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Save your furniture: How to unwarp wood and restore your home design

Wood accents and furniture add charming or rustic character to any home design. Wooden furniture is particularly popular since it’s also so versatile and can be painted, stained, or even distressed to create a whole new look and style. Since wood is a natural material, though, it can be finicky. Particularly when wood is used in outdoor spaces like patios, it’s exposed to the elements and can eventually warp. Once the damage is done, can warped wood be straightened? We’ll walk you through why wood warps and some methods for correcting the problem.




1 hour

What You Need

  • Iron

  • Ironing board

  • Towels

  • Thin cloth sheets or paper towels

  • Plastic sheets

  • Clamps

  • Bricks or cinder blocks

how to unwarp wood shutterstock 520402930
EE_Stocker / Shutterstock

What causes wood to warp?

How do you fix warped wood? The first step in the process is figuring out what caused the problem in the first place. If you try to fix warped wood without fixing the environmental issue that’s causing it, you’ll end up with more warping. The main causes of warping wood are excessive moisture and excessive heat. When wood is exposed to moisture, even if it’s just in a humid space, the water moves through the cells of the wood. This causes the wood’s fibers to swell up and start expanding. Once the water dries, the fibers shrink back down into a distorted shape. Similarly, when heat is introduced to wood, thermal expansion takes place, creating the same expanding and shrinking motions that cause the shape of the wood to warp. A flat piece of wood warps into a few different shapes, but there are two that are the most common:

  • Bowing is when the ends of the wood turn upwards.
  • Cupping is when the sides of the wood curl upwards.

Before trying to fix your warped wood pieces, make sure you identify and correct the moisture or heat imbalance in the space so that the wood doesn’t continue to warp.

How to unwarp wood with an iron

One effective method for unwarping wood is to reintroduce moisture in a controlled way. When the wood gets moist again, especially with hot steam, it becomes malleable and can be reshaped with a bit of effort. This method is particularly useful with a large piece of wood, like a kitchen table, that has become bowed.

Step 1: Grab an iron, along with an ironing board if the wood piece will fit on it.

Step 2: Turn the iron on the highest heat setting.

Step 3: Soak some towels in water and wring them out until they are just damp.

Step 4: Cover the whole surface of the wood that’s warped with wet towels.

Step 5: Proceed with ironing the towels over the warped areas until the wood flattens.

Step 6: Use clamps to keep the wood tight against the flattened surface until it dries completely.

How to unwarp wood using sunlight

The sun is a great source of warmth that can be harnessed to heat up your warped wood. This method works well for large wood pieces that have become either cupped or bowed. You’ll still need to introduce moisture to the wood for this method to be effective.

Step 1: Soak towels in water and cover the warped wood surface with them.

Step 2: Place the wood item in an outdoor area that gets a ton of direct sunlight.

Step 3: Make sure the wood piece is placed directly against a hard, flat surface with the cupped area face down.

Step 4: Allow the piece to sit in the warm sun for three or four days. You’ll need to refresh the towels with water periodically so that the wood is kept moist.

how to unwarp wood shutterstock 1121488148
Teepakarn Khamwaen / Shutterstock

How to unwarp wood using pressure

Our last method involves using weight or pressure to correct the warped wood. This method also requires some moisture, but in a targeted area so that a specific side of the warped wood straightens out. The pressure method is useful for smaller wood items that can be clamped onto a table or workbench.

Step 1: Use thin sheets or paper towels for this method. Get them wet and apply them only to the concave side of the warped wood.

Step 2: Wrap plastic sheets around the wrapped wood piece to lock in moisture since the process will take several days.

Step 3: Use clamps to secure the wood piece to a flat surface. Tighten the clamps slowly and carefully so that the wood doesn’t crack or split. Alternatively, you can also weigh the warped section down by placing bricks or cinder blocks on top of it.

Step 4: Leave the wood clamped or weighed down for about a week so that the moisture dries up gradually and the wood unwarps slowly without splitting.

You love your wood furniture, wood floors, and other wood accents, so it’s disappointing when they become warped or otherwise damaged. By following the methods in this guide, though, you may not have to replace warped wood just yet and may be able to squeeze some more life out of your charming wood pieces and enjoy them for years to come.

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Veronica Sparks
Veronica Sparks is a writer from Milwaukee, Wisconsin who loves writing about gardening, home décor, and DIY life. She’s…
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