Tips for Steam Bending

Advice on a steam-bending setup, and leads for more information. December 8, 2006

I need to bend some 1/4" strips of solid lumber for a project. I've seen bending boxes made up of PVC and I'm looking for info on how to put one together. I have a 10' piece of 8" sched 40 PVC. What else do I need and what are the possible potholes in my road to success?

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor L:
You can use a wallpaper steamer to produce the steam. You need to have a steam inlet and a steam outlet. If you are steaming more than one piece, separate them with stickers so the steam can penetrate the entire surface. Get/rent a high output paper steamer.

From contributor M:
I made one several years ago and cross drilled holes through the PVC pipe every foot or so and stuck dowels through. This keeps even a single piece suspended in the steam and they also served as vent (the fit wasn't that tight). For steam, I used a propane burner like the ones used to do outdoor deep frying, with a modified cooking pot to connect a steam line through the lid. It worked good for lots of steam, but I obviously had to use it outside. If you search for steam bending online you'll find lots of websites that illustrate it. It's kind of fun, but the road is filled with potholes.

From contributor R:
Lee Valley has a good tutorial on their website on bending. A bit tricky to find, but it's a good test of your research abilities. Get the book on bending wood from Woodcraft... t's only $15 and worth many times that. The only other book on bending is by Lon Schnelling (spelling). It's all been done before and there is enough published info to answer all your questions.

From contributor J
I have used the wallpaper steamer in a 6" PVC several times to make Windsor parts. The only thing I would add is to tip the whole unit slightly down and drill a hole in the bottom so the condensate will drain out. I did find that the PVC needs to be supported in the middle as a 6' span supported at the ends will bend due to the heat involved. You need to wrap it around a form quickly, but not so quick that it separates. A steep learning curve here. The other posts are very accurate according to my experience.

From contributor K:
Save yourself a lot of trouble and get the end straps from Lee Valley. Quarter inch should be easy, but will still blow out on the top or tension side if not supported by compression straps. They come with the best concise booklet you can find also.

From contributor S:
Lee Valley's site is an excellent starting point, especially their strap clamps. The straps may not be needed for thin wood or very gentle bends, but otherwise they're a necessity. You can modify from this idea, but cutting corners on a bending setup will be counterproductive.