steam is cool
Steam bending: pushing wood to the limits.
What is steam bending? Although its name ‘steam bending’ offers a few hints about how it’s done, let’s walk through the basics. Steam bending is a woodworking technique that uses steam to make wood more pliable. Thanks to the heat and moisture produced by the steam, the wood fibres become soft enough to bend and stretch, holding their new shape as they cool down.
Nowadays, wood is usually steamed within a sealed container known as a steam box. The shape-making process most often involves clamping the steamed wooden strips to a mould. Reinforcing the exposed layer of wood with a metal band helps to prevent splitting and ruptures.
Steam bending is an established manufacturing method for a wide range of different products. It’s how the hulls of wooden boats get their shape, how string instruments such as violins are made, and defines a movement of furniture manufacture – Michael Thonet invented the technique, with his first successful bent-wood chair completed in 1836.
What are its advantages?
The technique consumes little energy and is both sustainable and economical. Unlike other methods of joinery, steam bending doesn’t require glue, saving both costs and drying time. While some manufacturing techniques involve cutting shapes from a larger section of material, like pattern pieces from a sheet of cloth, steam bending can be done with smaller segments. As a result, less waste is left over at the end.
Beech and steam bending: the perfect match
Beechwood is extremely suitable for steam bending. And at DUM, we don’t just play it safe; we push the material to its limits. A case in point is the frame of Beech Private. We managed to mould a 100 x 100-mm section into a 200-mm radius of curvature – an all but impossible feat.
The Wagner Easy chair and the backrest of the Beech Chair, on the other hand, consist of two bent-wood parts assembled with what’s known as a finger joint or comb joint. Pre-assembly, the two parts look like two combs. Their ‘teeth’ interlock like the fingers of clasped hands, creating a joint which is then glued.