Recently, my Grandson asked if I would help him make a Lacrosse stick in the manner of a Native American Lacrosse Stick. Of course, I said yes. Then I learned I would need to steam bend 1” wood into a 3” radius.
Whoops. I had a lot to learn about steam bending of wood, FAST.
I needed wood. A Native American Lacrosse Stick should be made from partially air dried Hickory or White Oak, then steam bent. Since I live in Central California, I needed to find wood. After several phone calls around the state and then the nation, I learned the state of California will not allow the importation or even transporting native woods between many areas. The only way to import many woods is if they are kiln dried and certified as not having any disease or fungus.
Well, there goes the idea of using partially air dried wood with about 25% to 30 % moisture content. I checked my personal wood supply and found some really nice straight grained White Oak. But it had been in the rack for over five years, was kiln dried and had a MC of 5% according to my meter. Could this work?
In searching around the web, most found many ‘Experts’ caution against trying to bend kiln dried wood. Many ‘on line’ even said it could not be accomplished. But I came across on person claiming he had reasonably good luck bending KD White Oak with a special system he had been using. Another spoke of having used this system successfully.
His system sounded ridiculous, by plausible. He starts with the selection of good, straight grain White Oak. Then it goes in the bath for two weeks under water. But here is the special twist. Downey Fabric Softener. He adds DFS to the water! After two week under water, then into a steam in a chest at 200 F for 1 hr/per inch of thickness. Then he claims you can bend 1” material down to 3” radius using a bending strap, lots of clamps, and the bending jig.
I have to try.
I took my White Oak and cut it to 15/16” x 1-7/16” x 70”. I check the 9 pieces and determined the graining was wrong on two pieces. Now I was down to 7 sticks. I put all 7 oak sticks into a 8” diameter plastic pipe with caps on both ends. Then I , filled the pipe nearly to the top with water, and topped out with 2 cups of Downey Fabric Softener. Two week later, I took out the wood to stand in the corner and dry for a couple of days. Then I put it into the steam chest for 60 minutes.
Now, the critical step is that of bending within the time window. The first try was less than successful, simply because I placed my clamps wrong. Whoops!, I did something wrong. I did get the bending completed, by I did not get the desired curve to the final product. Mea Culpa
The second bending went perfect. But took 12 min, 20 seconds to complete the bend. All I have read tells me the bending time-window is just a fraction of the time I used. However, I was very successful. The third, fourth & the sixth bendings went as did the 2nd, but when bending stick # five, it cracked and was I was forced to toss it out, and # seven had developed a crack when in the water, so we did not even try to bend it.
I found a bending success rate of 5 out of 6 or over 80% success. This success rate is much greater than many of the ‘Dooms-Day’ had predicted. Most said it would be nearly impossible to re-constitute Kiln Dried wood and successfully bend to nearly any radius.
I also found the elasticity of the hot steamed wood of this thickness was significantly greater than most of the ‘Pro’ had predicted it would be.
My Grandson thinks his Granddad is the greatest woodworker. His Granddad thinks his Grandson is one most promising woodworker.
[I wish I could remember from whom or where I obtained this information regarding the two-week soaking in water and Downey Fabric Softener. I am sure I would have not been successful without this information. I found it somewhere on the internet. Thanks, whoever you are!
-- Rustfever, Central California