Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Steamer Revisited

Thanks to everyone that took the time to comment on my post about the red oak log. I knew that it was bound to start a conversation. All of us have different experience and different wood, and being cheap as I am, I will continue to monkey around with the red oak that is next to my shop until I can be certain that it won't bend!

Someone mentioned my steambox in one of the responses and it got me to thinking. My steamer has served me well for a long time with almost no breaks, but there has always been one thing that bothered me and I figured that now would be a good time to deal with it. The Lee Valley steampot that I use cranks out a huge volume of steam, the only problem is that it runs out of water too quickly. Having to refill the steamer during use has always been a pain as well as introducing an unnecessary variable.

I have been thinking of hooking up a reserve tank that would automatically fill as the pot got low. I believe that I recall reading that someone somewhere had done this. Now to figure how to do it.

I have an automatic dog waterer that works like an office style water cooler. When the level in the bowl goes down, air can enter the bottom of the upside down bottle and release just enough water to block further air from entering the bottle which stops water from running out. I figured that there must be a way to use this principle with the steam pot.
After some tinkering, I came up with this simple setup. The only difference between this and the dog waterer is the heating element. It works great. The steamer can easily run for an hour (previously it seemed to only run for about 30 minutes).
One of the unexpected benefits of the set up is that the air that enters the reserve jar is hot and preheats the water so that as it drops into the steampot, the temperature doesn't drop. It also seems to have a percolation type exchange, I don't understand all the physics, but I do know that the jar gets damn hot!

Another benefit of the setup is that when the pot goes below a certain level, almost all of the water drops out of the jar. This acts as a sort of a timer, it takes about 45 minutes for the reserve jar to empty (the pot is still going strong) which is perfect for my usual steaming.

In the name of testing, I took a white oak arm that I mismeasured (should've finished my coffee first) and put it in the steamer. It bent beautifully, so beautifully that I dediced to keep going. It took this bend without giving up a single fiber.
Now that I have my steamer supercharged, I plan to give that red oak another chance. I still don't think that I'll be buying more of it, but I hate to waste a good log.


Anonymous said...

"I have an automatic dog waterer that works like an office style water cooler."

Does it promote 'dog gossip'?

Herman Veenendaal said...

This months issue of Fine Woodworking has an article on oak. It says that all North American oaks, of which there are 60 species are either red or white oak, with the difference being the presence of tyloses in the white oaks.

Perhaps you need a different sub species of the red oak. I've always used it and have only had one or two failures in over 40 chairs. I steam for just short of an hour using propane.