Steaming ahead!

The longer bends (up to 16ft) are now coming out of the steamer and seem to be behaving very nicely.

I decided to add a steel backing strap to each bend. The boards do free bend without a strap pretty easily. But when I was bending the shorter 8ft lengths, I had failures on several of the bends; even the less extreme ones. Also, occasionally, a single board will twist and warp while its being bent and there is no way I can supply sufficient torque to pull it back out of wind before it cools too far to be elastic. I think that the back-strap will maintain a more consistent compression throughout the board, help constrain twisting, keep the board warmer (and so flexible) for longer, and will give me a more consistent bend following the form laid out by the jig.

I love the steaming process. It has a nice rhythm to it. The work can’t be rushed. There is an precision to it that can only be discovered not predetermined. Its all dependent on the weather, the particular board being bent, the vagaries of the particular days work, and the individual curve that needs to be followed. Its a bit like baking bread!

Everything in the studio needed to be juggled to allow for quick placing of the steamed board into the jig, with strap in place, followed by the bend of a 16′ curve in one even sweep.

Board in place, ready to bend!

I love the Veritas steam-bending strap and adjustable end stop, to control the compression as the bend happens.

Bend complete, with steam still rising.

I like to imagine that I’m following in the footsteps of the great 19th Century cabinetmaker, innovator, inventor, industrialist Michael Thonet. I always start my History and Theory of 20th Century Furniture class at CCA with Thonet; his discoveries, set-backs and the development of his company makes such a great story. It’s the perfect exemplar of the industrialization of furniture production based on innovation; from technology and production methods right through to social engineering and international marketing. Apart from the fact that I’ve got on my trusty Blundstone boots, what I’m doing isn’t very far from these Thonet workers a century ago.

Michael Thonet and the boys

pre OH&S

Tough toes!

“Now where did I put that part?”


  1. hi donald
    you are definitely right to use the strap. the difference is the effect it has on the fibres causing them to slide together in compression and retain the integrity of the wood. without the strap, the outer fibres will stretch apart and ultimately separate, causing failure.
    i love the thonet pictures!


  2. Thanks David. And thanks for your advice. You were right, the strap isn’t that much more work and the results are definitely worth it. It will be interesting to see how much it affects spring back.


  3. Good observation on the strap keeping the board warmer too. I imagine having a continuous curve on the male side of your form would also aid in keeping the heat and moisture in. Are you sanding off the black stains or letting the weather lighten up the color?


    1. David. There is only staining on the short lengths so far as they were thicknessed on my planer at home and it left iron stains on the wood as it was so wet. The staining is very superficial so I’ll just sand it off prior to assembly. There is none coming from the strap yet at it is brand new and freshly painted steel. I will probably have to switch to Stainless as the project proceeds.


  4. Don
    Love these Thonet pictures – A couple of years ago I visited the TON plant in Moravia, CZ – which is where these photos were taken. Their corporate offices are in Thonet’s original villa. They still do some of their bending on these jigs – quite extraordinary to watch, but sadly the workers are no longer barefoot! I would have thought that the barefoot style was more suited to California than Czech…


  5. yes staining: we always used stainless straps which are very necessary for oak!


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