Thursday, December 17, 2009

Your Turn

That's right, I've been posting here for a few years now, and the time has come for me to ask you for your experience. When I set out to make my Crested Rocker in fumed white oak, I found it much easier to work with air dried planks for some of the thicker parts. Air dried wood bends beautifully and not having to wait weeks for the parts to be ready was a real plus. Also, as it happened, I had a great deal of the stuff on hand and it was sawn right down the fiber line. Perfect.
My experience with the air dried stuff was great, but now I am writing an article about the chair and am trying to stretch the material choices to include kiln dried stuff. The only kiln dried white oak that I have was poorly dried and I wasn't at all surprised to see the nasty checks in it after I dried it down. My question is this, have you successfully steam bent kiln dried white oak?

I suspect that there are some kiln operators out there who don't know how touchy this wood can be during the drying process, especially at 8/4". I think that the stuff I have was probably run in the same kiln load as a bunch of 4/4 pine and they just blasted the poor stuff. Perhaps a proper kiln operation would yield a wood that could take the rigors of steam bending, or maybe I'm just tilting at windmills, whaddya think?

Below is a photo of a newcomer to my shop. I decided to work through my design with some of the walnut that I bought from Lou Irion. Boy did it bring back memories, that smell!

It's still quite odd to look at a plank and break it up into pieces, but I must admit that by the end of the day I had all the pieces bent or ready for the lathe. I'm excited to test some new waters.

I did some cutting with my drawknife while roughing out the stiles, what can I say, it felt like I've been practicing for this wood for 10 years.


Anonymous said...

Since I only make one or two chairs a year, it isn't practical for me to buy a whole oak log. So I routinely use quarter sawed kiln dried oak and have routinely steam bent it for arm bows, crests and top bows. I have found soaking the oak in water to re-hydrate it greatly increases my success rate. I also use a back strap and am careful to select pieces that have been quarter sawed following closely along the grain. Bob Glenn

Anonymous said...

Peter,I bent a piece of kiln dried oak after carving a comb back in in a solution of vinegar and water in a
4 ft. section of PVC.We used to put chicken bones in vinegar in science class when I was a kid and three days later the would bend like rubber.Try leaving it in the steamer a little longer.I have only done this so don't claim to be an expert.

Peter Galbert said...

Thanks for the tips. I've also had a bunch of folks email me directly and the consensus seems to be that soaking helps a lot. My biggest concern is the checking, because that's the problem that I've seen. The oak that I bent worked well after 1 hour in the steam box, although it was tough. Luckily, the bends in the chair that I'm making are relatively shallow!

Unknown said...

Peter, some years ago Fine Woodworking ran an article on using hot water and Downy fabric softener to bend wood. I tried it and it does work. Only problem was I had bent the pieces to use in a glued up lamination for a trout net and after the fabric softener treatment they would not glue at all. The wood simply rejected the glue. This wouldn't be a problem with arms or bows as they would be one piece of wood.


Peter Galbert said...

thanks for the tip. If I ever need to bend something with an impending glue surface, I'll give it a try!
Happy holidays,

gregoire68 said...

Peter, The delay in my comments is due to my experiments with kiln dried white oak. I'm making a number of children's hoop backs that have tight bends (17 high x 12 wide). My best results began with 1/2 x3/4 strips soaked in vinegar (1cup / gallon) water solution for two weeks. I arrived at two weeks by measuring the "float". When I first put in the PVC tube the 60" piece floated 19" out of the solution. In two weeks it floated less than 1". One hour in the steamer and it bent very smoothly. Glue up was a piece of cake. Greg

Peter Galbert said...

thanks for the comment. It sure does open a whole can of worms and potentially get a lot more folks thinking about bending. I know that the access to airdried or green wood can be a deterrent to bending. I'd love to hear more about your trials,