Tool: Steam Generator
You probably know Earlex as the British company that a few years back introduced North American woodworkers to an inexpensive but capable HVLP sprayer. Now the company has introduced an inexpensive electric steam generator that makes it ever-so-easy to add steam-bending wood to your arsenal of techniques.
With the Earlex Steam Generator, all you need to do is make a plywood steam box and install the supplied brass fitting to connect the hose, then you’re in the bending business. I spent less than an hour making a CDX plywood box that was just shy of 4′ long with a 5′-square interior. (Don’t forget to include a door and a few holes to allow excess steam and condensation to escape.)
To test the system, I filled the plastic steam generator’s tank (the electric heating element is built-in) and plugged the unit in. I was pleasantly surprised to see how quickly steam was made from the 1.3 gallons of water – it was less than 30 minutes. That’s enough water to make steam for 130 minutes, or time enough to steam 2″-thick wood.
I placed an oven thermometer inside the box to see just how hot it got. In about 45 minutes, the interior temperature was more than 200° Fahrenheit. That temperature was sustained while I steamed a piece of 3⁄4“-thick material for 45 minutes. I also measured the hose temperature to see how hot it got – slightly more than 100°F in various locations along its 12′ length.
The steam generator has 1,500 watts of power and features both a pressure-relief valve and a safety cut-out on the heating element, should the water level get too low.