Q & A: Steam Bending Gear
What do I need to know before building a simple steam-bending rig?
Steam bending doesn’t require sophisticated equipment. For a single bending project, you can quickly cobble together an apparatus from ordinary materials.
The box. Build a box that fits your pieces out of
any untreated solid wood or exterior plywood. Add a hinged or lift-off lid, but don’t make it airtight. Add a simple racktosupportyourpiecessothesteamcancirculate.Tiltthe box slightly and drill a 1/2-in. hole 6-in. from the end to drain condensate and relieve pressure.
Schedule 40 PVC pipe is another option, as shown above. A 10-ft. section of 4-in. schedule 40 PVC pipe and two end caps cost about $20. Drill 3/16-in. holes every couple of feet to suspend your pieces on 12-gauge electrical wire.
Schedule 40 PVC is safe to use for steaming, but it will soften and droop when hot. Nail two boards in a “V” for support. Don’t forget the 1/2-in. drain hole.
Water container. Use any type of metal container to which you can attach a hose, such as a new gas can or
an old tea kettle.
Heat source. Electric hot plates
or camp stoves will do, but they are
not very efficient. Pros often use a propane gas burner available from camping stores. Caution: propane
?must be used outdoors.
A convenient alternative is an electric tea kettle kit (Lee ValleyTools, 800-871-8158, #05F14.01; $32.50). It comes with a 6-in. section of 1-1/2-in. pipe to insert into the kettle’s spout. The kettle holds enough water for an hour’s worth of steaming and will shut off automatically when the water runs out.
Hose. A garden hose will do the job, but an automobile radiator hose (about $10) is a better choice. It’s much easier to attach to the steam kettle kit, but you must drill a 1-1/2-in. diameter hole in your box or pipe end cap. Radiator hoses are available in many sizes at all auto parts stores.
This story originally appeared in American Woodworker September 2003, issue #102.