Steaming Wood - give me the skinny!

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Forum topic by pashley posted 11-11-2010 05:44 PM 4570 views 0 times favorited 7 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1043 posts in 3718 days

11-11-2010 05:44 PM

Topic tags/keywords: steam

It looks like I’ll be having to deep my toe into the pond of steam bending wood pretty soon, for a special project. The project will involve bending Wenge, about 3/4” thick, 3.5” wide, and 4’ long. I have read that Wenge bends pretty well.

I’ll tell you what I think I know about steam bending, you tell me if it’s factual.

I’ll need to soak the wood for a couple of hours in water; I’ll need to build a steaming vessel, using a PVC or metal pipe, at least as big as the piece I’m bending. I need to drill a small steam relief hole, seal one end, and be able to temporarily seal the other. The steam is generated by a something as simple as a modifed tea kettle on a hot plate, with a tube leading the steam into the steaming vessel.

Fill in the blanks from there, please!

-- Have a blessed day!

7 replies so far

View cFurnitureGuy's profile


145 posts in 3176 days

#1 posted 11-11-2010 06:54 PM

i will let the experts fill in the blanks but… i use a clothes steamer like this one for the steam source:

i got it free from a bridal shop that closed down ;)
i think its the easiest setup! just my 2 cents :)

-- Justin, Savannah,Ga

View Brit's profile


7376 posts in 2843 days

#2 posted 11-11-2010 07:03 PM

I don’t claim to be an expert on steam bending, but I recently tried it myself for the first time and did quite a bit of research before I purchased anything. This is what I ended up doing:

I bought a length of PVC pipe together with the fixing brackets and two twist on end caps with rubber seals.
I also bought a cheap electric wallpaper steamer which came with a hose with connectors at each end. One end of the pipe screws to the water reservoir and the other end of the pipe is meant to screw to the plate that you move over wallpaper to steam it off. I didn’t want that bit, so I cut the male portion of the thread off the plate, drilled a hole in one of the end caps, poked the male thread through the hole from the inside and smeared some sealent around the hole. I could now connect the hose to my PVC pipe.

I had read that when you place the wood to be steamed in the pipe, it shouldn’t be sitting on the inside wall of the pipe as that prevents the steam from getting to that side of the wood. So I drilled four holes through the pipe below the centre line and put some bolts through the holes, secured with nyloc nuts on the other side and more sealent to prevent the the steam escaping. The wood sits on the bolts in the pipe so that steam can get to all sides of the wood.

At the other end of the pipe I drilled two 5mm holes, one at the bottom of the pipe to act as a condensation drain hole and one on the top of the pipe to allow the steam to escape and prevent pressure build up.

I then mounted the pipe onto a piece of wood using 5 pipe fixing brackets equi-spaced along the pipe. This is to prevent the PVC pipe from sagging when it becomes hot.

I put an end cap on the end of the pipe where I’d drilled the two holes, slid in my piece of wood into the other end so that it sat on the bolts, screwed on my other end cap which now had the steamer hose connector on it, connected the hose, filled up the water reservoir and plugged it in. After about 15 minutes I had a good head of steam coming out the hole at the end of the pipe and then I started the clock. I have read that you should allow one hour for every inch of wood thickness. Mine was just under an inch, so I gave it an hour.

It goes without saying that you need to wear gloves when unscrewing the end cap and removing the wood. It is also a good idea to wear long sleeved clothing and keep your face away from the steam.

You should have your former prepared and rehearse in your mind exactly how you are going to bend and clamp the wood because one you remove the wood from the steamer, you have literally seconds to bend it and get it clamped to the right shape. The longer you leave the wood clamped up, the better it will hold its shape once you remove the clamps. You will inevitably get some springback however, and you should allow for this when designing your former. One other point to bear in mind that you can’t bend the first and last 8-12 inches of a piece of wood as you don’t have any leverage left, so allow for that too and cut it off afterwards.

Hope this helps.

-- - Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View Brit's profile


7376 posts in 2843 days

#3 posted 11-11-2010 07:11 PM

Forgot to say that when I did my research, most people said that you shouldn’t soak the wood. There are many videos of people steam bending wood on YouTube if you want to take a look.

-- - Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View rance's profile


4258 posts in 3160 days

#4 posted 11-11-2010 07:33 PM

Nice reply Brit.

pashley, Only thing I would add is 1) use a simple cloth rag for the access door. Easy, sufficient, and safe. 2) Get your bending jig as close proximity to your steamer. A long walk from the steamer to your jig wastes valuable time.

Having a bottom vent hole only at one end could present a problem if the orientation of the pipe put that single vent hole uphill. No sense in not having vent holes all along the bottom of the pipe.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View pashley's profile


1043 posts in 3718 days

#5 posted 11-11-2010 07:34 PM

Ok, but about the PVC – I’ve also read that guys have PVC melting a bit due to the high heat of the steam…has that happened to you?

-- Have a blessed day!

View Clung's profile


98 posts in 2781 days

#6 posted 11-11-2010 07:41 PM

my two cents worth – soaking or steaming accomplishes the same thing. I’ve soaked small pieces in a pan of water on the kitchen stove – simply by immersing them in hot water. Steaming can be just as simple – I’ve steamed with a aluminum dryer tube propped on the counter with one end against the spout of the kettle and the other taped half way with duct tape. Steaming 3/16 planking took about 10 minutes – it’s easy to test the flexibility of the wood as soon as you remove it. Begin the bend as soon as you remove the wood from the tube, using gloves, and place it as soon as possible. You can overheat the wood by steaming too long, which will harden it – a general rule is one hour for every inch of thickness. Good luck!

-- Clarence

View Elksniffer's profile


101 posts in 3397 days

#7 posted 11-11-2010 08:22 PM

I have a steamer that closely resembles your picture. I used two 3’ sections of 6” sched 40 pipe with the tee in the center that supplies the steam. I use a propane turkey fryer and have ran the steamer for several hours at a time and haven’t noticed the pvc distorting from heat. Kiln dried wood does not steam/bend very well regardless of how much time you steam it. I use a steel band with handles it on the back side of the board being bent to reduce delaminating or cracking as you bend the wood around your form and the handles give a little more leverage.

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