Traditional Steam Bending Technique Ensures Quality Furniture

With a BSC in Forestry (Wood Science) – cum laude nogal – you could say our director, Ian Perry, is a smart man who knows his stuff! Always keeping his finger on the pulse and never sleeping, he stays informed about the most effective and feasible wood crafting methods to ensure Homewood customers get only the best quality hand crafted furniture.

For the past three years now, we have been using a traditional steam bending technique to bend a variety of woods – from soft woods to denser woods such as Oak – into curved shapes. Put into motion by our visionary director, this method is one of the things that sets our furniture company apart. Typically, wood is bent using machinery such as a bandsaw, but the end result of this method is simply not the same as that which can be achieved through steam bending wood.

Dating as far back as ancient Egypt, this method has been used to craft weapons, build boats and even create musical instruments. Although this technique may not be the latest, most modern way to bend wood, it has its advantages – many of which influenced our decision to use it.

The Advantages of Steam Bending Wood

Of the many benefits of steam bending wood, the main advantages that swayed our decision related to our furniture’s final finish, our design flexibility, product durability or strength and our environmental impact. Steam bending wood offers better wood recovery when compared to wood that has been cut, stronger components once bent (making our furniture more durable), more freedom to add curves into our designs and greater sustainability as it requires less energy and produces less waste, in the form of scrap (because smaller pieces can be bent into shape, the need to shave or cut wood off from a larger piece, in order to achieve the desired shape, is negated – resulting in less waste).

Overcoming Challenges

Starting out as an experimental process, taken up by our wood wizard, Ian, who worked on steam bending out of a personal interest, it was a little more challenging when it came to implementing this traditional technique on the level of full scale production. In order to put this into effect for our furniture, we had to make up our own steam kilns, set up bending and clamping jigs and change our entire process. Training our staff was no walk in the park either, as steam bending wood required them to employ a foreign technique and become experts at it in a relatively short period of time.

Another hurdle that we encountered was manipulating different types of wood with different densities. Despite being advised against working with woods like Ofram and Australian Blackwood, which aren’t as amenable, we bullheadedly pushed forward and found a way to bend these – after hours of painstaking research and many failed attempts. Needless to say, steam bending wood was an ambitious aspiration, but thankfully we did not let this deter us.

Today, we continue to develop this technique and improve on it, where possible. And we are proud to say that we have progressively incorporated it into more of our pieces, ensuring quality furniture that’s much stronger than competing products and much more durable. As recent examples, we have made a massive breakthrough with the infamously hard-to-bend Teak and will be adding the Duzu curved back chair to our list of steam bent products, after our recent trials which were a huge success.

Which other steam bent products should we take on next? Leave your comment below.

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