Woodworkers can use three techniques to soften wood. Woodworkers soften wood to make it easier to shape, bend or carve. The technique used often depends on the thickness of the wood piece and whether the wood is to be bent to a shape or carved.
Boiling Wood for Softening
For thin strips of wood, submerge the wood in hot water. Boil the wood for one hour for every inch of thickness. For example, boil a 2-inch thick piece of basswood for two hours. After removing the wood from the hot water, bend or carve the wood piece as needed. Keep in mind that submerging wood in hot water can result in color change.
Water and Alcohol Solution
Mix a solution of 50 percent water and 50 percent alcohol in a spray bottle. This technique is ideal for small woodworking surfaces, especially for wood carving. Depending on level of saturation desired, either spray the wood surface directly with the solution, or to spray the solution on a dry cloth for light saturation. This method is ideal for carving and detail work.
Using a Hot Iron
For thinner pieces of wood, such as a 1/32-inch basswood sheet, you can use a hot iron to make the wood bendable. Dampen the thin piece of wood with water, then go over the wood piece with the hot iron.
Woodworkers using the boiling or ironing technique should bend or shape the wood as desired immediately after setting it out to dry. Place the wood in a warm, dry place for at least 24 hours depending and the size and thickness of the wood. Once the wood is thoroughly dry, the wood should hold the desired shape. If using a water and alcohol mixture or hot iron technique, the drying time will be short for all types of wood. The water and alcohol solution will evaporate very quickly.