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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 12 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.

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