Bendy woody

Did you know that wood can be bent?

I was initially surprised when I saw this blog with a science experiment for children called “A little science with breakfast”. It demonstrated an interesting science craft by bending craft sticks through a boiling process and letting the craft sticks dry in the bent form to become a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) bangle!

The idea seems marvellous to me and I couldn’t wait to experiment with it myself. However, I was curious why wood can be bent through the boiling process. Hence, I decided to investigate further. Interestingly, I learnt that it is perfectly normal that wood can be bent because of their natural properties from the tree as a living organism. Bends in trees are common so that they can withstand the weather such as strong winds or when it is being climbed by an animal. After reading about these, everything seems to make sense.

If you think further, wood bending is also common in furniture making, where different techniques (kerf cutting, steam bending, microwave steaming and laminated wood bending) are applied to do so. In steam bending, wood is placed into a steam box to accumulate the moisture for bending. Wood grows weaker as heat and moisture are added. The effect lessens the moment it is taken out of the steam box, hence the conditioned wood would have to be dried in a mold in order to be bent to its new form. So, yes, you can also try out the little experiment as described in the blog link above.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Wulf says:

    I remember my grandfather explaining steam-bending of wood to me when I was a primary school kid (after failing to find an appropriately curved branch to cut a walking cane out in the woods using my pocket knife). From today’s perspective, I note some interesting points:

    – Back then, it was perfectly normal for kids to take off-road hikes in the woods (no computer games, no around-the-clock TV, and plenty of nature).
    – Back then, it was perfectly normal for kids to have pocket knifes and other gizmos that nowadays might result in being arrested by anti-terrorism squads.
    – There were manufacturing technologies before the age of injection-molded plastics, and some may have become a lost art.
    – I am showing signs of old age (such as referring to “back then”).

    On the other hand, I do not buy the argument that wood can be bent because trees are living organisms – synthetic plastics made from very old (and very dead!) decomposed fossil remains, or even completely inorganic materials like common metals, can be pretty “bendy”, too.

    Even as an old-fashioned “back in my time …” curmudgeon and nature lover, but in particular as a scientist, I believe that our personal preferences, whether nostalgic/romantic/new-age or cyber/technology/everything-is-possible-oriented, should be kept strictly separate. Unless we want to promote going back to the pre-18th century, pre-enlightenment age.

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