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Author Topic: Anyone have experience with steam bending using an Earlex type steam generator.  (Read 643 times)

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Offline 21incher

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I am looking at an Earlex steam generator to try steam bending  some ash basket handles. Wondering  if anyone  has tried using one and if they really work. The handles would be about 3/4 x 1 x less then 3 ft long and I am thinking  about just using an old piece of 4 inch conduit with some insulation wrapped around it and plywood end caps for a chamber. Never bent anything  before and wondering if it would be best to soak the wood in water first then steam and bend around a form. But after that I  have no idea how to get the moisture content down fast so it can be used in a project. Another option is laminate thin strips  but I really  want  to try steam and that little  generator looks to be fairly safe if they work.  Thanks for any input. 
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Offline Larry

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I use a Wagner Power Steamer 715, looks to be nearly the same as the Earlex.  It has worked fine for my smaller projects.  I think the Earlex should do as good.

For a steam chamber I just wack something up out of scrap lumber or pipe.  Make it convenient to get the wood in and out.  The hose was too long on my Wagner so I replaced it with some heater hose.  Think I had to turn a fitting on the metal lathe to fit the Wagner.

It takes a little experimenting to figure out how long to to leave the wood in the steamer.

Lee Valley has an excellent and free tutorial on steam bending.
https://www.leevalley.com/en-us/shop/tools/books-and-dvds/31161-steam-bending-instruction-booklet?item=05F1501

I usually bend with a strap.  Old band blades can sometimes be used, grind the teeth off.  I think this was an 1-1/2" but it should have been wider.  I wrote on my bending form species, length, and time in the steamer.


This is what I was making.  As a woodworker I try to satisfy two criteria.  Useful and pleasing to the eye.  I use the banana hanger every day so I hit the the useful part.


Larry, making useful and beautiful things out of the most environmental friendly material on the planet.

We need to insure our customers understand the importance of our craft.

Offline SwampDonkey

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I just got a small metal grease pale and burnt out the grease, put a hole in the lid for a steal pipe fitting to screw in. For the chest, it is just air duct they use for forced air furnaces, and spray foam insulation covering it. Plywood ends, the other end has a water pipe fitting. The bottom of the ends is squared off for water to run out the bottom. The bottom of the stream chest has lateral wood pieces to keep the wood up. The connection is just PVC water pipe. I've bent runners for sleds, brush guards and the rounded backs to hang on. These run down the sides of the sled and become part of the frame structure. I just boil on top of a wood stove. You don't need a big metal pale, something 3 or 4 gallon size. The smaller the more steam pressure and quicker the steaming. ;D You can do a steam chest pretty cheap. ;)

Longer stuff, just stuff a rag around an end with a hole in it. ;D







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Offline doc henderson

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steam bending is fun.  I have done walnut in a curve to transition from oak flooring to ceramic tile in a half circle in front of a wood stove as a hearth/fireproof floor.  I also did some oak bending for the back of a rocking chair.  I had a tea kettle and a hot plate.  I made a plywood box and used flex exhaust tubing to get the steam in.  the steam has to warm everything up so at first you will get condensation.  you need the moisture for fiber flexibility, and heat to loosen the natural wood glue .  so you can put the chamber on a wood stove.  some will soak the piece in water or better yet hot water, to get  a jump on the process. of steaming.  
timberking B 2000, 277c track loader, PJ 32 foot gooseneck, 1976 F700 state dump truck, JD 850 tractor.  2007 Chevy 3500HD dually, home built log splitter 18 horse 28 gpm with 5 inch cylinder and 32 inch split range with conveyor 12 volt tarp motor

Offline 21incher

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Thank you everyone.
Larry That pdf link is very helpful.  They say start with wood at 25% moisture  content and not wood that has already dried for best results. I guess once dried the cell structure changes and there's no going back by just soaking.  They had great information about  the bending strap like you use also. I just love seeing  examples of your work. This looks like a lot more work and planning then I had anticipated Thanks for that great link.

SwampDonkey using ductwork is a much better idea then I was planning and I just happen to have a piece of 6 inch duct laying around so I am going to steal your  idea. Your jig looks very simple to use and I will probably  try starting with  something  similar. 

Doc I never thought  about a wood stove.  Ours runs 24 / 7 all winter with a big teapot always full of water and boiling to help keep the humidity up. May have to see if I can harness it. 

Thanks again everyone  for the input. The Forestry Forum is a great place to get educated by all the fantastic members willing to share their experiences.  
Hudson HFE-21 on a custom trailer, Deere 4100, Kubota BX 2360, Echo CS590 & CS310, home built wood splitter, home built log arch, and a logrite cant hook.

