Building a Better Back Scratcher/PBL - Steam Bending!


In this third lesson, students learn about steam bending. They will "test bend" kabob skewers, learn the science of steam bending and build a bending form to put the characteristic curve in their back scratcher blank.


[Additional information for the Instructor and the materials list is included below in collections for lesson 3 in resources under "Lesson 3, Instructor Notes and Materials List"]

Students will start by "test bending" kabob skewers, both dry and steamed, to test the flexibility and breaking point of the two samples. This is the hook, and an introduction to make them more familiar with the steam bending process. Steam bending is used as a generic term for using heat and moisture to soften wood for bending. The bending of the kabobs, and the back scratcher blanks will be done with simmering water. The use of steam in the wood shop is riskier and more difficult to do, especially with young students. Heating water to a strong simmer in a coffee can on a hotplate is simpler and sufficient for our needs. The back scratcher blanks aren't that thick.

The instructor will then conduct a short lecture on the science and history of steam bending. Photos and videos of steam bent objects, and various methods of steam bending are included in various sections and in resources.

Students will then construct a bending form and prepare stock for steam bending. After the stock has been steamed, students will place it in the bending form until it is set, then remove it and finish their forming operations. Students should work in pairs or small groups.

All along, the instructor will check for understanding, be prepared for a significant failure rate and have extra stock ready. Steam Bending is somewhat of an alchemical process that is as much art as science.

The instructor should go through the entire set of activities in advance, so that the qualities of the stock used are known, and the instructor becomes aware of any issues that present themselves.

Check for understanding often, and review the notes, materials list and other elements to support this lesson in the lesson 3 collection.

Lesson Times

7 Minutes
Hook - Wood Bending:Kabob Skewers & Getting Started
1 Class Period
Lecture w/Vid - The Science of Bending Wood
30 Minutes
Making the Bending Form
1 Class Period
Steam Bending the Back Scratcher Blank
2 Class Periods

Industries / Subjects / Grades

Industries / Pathways
  • Agriculture & Natural Resources Agriculture & Natural Resources
  • Building and Construction Trades Building and Construction Trades
    • Cabinetry, Millwork, and Woodworking
  • Manufacturing and Product Development Manufacturing and Product Development
    • Machining and Forming Technologies
K-12 Subjects
  • Science
    • Earth & Space Science
Grade Levels
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • Adult

Standards and Objectives


California's 2013 CTE Standards (3)

Related Instructional Objectives (SWBAT...)

  • Students will be able to predict which species of wood will work best for bending
  • Students will be able to predict which grain orientations in a board work best for steam bending
  • Students will be able to describe common points of failure in wood bending, and solutions for success.

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