How to Straighten Warped Fence Panels (5 Steps)

Warping seems to be something every woodworker struggles to keep at bay. And it can be frustrating as a first-time DIYer, homeowner, or construction worker to see all of your hard work and money seemingly go down the toilet at the sight of warped wood.

Warping can be caused by a lot of different variables. Weather is a huge cause of it, as a little moisture in the air or a change in temperature can cause untreated wood to start bending immediately.

Maybe you weren’t sure which type of buy, so you brought home the cheapest of the bunch, and therefore the most susceptible to warping. Or maybe you brought home wood that wasn’t pre-treated or dried at all, leaving you scratching your head as to how to salvage your material.

It doesn’t take a lot for first-time wood buyers to end up with deformed wood. Thankfully, though, warped wood isn’t the end of a piece of wood’s life.

Woodworkers have been using warping as a natural form of manipulation since the art of woodworking was born. This is pretty apparent when you look at how guitars or boats have been built. So don’t go throwing away that lumber just yet.

With the steps below, which cover the most popular method of de-warping, your warped wood can be salvaged (hurray!) If you need alternative methods, depending on your specific circumstances, just keep scrolling.

1. Apply Water to Warped Area

The best way to allow a piece of wood to be able to move again is to give it back its natural moisture. If it’s a small enough amount of wood, you can do this by submerging it in water, like a tub or basin.

Another method involves simply just dampening your wood with a spray bottle filled with water.

Make sure that you dampen it enough that a large amount of wood can get access to enough water. Otherwise, just the surface area will become damp, not the inner area of the wood, which controls a majority of the shape.

If you don’t have a spray bottle or a tub of water around, an easy method is laying damp wet cloths onto the wood, allowing it to soak it up over time and straighten out.

If the wood is majorly warped, be sure to wrap it entirely in plastic wrap in order to keep the moisture in for longer than normal, allowing it to move more before evaporating.

2. Use a Glue Mixture to Keep Your Boards Straight

A fantastic way of keeping the boards straight is by then switching your water for a mixture of both water and glue, once the initial water has been soaked in.

It’s suggested that the only glue you should be using is Elmer’s white glue or wood glue mixed in with water.

Since wood no longer has natural sap after it is cut and prepared for use in a building project, this glue will replicate the sap and help it in keeping the wood fibers filled.

This also means that natural cracking will heal and there will much less warpage in the long run.

An added tip is to seal the grain off from future water damage as soon as the mixture is dried, seeing as this will help the glue to stay as strong as it is for as long as possible.

3. Allow it Dry with Clamps or Applied Pressure

Clamps are an incredibly easy method of applying even pressure throughout a project, making fixing warped wood an even easier task.

Next, you need to apply a good amount of force to the wood in order to bend it in the direction you want it to

Clamps are a fantastic way of forcing the wood to bend to your will. Either use clamps or an even spread out amount of pressure through the use of a heavy object. Be careful with this step, as too much pressure can damage the wood fibers.

This is where patience comes into play. Leave the clamps or weight on for about a week, give or take. It’s important that they can dry in a warm environment, Be sure to check it regularly, to see if the weight is too large and damaging the wood.

If it is, just simply replace it with something less hefty or tight. This will allow the wood fibers to breathe a little bit, and return back to their normal size.

4. Speed Up Drying by Using Artificial Heat

Heat is necessary in keeping the wood warm, drying, and the wood fibers moving.

If you don’t have the time to wait for a piece of wood to dry over a week, it’s always an option to use artificial heat.

If you’re warping is just on a small portion of your plank, you can always use a heat lamp to speed up the process. If it’s a much larger project, use a heated blanket and place it around the wood, or place your wood on a warming mat, evenly spread out.

Both of these options will take around six to eight hours a day, depending on how much movement needs to happen. Remember, if you don’t get the desired results the first time, you can always reapply water, pressure, and heat in order to gradually keep the wood moving.

5. Stain, Paint or Seal to Prevent Future Warping

No matter the project, putting a finish on your wood project will help it to stay as beautiful as the day you installed it.

Remember that unwarping wood isn’t the end of the battle. Be sure to follow all the necessary precautions against future bending.

This can include preparing the ends of the wood planks with a sealant, seeing as moisture evaporates from the ends of a plank of wood 70% quicker than the rest of the board.

Staining or painting as soon as possible will also help your wood keep unnecessary moisture out and the necessary moisture in, allowing you to get back to actually finish the job of creating your fence that you began in the first place.

Alternative Methods

If you have plenty of time to wait, but not a lot of equipment, an easy way of putting some moisture back into the warped sections of your wood is by dampening some towels, applying them to parts of the wood that are deformed, and setting them out in the sunlight.

The sun will naturally heat up the wood planks over time, which can save you a lot of money on your next electricity bill.

If your planks are thinner than normal, a great way of introducing some new water to a warped piece is through the use of a steam machine or an ironing machine.

With ironing, all you need to do is place a wet towel or paper towel over the affected wood and place an iron on top of it. This will allow the wood fibers to relax much quicker, and help them to soak in that moisture. After that just clamp it, and let it dry, and repeat as necessary.

For more information with a great visual guide on how to iron out a warped board, check out the Youtube video listed below:

With a steam machine, which is a specialty piece of equipment, you can supercharge water into a specific portion of wood through the use of rising steam traveling through a lattice or hole-filled surface.

Technical as it may be, this is one of the fastest ways of getting moisture into a wood plank.

If you’re warped wood has already begun to cause splitting, simply just grab a putty knife, some masking tape wood glue, and some clamps. Put some masking tape on both sides of the slip, apply a generous amount of wood glue to the area that has been affected and clamp it together.

If it’s a large amount of splitting, which warping can sometimes cause, just apply clamps at least three inches apart from each other to allow for equal movement. Let the glue dry overnight and then remove the clamps the next day.

And lastly, there is the quick option of using a moist cloth to wrap the wood, wrapping that in nylon paper, and applying pressure. If you have all of these materials, it’s only takes about 2-3 days for the water to fix your warping.

It is important to be patient still to get the results that you want.

In the end, warping doesn’t have the be the end of a piece of wood’s life. Though it may be a bit of extra work and time, salvaging warped wood can sometimes even make it stronger in the process, allowing your future fence project to be even longer lasting than it would have been.

For more information on why wood warps in the first place, and how to keep your lumber from bowing, cupping or kinking, check out my other article here.

Fence Frenzy

We at Fence Frenzy absolutely love taking on the challenge of building, or even restoring, a fence. Especially elaborate and exotic fence designs that really make us scratch our heads! We're happy to share everything we've learned with you.

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