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Thread: Steam Bending Osage Orange

  1. #1

    Steam Bending Osage Orange

    I placed this topic here given that it's common to bend wood for boats.

    I'm making a rocking chair from osage orange wood. I am a life long wood worker but never delved into steam bending.
    I tried researching some posts on Woodweb and a Primitive Bowmakers forum but never really got the answer I was after. My stash of that wood is over 30 years old and quite dry! I have worked with the species before but never steam bent any species. I have boiled some other wood species(oak & walnut) but lack a long enough tray for these chair back stays. They will be approx. 7/16"-1/2" thick x ~4" or so wide x ~ 22" long.
    I'm considering purchase of the Earlex steamer which is under $60.
    Ideas???

  2. #2
    Join Date
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    Sounds like a challenge. From what little experience I have with Osage Orange is that it has a mind of it's own.
    I look forward to seeing how it went.

  3. #3
    Look what the Indians did, I think there is a booklet about their methods. Not many skills around that go back farther,
    I'm pretty sure hundreds of years of production ,or thousands will yield "sure fire" result.

  4. #4
    That book is by Douglas Spotted Eagle. Covers new and old methods.

  5. #5
    Michael—

    you asked in another sub forum for input from guitar builders. As one of those, let me say that we probably can’t offer any useful advice. That’s because the wood we bend (whatever species) is much thinner than the half inch material you are talking about. Guitar wood is thinned to about 0.085” before we bend it to form the sides. We get the wood wet (some use a lot of water, others a little) and then get it extremely hot, to the point that the lignin softens and the wood plasticizes. Then we bend it to the shape we want, then remove the heat, and let it cool and shed moisture while in that bent shape. This all happens in minutes. The heat source was traditionally a hot pipe, but many these days use silicone heating blankets. This all works great at less than 3/32” thick, but it won’t do much at half an inch thick. I think other bending methods would work better for you.
    Last edited by Don Parker; 10-18-2019 at 7:49 AM.

  6. #6
    Thanks for these replies, I'll probably boil my slats and avoid buying a steamer for now. Tray that's cheap & easy is my next step. I need less "stuff" in my shop, not more...

  7. #7
    Join Date
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    I think Don is right about lignin. I have steam bent quarter inch stock, both kiln dried ash and KD hickory for boat parts. They were both a lot of bother compared to reading about it online - after more reading my problem seemed to be the KD part caused the -lignin thanks Don- to set up and not get flexible again when steamed.

    If your OO is air dried I think you have a fighting chance. You will need a good long cook, a hefty bending form - allow for some spring back - and I would want three adults in the shop when those parts come out of the cooker.

    Honestly I would look real hard for boards with curved grain and think pretty hard about doing a cold lamination with multiple thin layers and some good boat building epoxy. I can't speak for the boat builders in your area, but I would part with partial containers of epoxy cheap for the lamination experience.

  8. #8
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    Go to my thread in this forum “I’m finally building my boat” and there are pics of the steam box I built. It’s been used for making 14 sets of arched doors since then. (Steaming the trim pieces for the arch) Build a good steam box and steam it one hour for every one inch of thickness. Osage Orange may take longer due to its density. You want to wear gloves and take it straight from the steamer to the bending forms. Leave them in the form until cool to the touch. You will get a little spring back so you need to bend it a wee bit more than your desired curve. Most of what I steam bend gets screwed and glued to something else, so I’m more trying to get it to bend easily than to get it to bend perfectly to a desired shape.

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