This is a wrap-up posting to talk about some of the lessons I learned in making the chair. I like to retrospect a little at the finish of a project to understand what worked, what didn’t work, and how to apply those lessons to my craft.
This was the first time I’d done a project with steam-bending. For the most part that worked out fine. The actual process of steam-bending is not as daunting as it first seems. There were some challenges in building the forms—they need to be very sturdy to take the bending stresses, and have to be configured to accept clamps at places where clamps are needed. But the major challenge was cracking. I was bending kiln-dried wood without strapping, so even though I was bending fairly thin strips, there was still some cracking at the bends.
The cracking was random—some of the slats bent easily, others cracked. I think that’s just a characteristic of using kiln-dried wood. For a future project, I’d try harder to source air-dried wood and/or use strapping. (Although using strapping would have been a challenge on these pieces.)
It was also difficult with steam-bending to get all the slats exactly the same profile. The differences weren’t huge, so it wasn’t a problem in this (rustic, casual) style furniture. But in a more formal piece it would have been problematic.
There was also some side-to-side warping of the bent slats. I’m not sure whether this was due to the steam bending or to something else—perhaps the release of tension within the wood when cut. But it resulted in the gaps between the slats being somewhat irregular.
Again, this would have been a bigger problem in a more formal piece. It also complicated assembly, which was already difficult enough thanks to the various bends and angles involved.
Another lesson-learned was to pay more attention to the cutting of the slats to preserve the grain figure. To be honest, the wood looked fairly pedestrian before I resawed and cut the slats. It wasn’t until I’d done some sanding that I realized that there was a nice grain figure. By careful milling I could have preserved and book-matched the entire figure and kept it continuous across the back and down to the seat. As it was I ended up with a partial match.
With more attention to the wood I might have also noticed that a few of the boards had insect tracks or some other kind of flaw. They didn’t seem to affect the strength of the wood, but became more obvious when the piece was finished:
The tracks and the bend cracks actually ended up giving the piece some character and more of an aged look, so I’m not entirely upset, but it could have turned out worse, and it’s something I need to pay more attention to in the future.
Finally, the joinery on the chair is entirely dowels. I used maple dowels in two sizes to provide a contrast to the mahogany. For the larger sized dowels, I also wedged them with walnut to add an additional detail and to pick up the walnut from the compass roses. Unfortunately, walnut is considerably softer than maple, so it didn’t work very well as a wedging wood. It tended to just mushroom out and look sloppy:
In the future I’d probably wedge maple with maple, and dye the wedge to a dark color for the contrast.