What is Steam Bending?
Steam bending is a wonderful, almost magical, way to make curved parts. In a matter of hours I can transform what looks like a completely unbendable rough board more than 2″ thick into a beautifully curved chair leg ready for final shaping. The process uses material efficiently, especially compared to cutting out the same shape from a flat board. And, if I have been careful about orienting the long grain parallel to the sides of the blank, the grain will wrap around the bend making for a very strong leg with little or no run out. Although there are occasional bending failures (some wood just won’t bend even if it is a species that normally bends well), a careful and methodical process can yield very predictable results.
Steam bending really begins with careful wood selection and preparation. Once that is complete I am ready to bend. Here is a photo of my dedicated steam bending set up on the front porch of my shop. I like having it outside so I don’t have to deal with the effects of lots of steam inside the shop. It is also under cover so I can comfortably bend in all weather. The box is not insulated, but even in cold weather, once it reaches maximum temperature it stays there for the entire steam time.