A few weeks ago, I received a commission to build a small bookcase in the shape of a boat. Knowing that this would involve steam bending, which I have never done before, I made no promises, save that I would give it a try. I made a start last week.
As always, I began by selecting the timber, which in this case is ½” ash. I chose this because it is reportedly an excellent choice for steam bending. The main structure of the boat will of course be the two sides. These will both follow the arc of a circle, meeting at a point at the top and attached to a flat base at the bottom. The project would need to begin therefore, by seeing if I could make these curved sides.
It was time to make me a steam box.
I quickly knocked up a plywood box, not much bigger than the pieces of wood I wanted to bend. The box has a door, complete with gasket, three dowel supports to keep the wood up off the bottom of the box and a meat thermometer to monitor the temperature. I borrowed an old wallpaper stripper to generate the steam, and I found a threaded nozzle from an old air compressor that was the correct thread for the hose of the steamer. I epoxied it into the bottom of the box to provide an inlet for the steam.
Next, I made my form. I decided on the radius I wanted to achieve and then reduced it by 10% to allow for spring back. Using a piece of string and a pencil I scribed an arc on a piece of ply and screws some wooden blocks along that arc.
The steamer took about 40 minutes to heat up from cold, and as soon as it began producing steam I started timing. The guidelines suggest about an hour of steaming per inch of board thickness. As I was using ½” boards, I steamed for a little over 30 minutes.
With the board clamped in the form, I left it for a couple of days before doing the next one. While the second board was clamped, I noticed that the first one was losing some of its shape so I re-clamped it with the second. I have decided to leave them both clamped for a couple of weeks before proceeding, but I will keep you posted.
In other news, I recently entered some of my woodwork into the Guernsey Eisteddfod. For those of you that might be unfamiliar with that term, “Eisteddfod” is a Welsh term for a festival of music, literature and performance. Our local version of it also holds a creative arts and crafts section. I decided to enter a couple of pieces of turnery – an egg in an egg-cup, and three wooden mushrooms – as well as the folding chair I made last summer.
I was awarded a certificate for each, and received some encouraging comments. I’ve never done anything like that before but I am already thinking about next year’s entry.
Finally, I have been keeping up with the turning. I have been mostly rough turning bowl blanks from some evergreen oak and some sycamore that came my way recently. They have since been wrapped in newspaper and shaving and left to dry for a few months. However, I’ll leave you with some of the finished pieces I have turned recently.