This week, I was finally ready to steam-bend the crest rail for my Windsor chair. The only problem was that I didn’t have a steaming rig. As with so many things in woodworking (and probably any other hobby), you can spend about as much or as little as you want to spend to get yourself set up for steam-bending. I tend towards the “spend as little as possible” end of the spectrum.
So with that in mind, I dropped by my local hardware store and Wal-Mart and picked up the parts I needed to cobble together a functional steam rig for as little money as possible. The total tab was very reasonable for a rig that should last for many years.
Here’s what I bought:
- 1 – 5′ length PVC 4″ pipe, schedule 40 ($12)
- 2 – 4″ cleanout caps ($6)
- 1 – 24″ length braided 3/4″ water heater pipe with threaded female ends ($11)
- 2 – 3/4″ double male threaded iron adapters ($2.50)
- 1 – hot plate ($11)
- 1 – tea kettle ($6)
Total cost: $48.50
Considering that many people pay $80-$100 just for a wallpaper steamer to produce steam, I figured that was pretty reasonable.
Here’s how I put the thing together:
A few things to keep in mind:
Ideally, you want your steam rig to be just big enough to contain the parts you’re trying to bend. I’ll be using my steambox for Windsor chair parts and maybe the occasional ladderback, so the 4″ PVC is a perfect size that should fit anything I want to throw at it. My first steambox was a 12″ x 12″ x 48″ plywood box that was really oversized for what I was using it for. No use heating more space than you have to.
Speaking of plywood, most steamboxes are built using plywood, which I suppose is better than PVC pipe. The pipe can actually melt at high heat. But PVC pipe is cheap, good plywood is expensive, and bad plywood won’t last very long. My hot plate is not powerful enough to melt the PVC, so I’m happy with it.
Finally, don’t let your steambox run out of water! I had about 2 cups left in the tea kettle after 55 minutes. I doubt I’ll ever have to steam anything more than an hour, so the tea kettle should work perfectly for me. You may need to size it up if you’re bending something much thicker than an inch.
Good luck, and get bent!
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