grit (super fine) sandpaper. This will really smooth out the finish on your ring – you’ll notice a big difference in texture from what you had earlier when the ring had only been sanded down with 60 grit.
At this point, use the grade #0000 extra fine steel wool to wipe the band inside and out.
Step 6: Clean Out the Pores of the Wood
Although your ring is very smooth now, you’re still not ready to apply a finish. The pores of the wood have been collecting dust; this needs to be removed. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a very dull looking ring. Remove as much dust as possible. I like to use a wet toothbrush, and then finish up with a soft cloth.
After the ring is cleaned up, it has to dry thoroughly again before you can proceed. If you try to apply a finish now with super glue, it will end up drying white instead of clear. You'll have to go back, sand off the white glue, and start again. I'm impatient when it comes to waiting, but that's more work than I want to do!
Step 7: Apply the Super Glue Finish to the Dry Wood
Position your ring in the stand that you found. For this ring, I’m using a clip that can stand upright on its own. However, I usually prefer to use my third hand stand.
Apply a small amount of super glue to the surface of the ring. I know that a thicker coat looks nicer right now while the glue is wet, but a shiny finish like that has to be built up in layers.
Use something to spread the glue over the wood in a very thin layer.
Allow the layer of glue to thoroughly dry before you touch it. If your skin comes in contact with the glue prematurely, it will leave a white spot on the ring that you will have to sand off. The finish will not look smooth or shiny at this point – that’s okay!
Step 8: Finishing Your Bent Wood Ring
Take your 400 grit (super fine) sandpaper and go over the entire ring. You will feel the finish get smoother as you do this. Do the same thing with the grade #0000 extra fine steel wool.
Once you’re done with the steel wool, clean off your finished ring to remove any dust that has accumulated on it again. To get a shinier finish, apply another thin layer of glue and repeat using the 400 grit sandpaper/steel wool. Keep building up the layers of super glue, sanding them in between coats, until you have the desired finish on your ring.
Hopefully this tutorial gave you an idea of how to steam bend wood using the microwave so that you can make your own ring. If you have any questions, or think I left out an important step, feel free to let me know with a comment.