What is steam bending?

Steam bending is a process of twisting and bending wood into various shapes, minimising the use of glue. A continuous end-to-end grain is achieved and so the strength of the wood is not compromised. Steam softens the lignin within the wood fibres meaning that it can be stretched with the aid of clamps and jigs. The lignin then hardens to the new shape as it cools. Whilst seemingly straightforward, there are many branches to each step in the process requiring careful attention and skill.

 

When was steam bending first discovered and what was it used for?

Steam bending is commonly used when making musical instrument, boats, and of course furniture. Humans natural aptitude for curiosity led them to experiment with ways of shaping materials into structures that reflected their requirements. Initially, unseasoned willow twigs were – and still are – bent and woven into baskets, furniture, decoration, and wall divides. But larger structures required longer materials, to which tall trees were explored.

 

Vikings

It is believed that the Vikings were first to successfully use steam bending, and it is argued that the method they used 1200 years ago is still used today. The Vikings steam-bent planks of wood using methods like those used at Steamed Studio- minus submerging them in a fjord!
Planks would be shaped and soaked in water. They would then be heated over a flameless fire, basted with boiling water and then flipped over; this process was repeated several times before it was ready to be bent. As in our studio, purpose-made clamps were put in place to curve the plank and then it was left to dry overnight.

 

Thonet

In the 1830s, Micheal Thonet revolutionised furniture by making the infamously first bentwood chair. His work inspired artists and architects alike and his modernised designs are still popular today.

Thonet Father of the Bistro Chair

 

A modern revival of steam bending

Whilst designs may have changed over the years, the process remains well-trodden. Timeless curves add visual interest to any room and soften the most corporate spaces.
As scandi-style interior furnishings sweep our news feeds and join our homes, we become closer to a slower pace and simpler way of living. There is something clean and uncomplicated about curves. At Steamed Studio we relish contours, spirals and all the possibilities malleable wood presents. Therapeutic in its process, and elegant in its completion- steam-bent products are a joy from start to finish. We hope you enjoy our journey of discovering new designs and indulging in our current collections.

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