I’ve spent the last couple of months in the studio (when I can spare some time from teaching) working out the kinks in my new steam-bending system. I decided last summer to change the material and process for the sculptural outdoor benches I’ve been making (with help from Chris, Yvonne and David) for the last few years. In keeping with my own manifesto, I decided to use only locally available, sustainably harvested material (as opposed to the Jarrah, that I love, but which I had shipped from Western Australia) and to use steam-bending rather than laminating to reduce the amount of waste byproduct and to avoid any chance of de-lamination of the benches in the rather extreme environment of the Napa Valley.
Steam-bending requires almost total control of the process of making from the milling of the lumber through to final assembly. For wood to be suitable it needs to be air-dried only to around 20% moisture content. Most commercially available lumber has been kiln dried to close to 8% moisture content and is difficult to bend. Then each board has its own strengths, weaknesses and inclinations so that total control of the final shape of each component is less reliable that when laminating. But this can be kind of interesting as the nature of the wood still comes through in the final form.
I managed to get the first fully successful steamed element formed just today on the last day of the year. I now have the process fairly well dialed in (I hope) and so I’m expecting that the steaming can become somewhat routine over the coming weeks. Like baking bread!
I’ll continue to post images as the first steam-bent bench comes together.
The indigo color on the wood comes from the tannins in solution in the wood reacting with the iron of the machine beds as the moist boards are dimensioned. The thicknesser actually wrings water out of the boards! this will be sanded off before the boards are assembled finally.
In the image above you can see the pencil line on the jig to the right of the board. That’s where the board is expected to flex back to after it has dried completely in a few weeks.
Steam Bending. Cut to size, steam and bend! Nothing could be simpler!
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!