A Simple Steam-bending Setup
Once you set up a steambox, bending furniture parts is almost too easy. I’ve been bending wood using a variety of methods for the last 11 years. When I use steam, here is my current rig.
The steambox can be almost any box. You want it to leak steam and water so it doesn’t become a bomb. So simply screwing together some scraps of CDX plywood makes a great steambox. Drill some holes in the box to let the water and steam leak out. And add a door at the front with some cheap hinges.
The workpieces sit on 1/2”-diameter white oak dowels – an idea I got from chairmaker Peter Galbert. This allows the steam to easily surround the workpieces.
Until recently I used a kettle on a hotplate to make my steam. But Earlex now sells a steam generator that is easily hooked up to a steambox. It is safer and shuts itself down if it runs out of water (look for a review in a future issue of the magazine).
When you are getting started with steam-bending, it’s best to try something easy – like the crest rail of a chair. This is a simple and easy bend (you’ll want to work your way up to the compound bend for a continuous-arm Windsor).
I make a two-part form for the bend using some scrap MDF pieces that are glued and nailed together. Steam the part for an hour (if it’s less than 1” thick) and then put it in the form. Easy bends like this don’t need compression straps or other special equipment. Just your weight and a few bar clamps.
Let the wood sit in the form for two days before releasing it.
You’ll be surprised what you can bend. Green wood and air-dried wood are the easiest to bend. But you can bend kiln-dried wood if you soak it for a day before steaming it and are OK with a few broken pieces here and there.
— Christopher Schwarz