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Is soaking planks in cold water, then using a plank bender sufficient?

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I just finished my first kit and during that build, one of the struggles that I had was to keep the water warm while soaking planks. I use a plank bender: the standard version with the block of wood with two different curved sections and an electric heater with a 1 inch roller.


I read here that soaking the wood in warm - vice cold - water will make it more pliable, as this will loosen up the fibers better. And I can confirm that based on my experiences with the aforementioned first build, I found that, even after soaking the planks for a good 15 minutes in cold water, and then using the bender, the planks didn't bend as easily, but if I filled up a small 12" x 6" tub with hot water from the sink and then soaked planks in that, they were much easier to bend however I needed them to.


My question, really is, does anyone know of a tub of some sort that can hold long planks and keep the water warm - instead of refilling a tub of water with hot water for every other plank that I need to bend? Or maybe some sort of home-made contraption for that purpose?

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There's  alot of ways to get there.   Here's a short list...


1) Soak for maybe 1 hour or more depending.  Put the wood in a microwave and heat.  Check constantly so as not to burn the wood.


2) The afore mentioned soak and curling iron, plank bender, etc.   Again, the heat must be applied for more than minute or two.


3) There's a method by Chuck involving soaking the plank and then bending it using nails set into a large piece of wood such as to form the shape and allow to cool in the jig.   Apply heat with a hair dryer or heat gun.   I've found this method works best for me.


I'm sure there's a few more but the big thing is don't be afraid to test different methods as to soaking time and heating time.  Everything is a variable with different species of wood, different thicknesses, etc.  So testing for the best result is necessary.

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It all depends on what species of wood are we talking about? Certain species are less and other more difficult to bend, eg. ebony is very springy and  extremely difficult to bend, whether heat bending and/or moisture bending are applied. Also, the size of planks is important; the thicker your wood is, the more difficult it is to bend. Sometimes you have to do it several times, repeatedly water soaking and heat bending, and so on. In some cases, especially if you want to bend it sideways (edge bending) it will be impossible - in such cases perhaps it is better to laminate the strips and, before the glue dries, bend them into desired curve clamping them in some sort of a form. Or cut the entire element from a bigger piece of wood.

Generally, for typical wood and plank dimensions, found in most kits, it is sufficient to pre-wet the planks in lukewarm water for several minutes, perhaps even for half hour and heat bend them with a typical tool (I use an ordinary soldering iron with a heat control I made from a common household dimmer to prevent the wood from being burnt). If the curve is supposed to be quite tight, I repeat the process wetting the plank again, until I get the appropriate bend. In most cases, it is sufficient. It is not recommended to boil wood (damage of fibres) or soak them in ammonia or bleach (discoloration).


For soaking the planks, I use a piece (about 2 feet long) of a white pvc pipe with one end permanently closed by a plug  glued there, and suspended from an edge of my table, filled with water. I immerse my planks there and after a while they are ready for heat bending.

I grasp my soldering iron with one hand, and a wet plank with the other, place it on a block of wood, and while gently rubbing it back and forth with the hot tip, I try to gradually lift it from the block. When I achieve desired curve, I stop. If I cannot bend it sufficiently without the risk of breaking the plank, I resoak it and repeat the tretment. If I overbend it, I correct it (underbend it) using the same method.


A while ago there was an interesting article on the topic in now long-defunct magazine "Ships in Scale". This was, in fact, an interview by Email Klein with a German modeler Gebhard Kammerlander, who in detail explained the entire process. If you want it, I can find out the specific issue and let you know.


Also, I attached a link to a short video tutorial on You Tube, of Gebhard demonstrating, what can be achieved with this technique named Biedesystem 3000 (he speaks there in German, but the video is 'in English'  😁 ) - search the archives here for this link, if you are interested.




Edited by Dziadeczek
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You have been given plenty of good advice. I personly find plank benders to much trouble to use.

My method involves using cups,glasses and jars. Anything with an open rim will do. I Don't use boiling water as I find it can make the wood a bit too soft. I just use water from the hot tap. Around 40 minutes usually makes the wood pliable enough to bend. I then clamp the plank around the rim and leave it overnight. I prpare around 12 planks at a time. Next day the planks are ready for use and I prepare the next 12 Which are usually ready for use by the time I have finished pinning the first lot to the bulkheds. 


Edited by Paul Jarman
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As mentioned above the species will dictate the amount of time needed to saturate the wood, not to mention how thick the piece is.

If I am not spiling a plank I use room temp water then form ala Chuck Passaro method or right on the framing with clamps.  A hot air gun works much better for me than an iron.  A minute or two is sufficient, then remove the plank from the framing or formers and let it sit for a while to be sure it is thoroughly dry as it will have expanded while wet and will shrink again when dry.  Hot air guns are cheap and get plenty hot (compared to the admiral's hair dryer)

Spiling eliminates a lot of this if you want to go that route, especially for harder species.



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I have an old stand-up coffee urn I found in a thrift shop that I use to heat the water and keep it warm for sufficient time to make it pliable. It's not large enough for the whole plank, but I rarely have to bend both ends. For bending, I will use the method recommended by Paul Jarman, though I will also use a heated plank bender when attaching the plank to the model.

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I have used an old kettle and a length of PVC tube to steam wood for bending, but this was for a full-size canoe's laminated stems. It takes 30-45 min for 1/4" thick hardwood strips to become very pliable. The time required should scale according to thickness.


I realize steaming may not be very practical for most modeling but I mention it here as it may be a way to do edge bending.

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Having started modeling with the old soaking method I now easily and successfully bend planks using heat exclusively with no water and can say through experience dry heat is so much better than soaking.  A travel iron and my bending station is all I’ve used on my last several models. The process is detailed in both my Cheerful and Winchelsea build logs. 

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It really depends on the species of wood you're looking to bend.  Yellowheart for example just needs to be soaked and placed around a former.  Here is a bend I did for my Morgan:




I've found that other woods like ebony require lots of heat, and a heating iron is almost a necessity.  Here is the same bend of a thin strip of ebony laminated to the main rail along the bow of my Morgan:


So the answer is - it depends.  For what it's worth, I've found this plank bending jig from Micromark to be very helpful for serious bends:


This rolling machine is also very good to get a quick and easy bend into bendable woods like lime - also from Micromark, but a bit pricey:





Edge bending where you try to bend the wood laterally across its width is a little different and probably the tools above are less helpful.  



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It seems, indeed, that the main effect comes from the heat, rather than the soaking. However, in full-scale practice and model practice it is difficult to apply sufficient heat without burning the wood. Planks were bend over open fires in the older days and doused with water, to keep the temperature sufficiently low due to the evaporating water. Later steam-boxes where used or boiling water (particularly in model building).


Today, we have steady and high capacity heat sources in form of temperature controlled hot-air guns of varying sizes. I have, for instance, an electrical hot-air soldering gun, where the temperature of the air flow can be regulated down to around 100°C. With such an implement heat could be applied locally, while the planks is progressively bent onto a former without burning the plank or formers made from e.g. wood.

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