Q & A: Steam Bending Gear
What do I need to know before building a simple steam-bending rig?
Steam bending doesn’t require sophisticated equipment. For a single bending project, you can quickly cobble together an apparatus from ordinary materials.
The box. Build a box that fits your pieces out of
any untreated solid wood or exterior plywood. Add a hinged or lift-off lid, but don’t make it airtight. Add a simple racktosupportyourpiecessothesteamcancirculate.Tiltthe box slightly and drill a 1/2-in. hole 6-in. from the end to drain condensate and relieve pressure.
Schedule 40 PVC pipe is another option, as shown above. A 10-ft. section of 4-in. schedule 40 PVC pipe and two end caps cost about $20. Drill 3/16-in. holes every couple of feet to suspend your pieces on 12-gauge electrical wire.
Schedule 40 PVC is safe to use for steaming, but it will soften and droop when hot. Nail two boards in a “V” for support. Don’t forget the 1/2-in. drain hole.
Water container. Use any type of metal container to which you can attach a hose, such as a new gas can or
an old tea kettle.
Heat source. Electric hot plates
or camp stoves will do, but they are
not very efficient. Pros often use a propane gas burner available from camping stores. Caution: propane
￼must be used outdoors.
A convenient alternative is an electric tea kettle kit (Lee ValleyTools, 800-871-8158, #05F14.01; $32.50). It comes with a 6-in. section of 1-1/2-in. pipe to insert into the kettle’s spout. The kettle holds enough water for an hour’s worth of steaming and will shut off automatically when the water runs out.
Hose. A garden hose will do the job, but an automobile radiator hose (about $10) is a better choice. It’s much easier to attach to the steam kettle kit, but you must drill a 1-1/2-in. diameter hole in your box or pipe end cap. Radiator hoses are available in many sizes at all auto parts stores.