Cooking Wood

Ash Slab to Ash Strips


(to start of project)

This steam bending stuff is not exactly rocket science, which is too bad. I mean, with rocket science you have formulas and calculations, and you do your pencil work and it all comes out right. This ain’t that. Everything I read said rule of thumb is steam 1 hour for every inch of thickness. I thought it odd that all the sources seemed to be quoting the same guy, who obviously had never tried it.

Press ready


I have two stacks of 1/4 inch strips of ash. I can do math – 1/4 inch sounds like a 1/4 hour to me. Not even close. Try an hour and a half, and then only try half a stack, and be prepared to put some serious English on it. I’m talking clamps and levers and twisty things and basically every kind of mechanical advantage you can put your hand to in about 10 seconds, which is all you have to work with before the marginal flexiness goes completely out of the wood and it returns to it’s cold, hard, stiff, stubborn self.

To be honest, it appears that bending a single strip around a form, maybe even two strips, would be fairly straightforward. You can even do it by hand. But, since you have to let each piece cool and harden in the form for 24 hours before the form is free for the next piece, it would take a week minimum to do it that way. Not gonna happen. Also, these strips all have to fit snuggly together in a single lamination, so for a good fit they need to bend together.

Part of my problem may be that it has been so cold and dry (only 30% humidity all week, even in the basement), on top of the fact that this is all kiln dried lumber. It starts out cold and dry and brittle. Green wood is best, air dried less so, kiln dried is the least cooperative. So tonight I’m soaking the second stack of strips in the bathtub, and we’ll see how that does tomorrow.

In the meantime, here’s the set up.







Reminds me of the tennis ball/potato cannons we made as kids, using lighter fluid as accelerant. A well made cannon could fire a tennis ball a couple hundred yards. It was cool to watch in the evenings – flaming tennis balls shooting down our neighborhood street, careening off parked cars and shrubbery. That’s what kids did for fun in the days before cable TV and Homeland Security.

The paper tube works fine. One section will do all four steamings – hours of it – and free is cheap. I haven’t figured out how people use PVC pipe, as it turns to pudding in that much heat.



Clamped in press 



Made the female part of the press with scraps from the molds, and the male part is the actual stem mold. After setting up for an hour or so in the press it holds the shape enough to transfer to the other mold with straps torqued down for the night, freeing the press up for the second bundle.


Cooling and drying

melonseed skiff, mellonseed skiff, melon seed, mellon seed

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