Notes on a Steam-bending Jig
I do only a little production work in my shop, so I don’t have a lot of jigs and fixtures. In fact, I think I can count them on one hand: a sliding table for my table saw, a shooting board/bench hook, my doe’s feet for my workbench and a V-block for planing objects to octagons.
But when I build a jig, I want it to last.
This week I decided to build a jig that is dedicated to bending crest rails for chairs. I find myself bending about 12 or more of these a year, so a jig that makes it easy (and foolproof) seems a good idea.
This jig is based on details from several bending forms I’ve seen through the years. I am certain it is nothing new. And I’m sure there are better bending forms out there. But here are some details you might want to consider if you ever need to build your own.
- Clamping. The form offers two ways to clamp the work, which helps me perform the job alone. When the hot stick is dropped into the form, the first thing I do is clamp it to the form at one end with a parallel-jaw clamp. As you can see, the shape of the form allows me to clamp across the end easily. Then there are a series of holes along the form. These are for F-style clamps that I can use to temporarily hold the position of the crest as I make the bend and reposition my body. After the bend is complete, the F-style clamps are removed.
- A bending strap. This form has an integrated bending strap to prevent the outside of the crest from bursting open during the bend. The strap is made from four strips of 3/4” wide steel strapping (the kind you find on boxes and pallets). The straps are attached to the form with 3”-long screws. The straps are attached to the stick on the end (which gives you leverage) with nuts and bolts.
- Stain protection. Because the strap is steel, it can stain tannic woods, such as oak. So the inside of the strap is lined with a waterproof duct tape. This also helps keep the straps in line during the bend.
I’ve done a run of crest rails this week using the jig and couldn’t be happier with the way it works. It almost – but not quite – makes me like jigs.
— Christopher Schwarz
To see other ways of bending chair parts, check out Don Weber’s great video on building Welsh stick chairs: “Build a Welsh Stick Chair.”