Kerf Cutting. How to Bend Wood with your Mind. I mean saw.

During my unscheduled hiatus I wasn’t a lump.  I cooked things, built things and ripped apart things.

I find manual labour soothing.  Measuring stuff, concentrating, contemplating the design of something.  Hitting things really, really hard with a hammer. All very soothing.

One of the things I focused my attention on was weaving a sort of round basket out of bamboo to cover up my garbage can and huge green bin.  This house has no hiding spots.  Nowhere to put things like garbage cans, snow blowers or bodies so that they’re out of view.

That’s why I had to build this cover for my recycling bins.

And that’s why I had to attempt this woven bamboo basket thing.  These were my materials.

Kerf Cut 10


It totally didn’t work.  Not even a little bit.  Apparently even though I was ready to do some manual labour my brain wasn’t.  I mean this basket thing I wove was a complete disaster.  If I were to do it again I’m sure I could get it to work but I can’t be bothered.  I’ll try something else eventually.  Maybe stack up all the neighbourhood cats on top of each other around my garbage cans.  Practical AND soft should you happen to fall into them.

However my time with the bamboo basket weaving wasn’t a complete write off.  The one and only thing about it that worked was my first attempt bending a piece of wood.   To make my garbage shield I had to bend the piece of wood you see at the bottom of my materials picture.

I was able to bend that piece of wood to 90 degrees by using a technique called kerf cutting.  And here’s how you do it …




Kerf (def)

Kerf refers to the width of cut a sawblade makes when it’s cut through wood.  When you’re cutting a board you have to allow for the width of the sawblade  and its teeth when you’re cutting.

Kerf cutting is making many kerf cuts (cuts the width of your sawblade) along a piece of wood.
Kerf Cut 1

Normally you would use a table saw to do this. It would be much more precise and much easier than doing it with a handsaw.  Even though I have access to a table saw, I figured many of you would not, so I wanted to see if kerf cutting was possible with a regular saw.
Kerf Cut 2

It is.
Kerf Cut 3

The most important thing about kerf cutting is making sure you cut through enough of the wood.  You need to get so close to the edge of the wood that it’s scary.  That you’re sure it’s too close and you’re going to cut your wood in half.
Kerf Cut 4

Once you have enough cuts for the amount you want the wood to bend, you cross your fingers, make an “I’m scared” face and start bending.  If the wood seems to be resisting, you haven’t cut through far enough.
Kerf Cut 7


At this point you should be able to bend the wood the same way you can bend a bendable straw.
Kerf Cut 9


It looks good, it worked, I’m pleased.
Kerf Cut 5

Now if it were only large enough to cover a garbage can I’d be set.


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  1. Barbie says:

    I am totally calling my husband (the know it all) to see if “he” knows what “kerf cutting” is….I BET I will finally know something he does NOT! stay tuned!

    • Karen says:

      LOL. I’m waiting … ~ karen

      • Barbie says:

        He described something entirely wrong for Kerf cutting! He does lots of woodworking…has an entire 2000 sq ft. shop in fact! As I got ready to explain to him what it actually “was” I informed him he was NOT allowed to say “Oh yeah, I knew that” and explain why he had not understood the question.

        This is a good day for me. This does not happen often……as you can probably tell! LOL

  2. Pam'a says:

    Nice kerfing, Karen! And if anyone’s interested in seeing some other things you never knew could be done with wood, check out a site like Amazing stuff!

  3. caryl says:

    Wow we are a greedy lot-glad you’re back for our amusement. I actually loved the prelude to the kerfing. Hitting things really hard—covering up the garbage!! You will be just fine and I love you for it!xoxox

  4. Laura Bee says:

    Very cool ~ you really did that in one try! I would be chicken (no offence girls) and use a metal ruler as a jig & also use it to get the cuts evenly spaced. I’m not OCD or anal retentive – just a picky Virgo.

  5. rktrixy says:

    Another way to make a curve is to work with several thinner pieces and then laminate (glue) them together. I think they also wet the wood to do this as it relaxes the wood fibers.

    Warning: this is coming from some cob-webbed corner of my brain!

