Steam Bending

Trees grow more or less straight. Sawyers mill trees into straight lumber. With a few tools, I can quickly put precise square edges on a board. But sometimes I want to make wooden shapes that are curved.

There are three main ways of creating curves out of wood: 1) cut the curve out of a solid piece of wood; 2) glue thin layers of wood together into a curved shape; or 3) soften the wood with heat and bend it.

Cutting a curve from a solid block produces a lot of waste for all but the gentlest curves. Curves cut from solid wood are also weak because they cut across the grain of a board. Bent lamination (method 2) produces stonger curves because the grain of each board being glued is left intact. However, the sawing required to create many thin boards for gluing wastes a significant amount of wood too.

Steam bending avoids these problems. The following pages illustrate the process of steam bending the parts required to make the oak coffee table.

To continue, click on the picture in the lower right of this page.

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designs & images © Jeff Hohner