Getting steamy!

Curved steam bent bench, East Sussex

January 27, 2018

Steam bending

Steam bending wood is a traditional craft and a low energy, ecological and economical method of manipulating wood to make beautiful and practical additions to your outside space. Having designed an amphitheatre-style outdoor room for a client, I wanted to create a two thirds circle curved bench to sit within it, and so felt steam bending would be the best approach!

After some expert guidance from award winning designer and highly respected Charlie Whinney, I returned home and got to work building myself a steam box big enough to take the long lengths of oak in the workshop.


Steam box used for steam bending, East Sussex

Purpose built steam box used for steam bending

My design consists of 3 separate curved benches in oak to be fitted together within a circular space to form one continuous curved bench, backed by a sleeper wall – see project here. Initially I constructed a robust jig to fit the curvature of the amphitheatre and on which to fix and hold the legs in place, this also had to resist the spring back you always get when bending timber, at least until it was firmly fixed to the sleeper wall and the jig could be removed.

Curved steam bent bench, East Sussex

Curved bench seat structure taking shape

Building up the slats…

Curved steam bent bench, East Sussex

Curved bench showing seat and back

While you measure everything and take time to avoid problems the brain always worries if it will fit properly or not. There is some educated guess work in it as the oak wants to spring back a little and so if the jigs aren’t up to the job, or you haven’t compensated sufficiently, it’s going to be a major problem, and many hours down the drain. Thankfully the careful preparation and execution paid off and the bench was a pretty good fit and looks great too! – a thoroughly enjoyable project.

Amphitheatre with fire bowl plinth, Rotherhurst, near Tunbridge Wells






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