Offline dougtrr2

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You mentioned that you are making basket handles.  One thing to keep in mind is the difference between steam bending and laminating.  If you steam bend there will be some spring back and it will vary from piece to piece. If you can accommodate the spring back in your design then I think steam bending would be the way to go.  If you laminate, each handle will be identical.  Just be ready to make several test pieces to get the form and processes worked out.

I made an church altar with curved legs.  I had to steam bend the pieces first to get them close to the curve and them come back and laminate them down to the same form to get the final shape.  My pile of experimental pieces was embarrassingly large. It turned out well and the altar is still in use over 30 years later.

Offline alan gage

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I've done a little bending but always thinner laminates that you're shooting for. I used an electric hot plate and a pot of water. On top of the pot was a piece of plywood with a hole cut in it to accept a piece of pipe. The pipe went into a long square tube taped together from scrap building foam where the wood was steamed. It was easy to poke wire through the foam to act as shelves for the wood.

Alan
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Offline 21incher

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Thanks.  I thought  that steam generator  was something special but from the sounds of it any pot with a hose coming from the top will work.  I may rethink spending  almost 70 bucks on that unit and just try my wife's pressure cooker with the lid unlocked for safety. 
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Online btulloh

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Good plan. Save the $70. Any old teakettle will work. Or pressure cooker I suppose. 

Good luck. Steam bending and laminate bending are good tools to have in your arsenal. Through in a vacuum bag rig and you have a lot of new options. You just need to figure out where to store all your forms. They tend to multiply like rabbits. 

Offline doc henderson

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if you can take wood right off the mill, it may save a step, or at least some time.  good straight grain.
timberking B 2000, 277c track loader, PJ 32 foot gooseneck, 1976 F700 state dump truck, JD 850 tractor.  2007 Chevy 3500HD dually, home built log splitter 18 horse 28 gpm with 5 inch cylinder and 32 inch split range with conveyor 12 volt tarp motor

Offline terrifictimbersllc

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Teakettle with a metal spout on it-see in I can get a pic-long wood box with hole resting on spout, crossing over to kitchen island. Drain hole in other end. 45 min after steam starts coming out of other end will do it. Just enough time to put things away before she gets back.

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Offline SwampDonkey

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Just enough time to put things away before she gets back.
:D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D
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Offline alan gage

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I've also seen guys drape plastic over the wood to be steamed and secure the seam underneath with clips, which makes for a leaky bag chamber but is still effective. Hose from the steamer goes into one end of the "bag". Most of the guys were doing this with very long pieces of wood (15' plus) but the other advantage is that you can clamp it in place without removing the bag. This took off the time constraints and if they found it hadn't steamed long enough to take the bend they just waited a few more minutes before fully clamping rather than having to undo everything and put the piece back in the steam chamber.

Once the piece was clamped  the steamer was shut off and the bag opened up. Once everything was cooled down it could be unclamped to remove to bag pinched between the part and mold.

Alan
Timberking B-16, a few chainsaws from small to large, and a Bobcat 873 Skidloader.

Online Tom King

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I'll bet there are Many youtube videos on steam bending.

Offline doc henderson

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here is my high dollar system.  use what you got.  the whole system has to heat up.  so starting warmer is good.  if you sat the chamber on a woodstove and also heated it directly, it would save time.  otherwise the cooler components just condense out the steam.  can you say distillation.   :)   smiley_beertoast smiley_mad_crazy



 
timberking B 2000, 277c track loader, PJ 32 foot gooseneck, 1976 F700 state dump truck, JD 850 tractor.  2007 Chevy 3500HD dually, home built log splitter 18 horse 28 gpm with 5 inch cylinder and 32 inch split range with conveyor 12 volt tarp motor

Offline 21incher

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Thanks for the ideas everyone.  Last night I watched a YouTube video about  common mistakes in steam bending and there were  some good points that had been addressed here already like straight grain, steel backed, dried vs wet wood, and times. One thing that was addressed  also is it takes 260 degrees to obtain the best results.  That basically requires a steam generator and box capable of holding 3 psi to get to that temperature just like pressure canning. An open system will barely hit 200 deg f that makes it a much harder process to control.   I am thinking  about  designing and building a system from steel that will safely handle the forces. Probably start  out with laminations for now because I am impatient.  I have a big old oxygen tank I now plan on making the chamber from using redundant weighted vents like a pressure canner to maintain the 260 degrees and a sealed door designed for the force.  Looks like this is turning into a major project that I can't  start till it warms up out in my metal shop.  Trying to bend tighter radiuses is going to be fun.
Hudson HFE-21 on a custom trailer, Deere 4100, Kubota BX 2360, Echo CS590 & CS310, home built wood splitter, home built log arch, and a logrite cant hook.

Online Tom King

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I'm sure you can build a good one, and will be following!!


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