Steamed: How to Make a Bow Wood Steamer III

I can’t say this experiment was a failure. I feel I have insufficient evidence to draft a final judgment. I do know this: the steamer tube bent and then held its shape better than the bamboo. And I clamped the bamboo down fresh from the nearly liquidified tube.

Here’s a gratuitous clamp collection photo:

clamps

And now for the end result….

When I pulled the bamboo slat from the steamer, I immediately clamped it down. I was smiling.

The bamboo was far more pliable coming out of the steamer than when it went in. I took this as a very good sign. (The bamboo spent about 1 hour and 15 minutes in the steamer. I had planned to leave it in for 2 hours, but the poor steamer tube looked like it would melt down and ooze off its perch.)

I clamped the bamboo to the form.

on form wide 2

on form angle 1

on form angle 2

on form 1

I left it overnight. Yes, I showed patience. In fact, I did not check on it in the morning. I waited (yes, voluntarily) to pull the clamps till I returned to the 4B in the evening. The bamboo slat had been on the form for about 23 hours.

This is what it looked like (and looks like as of this writing) when I removed the clamps…

main boo curve fail boo steam tip fail boo other end curve fail boo center curve fail

Notice how the arcs in the bamboo perfectly conform to the contours of the frame?

Neither do I.

But!

Even though my steamer more or less melted. And it held its curves after cooling far better than the bamboo did. I’m calling this, my very first foray into steaming wood, a success. Here’s why:

  1. The bamboo is more compliant than it was before steaming.
  2. The steamer itself worked well enough to convince me to get a thicker PVC tube, which I have done, and try this again, which I shall.
  3. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I think it’s going to work.

I need the steamed items to conform to the curves of the form without undue stress. The bamboo does that. I’m pretty sure, based on past experience, that after glue-up and curing in the glue-up oven, the assembly will hold its shape.

The next test is putting real wood in a more robust steamer. That I plan to do soon.

Finally, if you plan to build a steamer — which you’d be insane to do, especially following my footsteps, because of the manifold dangers inherent in working with steam — I can tell you this: building a steamer is nothing like as difficult as building a bow.

I actually enjoyed making this steamer. I got a laugh out of how quickly the thin-walled pipe whithered. And I really do think this sucker concept will work if it has the proper PVC walls.

By the way, here’s an experimental dry heat (Milwaukee heat gun) curved bamboo slat:

boo side bend view boo bend rind

The bend in this boo is as rigid and unmoveable as the cast iron in my table saw. But it took a long time (16.59 minutes) to make the bend and look….

burnt boo heat bend

The back side was badly singed. It maybe looks worse than it is. And I probably could have achieved the bend without crisping it. But at what cost of time and temper? If I try dry heat again, it’ll be the propane grill.

I’m sticking with the steamer concept for now.

I can’t wait to see what it does to Zebra wood.

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