Steam Bent Music Stand Manchester CT
West Hartford, CT
Steam Bent Music Stand
Steam Bent Music Stand“Learning to bend wood with steam takes practice, just like playing an instrument.” By Seth Keller
Bending wood with steam always intrigued me, but I never tried it. The process seemed mysterious, complicated and maybe even dangerous. But one day a beat-up old music stand motivated me to give steam bending a try. My first two or three attempts weren’t successful, but I learned with each failure and became more confident with each attempt.
One thing I can tell you is that steam bending is as much art as it is science. So many variables affect the way each piece of wood bends, the outcome can be difficult to predict. I’ve found that the best way to achieve consistent results is to control as many variables as you can.
First, use the right wood. White oak, the species I chose, is one of the best. Straight grain is a must and each piece should be as defect-free as possible. Many experts recommend using green wood, but once I refined my technique, I had good luck bending my kiln-dried white oak boards.
A bending jig and a pair of drying forms are crucial for success. Their curves must be smooth and consistent. The jig and forms I used for this project came from the scraps of 3/4”-thick exterior grade plywood that were left after I built my steam box. I laminated two pieces of plywood to make some of the curved parts; others are just one piece thick.
Once the wood comes out of the steam box, it begins to loose its flexibility in a minute or less, so you need to work fast. It’s best to engage a friend’s help and choreograph all of the steps by making dry runs.
This music stand requires only five board feet of lumber, but I recommend buying at least four times as much, so you can practice and refine your bending techniques. I resawed 8/4 stock to make all the parts.
Tailor Your Design
While dreaming up and designing my stand (Photos 1 and 2), I made some critical decisions. To simplify the construction, I decided the stand would be non-adjustable. Then I decided it would be used when I was seated. Finally, I adjusted its backward pitch to suit my playing posture. The bending jig and drying forms can be easily modified if you want to make aesthetic changes.
Photo 1: After many years together, my flimsy music stand and I experienced the ultimate falling out. Rather than buying another utilitarian stand, I got the crazy notion to design and build one that would, somehow, visually represent the music I play.
Photo 2: I drew full size sketches to find inspiration. I wanted the stand to echo the blues music I love, so I decided to bend the wood, just like those soulful blue notes. This seemed the perfect opportunity to try steam bending, something I’d always wanted to do.
My Big Break
At first, most of my bending experiments failed (Photos 3 and 4). The turning point came when I discovered Le...