Steam box - Build or Buy?

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Forum topic by yellowtruck75 posted 11-09-2010 04:31 PM 3818 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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469 posts in 3029 days

11-09-2010 04:31 PM

I want to start attempting Windsor chairs but a necessary tool that I need is a steam box. I have been looking around at people’s home made steam boxes and at ones that I can buy. It seems that to get it right it is expensive to build. The one that I am looking to buy is Mike Dunbar’s on website (not a student so have to pay higher price). If I opt for the entire package its $375 but removing the saw buck and the burner it takes it down to $255, which isn’t to bad. So the question I am asking myself is, is it worth to spend the money and know its build correct or attempt it on my own and possibly get it wrong. What have others done and/or suggest.

I know that is hard to discuss since everyone is in different financial positions but I am looking at this from the perspoective of getting it right and have it work flawless.

12 replies so far

View hairy's profile


2654 posts in 3494 days

#1 posted 11-09-2010 04:49 PM

When it gets down to something that is really safety related, (like what isn’t in woodworking) I buy it.

I have some pics of one I downloaded off the web. It’s not my project, not my pics, so I won’t post them here.
I will email if you want. This guy used pvc pipe and a wallpaper steamer. It looked fairly simple.

-- My reality check bounced...

View Eric_S's profile


1565 posts in 3158 days

#2 posted 11-09-2010 05:07 PM

I can’t tell you which way to go but here is a link to one by American Woodworker:

-- - Eric Noblesville, IN

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469 posts in 3029 days

#3 posted 11-09-2010 05:28 PM

hairy I have the thoughts about safety and buying vs building. With a steam box I could cause alot of damage if its not properly built.

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Bob #2

3809 posts in 3984 days

#4 posted 11-09-2010 05:31 PM

I have scrounged 6” galvanised pipe for mine and will use a steam kettle with auto boil dry shut off .
I’m going to vent it out the window.

-- A mind, like a home, is furnished by its owner

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1381 posts in 4090 days

#5 posted 11-10-2010 12:21 AM

View dakremer's profile


2664 posts in 3054 days

#6 posted 11-10-2010 01:13 AM

i made one out of PVC pipe. Works really well actually. I made sure it was set up on a slight angle, and a hole towards one end on the bottom to let out the hot water (and pressure) that forms inside. If the hot water has a way of escaping and some of the pressure can be relieved, steam boxes are pretty safe. Just have to make sure you wear gloves, long sleeves, and keep your face back when opening up the door so the steam doesnt hit you and burn you! there are TONS of designs online. I would say building one is the best option. i built my PVC one for like $15. Granted it doesnt hold many pieces at a time (but i didnt need that). I would imagine you could build one that is custom built to your needs for WAY less than $255.

-- Hey you dang woodchucks, quit chucking my wood!!!!

View DonH's profile


495 posts in 2780 days

#7 posted 11-10-2010 01:18 AM

I have a steam box made from ABS pipe and fittings and it works well and is cheap. Just select the diameter of pipe you need to accommodate the projects you intend to undertake. The Lee Valley (Veritas) directions will provide all else you need.

-- DonH Orleans Ontario

View shipwright's profile


7965 posts in 2760 days

#8 posted 11-10-2010 02:33 AM

When I had my shipyard, I used an industrial steam cleaner with the water pump disconnected and a few other mods. It fed a box that was about 25’ long and made out of an old piece of about 18” diameter wooden pipe. It would steam two inch planks in about 30 minutes. When I needed a portable unit later I built this one for free.
It is infinitely adjustable for steam quality and easy to use. I used it to feed a box about 14’ long and 12” square. It took about 45min to steam 1” oak or 1 1/2” softwood. It’s made out of two discarded 20# propane bottles and part of a scrap oil fired hot water tank. The heat was supplied by a tiger torch under the cowling (HWT half)
It makes beautiful steam.
Please excuse the condition, I haven’t used it in about 15 years. If you are interested, I can describe how it works, if not I won’t take up the space here.

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

View Lochlainn1066's profile


138 posts in 2739 days

#9 posted 11-10-2010 02:48 AM

The price seems pretty high for something that simple. There isn’t much to it, and so long as your steam source is safe, the box shouldn’t be a problem.

-- Nate,

View poopiekat's profile


4349 posts in 3697 days

#10 posted 11-10-2010 02:58 AM

It might be worth adding that the steambox issue is only half of the problem, the other half being how you gotta find straight-grained logs and split them, following the splits the way the log wants to split, and carefully hewing your own raw pieces to steam-bend. You can’t just use dressed lumber for this, and expect good results.

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View dakremer's profile


2664 posts in 3054 days

#11 posted 11-10-2010 05:01 AM

yeah air-dried lumber, with straight grain is KEY to a good steam bent piece of lumber. Its very hard (close to impossible) to steam bend kiln-dried lumber. good luck! let us know what you decide

-- Hey you dang woodchucks, quit chucking my wood!!!!

View shipwright's profile


7965 posts in 2760 days

#12 posted 11-10-2010 05:39 AM

I looked at the links. I guess I’m in the wrong ballpark. Those tea kettle arrangements will take a long time but I guess on small pieces they will work. Pressurized steam ie: 225deg.F is faster and penetrates better, but again I guess on small pieces it isn’t required.. I will pass on my steam bending do’s though. In case it doesn’t come up elsewhere… 1) bend on the flat grain, that is on the inside and outside of the curve. 2) take a little chamfer off the corners to prevent running splinters that can ruin the whole piece. 3) Good grain is important but it needn’t be perfectly straight. 4) Can’t be “kill” dried.
I’m glad this came up . I think I may put the old steamer to use on my next piece.

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

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