How to Bend Plywood

By Wade Shaddy

Plywood bending is sometimes utilized in cabinetry and finish carpentry to make a countertop radius, a rounded stair riser or to trim around a circular transom above a window or door. This is accomplished by kerfing the back of the plywood with a table saw. Kerfs are numerous shallow cuts that allow the plywood to bend around curves. The cuts are done side by side, 1/4-inch apart, penetrating most of the way through the plywood. Start out by bending a piece of plywood fascia around a 6-inch countertop radius.

List of Items Needed

  • Table saw with miter gauge
  • Tape measure
  • Plywood strip, 3/4-by-2-by-24 inches
  1. Raise the blade on the table saw to 7/8 inch from the tip of the highest tooth to the point where the blade emerges from the slot in the table. Use a tape measure to measure 6 inches from the left side of the blade to the fence and lock the fence down.

  2. Place the miter gauge on the table saw 4 inches behind the blade in the miter gauge slot. Set the miter gauge at 90 degrees. Place the plywood strip against the miter gauge fence with the veneer face-side up. Slide the plywood strip to the right side until the end contacts the fence. Turn on the saw. Hold on to the plywood strip and the miter gauge at the same time with your right hand.

  3. Push the miter gauge and the plywood strip over the blade, cutting a kerf in the bottom of the strip. Pull them back again to the starting place behind the blade. Move the fence over to the right 1/4 inch and lock it down. Cut another kerf and pull it back. Continue in this manner, cutting kerfs in the bottom of the plywood strip until you come to within 6 inches of the other end of the plywood strip. The strip will now bend around a 6-inch radius curve.

Tips and Warnings

  • Make two or three bendable pieces of plywood at the same time. It gives you something to fall back on if you break one or need a replacement. Experiment with different sizes of plywood. Try more or fewer kerfs. Plywood is not created equal; some pieces bend easily, while some resist bending.
  • Test your kerfs by bending the plywood while listening and watching the veneer. If it begins to crack or sound like it is cracking, you need to make more kerfs in the plywood, or make them slightly deeper.

© Demand Media 2011