Steaming mad

Nature hates straight lines.  This becomes evident as you cut a very expensive piece of wood and the first thing it does is warp every which way.

Based on that logic you would think that convincing wood to bend would be easy, and with some species of lumber this is true; other species, not so much.  More so as the lumber dries and moisture is lost.  Wood fibers are held together by a naturally occurring substance in the wood called lignin.  Imagine the wood fibers to be a bundle of rods with the space between them filled with lignin.  The strength of this lignin bond between the fibers can be decreased by subjecting the wood to moisture and heat, a technique known as steam bending.

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The concept is fairly simple.  Place wood in a (mostly) sealed container, heat water to rolling boil, then capture and divert the subsequent water vapor into said container for a specific amount of time depending on the size and species of wood.  There are many plans for steaming boxes available online ranging from simple to complex.  I didn’t have the need (or desire) to build a full blown steam box as the lengths of wood I was working with were fairly short.  I don’t plan to make a career out of bending wood into pretty shapes, just a couple of strips to finish the edge of the galley countertops. So I used what I had on hand: a length of PVC pipe with an end cap, a clean unused 1-gallon paint can for boiling water, a propane-fired shop heater, and some vinyl tubing.  Total cost: $0.00

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There’s a bit of a learning “curve” (excuse the pun) to bending wood and I went through several strips of teak trying to figure out how thick the strips could be without snapping, and for how long I needed to steam them.  I found out that an overnight soak in a tub of water helped the teak more easily accept steam, and was eventually able to coerce the wood into the radius I needed.  After about a 30 minute steam I quickly forced them into a pre made form, tightly clamped them down, and left them to slowly dry out for a couple of days.  You have to work fast (with gloves, because they’re HOT), since the wood rapidly looses it’s flexibility as it cools.  Within about 15 seconds you might as well forget about it, and then it’s back into the chamber for another steam session.  After popping them out of the form I laminated the strips with neat (unthickened) epoxy, and then clamped them back into the form to cure overnight.

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Once everything cured, I cut the ends to length, drilled and countersunk screws, and epoxied the curved strip to the edge of the Corian galley top.  Stay tuned for the rest of the story on finally finishing up the edges of the galley countertops…

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Miscellaneous Projects
Just fiddling around
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