  6. Chris says:

    Thank you for the lesson on kerf cutting. I am getting braver with power tools so I think I may experiment with this one. I am sure I will find uses for it. Do you think a veneer could be used on it?
    Just had an idea for your garbage cans. Shirley gave you a great one to paint them but if they are plastic it is much more labour intensive. Window wells come in a variety of sizes, depths and widths. You can attach to the wall and because they are metal they would be simple to paint the same dark colours as your chicken coop. They even have clear plastic covers to keep out the snow and rain.

  7. Jeannie B says:

    I agree Karen, that manual labour is good therapy for the soul. Thanks for explaining kerf cutting. I always thought that bending wood, required soaking the wood in water too, or steaming it, to make it bendable. You, can do anything!

  8. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    I also wondered how wood was bent..I thought it was just soaked in water..well..well..I also agree with the lady that said an “Art Of Doing Stuff” book would be great..Just think of how many buyers you would have just from the blog..I would love it!

  9. Auntiepatch says:

    I’ve often wondered how they “bend” wood like that! How did you know? Thanks and welcome back!

  10. Shirley says:

    KERF: I am SO using that word in my next Words With Friends game. Thank you, Karen! There is no end to what I learn from you.

    And re your attempt to camouflage your garbage cans, why don’t you just give up and paint them like the painted cows or moose you see in cities or the painted fire hydrants we have here in Tweed? You could use the paint leftover from your log-painting the other day. Think how much more attractive the streets would be on garbage day! You might start a trend.

  11. “You need to get so close to the edge of the wood that it’s scary.” Exactly my sentiments when I saw the detail picture of the depth of the cuts. I was going “YIKES! That’s awfully close to the edge of the wood!” Very interesting technique!

  12. Sandi says:

    It’s so good to have you “back.” Keep the faith. :)

  13. Mary Werner says:

    My brilliant idea for making millions was to produce/market huge decals that could be put onto garbage cans so everyone would enjoy looking at them. I could have just painted them and had lots of people ask me to do theirs but how could I make a million doing that? Don’t fight it Karen, just make them cool looking. It would help street loads of people on garbage day. We could even have after-shave commercials that continue down the street making it fun to read. Wow, the wonderful money making ideas I come up with.

  14. Carolyn says:

    Wow, your amaze me every day. Is there any thing you can’t do. You really need to write a book. I know I would buy it.
    Good Job Karen..

    • Sue T. says:

      Carolyn…WE WOULD ALL BUY IT!

      Great idea for you Karen (although I know this isn’t the first time this has been suggested).
      But it is a great idea. And you wouldn’t need to charge two arms and a leg either because you already know how much we adore you and enjoy your writing. Surely you have some comprehension of how many of your followers would want to own one!! I
      think you should reconcider the idea…for us! Please?

      • Karen says:

        LOL. The problem Sue T. is that I don’t have time to write a book with all new projects and ideas in it. Writing a blog like that takes up all the hours of every day. :( I’m considering writing a book but I wouldn’t be able to do one that replicates what I do on this site. It’s just to labour intensive. I’ll think of something though. ~ karen!

      • Sue T. says:

        Thank you for the reply Karen. I didn’t necessarily mean a parallel to your blog though. You have such a knack for humor and writing,combined with your life experiences, I feel you could do a book on most anything and it would be succesful and appreciated!
        I’ll be anxiously awaiting to see what your future holds. For the moment though I,like everyone else, am just grateful to ‘hear’ your sweet voice again.

  15. KimC says:

    I always wondered how the bending of the wood was done and I learned a new word here today that wasn’t a swear Holy cow Karen, how did you get your cuts so even and precise? Love the photos. They show the detail beautifully. Now I want to go kerf cut, just need to figure out what to make with it.

  16. SuzyM says:

    Okay, Karen, I’m looking at that pretty pile of bamboo and, as I’m not quite sure how you were going to kerf and then weave, but I know it was going to be innovative and cool, but, how about making a base out of a round of wood. If it was your intention to make this cover and then your can would fit in and out of it from the top then a solid round of wood would work, I think. Okay, around the outer perimeter you drill holes for the bamboo to fit into vertically. After putting it in the holes you would probably have to glue it to get it to stay, but then you would basically have a basket “base” on which you could weave something through. I don’t know if the bamboo would work or if you could use cane or thin strips of wood soaked in water to make them pliable, but I’m just thinking off the cuff here and trying to give your great idea a kickstart!

