Hot tips on steam bending
Years of experience have taught chairmaker Russ Filbeck a few steam-bending secrets:
* Soften up hardwoods. Soaking air-dried hardwood parts for a week helps prepare the lignin for bending. To help the water penetrate the wood, add 1⁄2 cup of fabric softener as a surfactant. Add water daily so long as the wood absorbs it. Once the wood is bent and sanded, the softener won't interfere with stains or finishes.
* Minimize wood thickness. When bending parts that will have a taper, Russ tapers the wood before steaming to reduce its resistance to bending. On parts where he'll round over two edges along the inside face of a bend, he chamfers those edges before steaming to reduce the amount of wood to be compressed during bending.
* Learn from experiments. While steam-bending parts for a project, fill any leftover space in your steamer with various sizes of practice pieces to test their bending ability for future projects.