  17. Feral Turtle says:

    If “keeping busy” was in the dictionary, you would see kerf cutting as the meaning….that’s a lot of cutting by hand!

  18. Brenda says:

    Hi K so glad I can enjoy my morning coffee again, welcome back.
    Very cool isn’t it…I have a large window frame from the old brick house down the road that I salvaged as they were tearing it down, I use it for display on my studio wall. The top of the window is rounded, the pine boards were ‘Kerfed’ just like this to make the curve….I notice such things.))

  19. Bonnie says:

    Similar to Hasselback potatoes? I fear those will break, as well.

    Welcome back
    We missed you!

  20. Denise Leavens says:

    So, after the failed basket weaving project did you mutter, “Kerfes! Foiled again!”

  21. Sue T. says:

    Hey Karen, Where are your regular ads, Rough Linen,etc. ? Will they be back? Thanks!

  22. motherhen says:

    After completing this task does one say ‘Kerf Phew’?
    Yes, I am up after my curfew!

  23. Marti says:

    Ok, did I miss the part where it says which way to bend the wood? Do you bend it with the kerf cuts inside the curve, and the missing wood removed by the saw accommodates the curve?

    OR.. do you put the kerf-cut wood teeth-side out? And it fans out?

    Why don’t you just give up and mod-podge that garbage bin? Sure, you have to keep it out of the rain, but you can get a spiffy basket design and tell everyone that your basketmaking was successful. Just sayin…

    • Stan Nowak says:

      I’ve done this before, but didn’t know they were called ‘kerfs’- the kerf cuts go on the inside of the curve. That way the spaces created by the saw cuts are closed when the wood is bent – plus you don’t see the kerf ‘scars’ on the outside of the curve. If you bend it the other way, you’re sure to break the wood. It can be fairly labour-intensive, even with a table saw! You really do have to put your mind to it and focus! Perhaps this should be called Zen and The Art of Doing Stuff!

      • Laura Bee says:

        “Zen and The Art of Doing Stuff” Love it! Still need to read that book. BF has it on his part of the bookcase.

    • Johan says:

      see pictures….
      you will quickly break the piece of wood if you bend it teeth side out.

    • Beth says:

      Kerf cuts to the inside. Also, a wider saw blade will give you a quicker angle to the piece you’re bending (if that made sense) – because the more wood you take away with the blade, the further the leftover teeth have to curve to touch each other.

      Now I want to go kerf something. My hubby will be not-so-pleased that curved wood is going to start to make it’s way into my attempts at building furniture.

  24. danni says:

    If you are going for pure exhaustion, reupholstering is a good choice. Partially because of the physical labor, sure, but also for all the things that you will certainly screw up, you will spend an inordinate amount of time cursing, redoing math and tearing out seams that you put in the wrong way. You are so frustrated and furious with your project and the 500$ you spent on fabric that you (almost) forget the other thing that is up your craw. And when you are done, you will have a new sofa. That sits in the library. That NO ONE is allowed to sit on bc you fear it might kill them.

  25. Alisha says:

    Actual conversation I just had with my boyfriend (who happens to actually know everything and BE good at everything).
    “I just learned how to Kerf cut wood”
    “Uh huh”
    “You don’t know how to do it do you?”
    “I do but feel free to enlighten me”
    “No way, you tell me how you think it’s done”
    “Ok you use the kerf of a saw blade … ”
    “What’s a kerf?”
    “The space left behind by a saw blade when you cut into wood – is that not in the tutorial?”
    “F-Bomb. No I don’t think so but I might have skimmed over it”
    “You learned how to kerf cut by skimming a blog post on The Art of Doing Stuff?”
    “pPfdffttt You’d be surprised how much I learn by skimming this blog”
    Alisha: 0 Boyfriend: 1

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