Steambending the staircase bannister

Work is progressing well with the steambent oak bannister. We fired up the steamers just before I went away to Austria and got two-thirds of the wood in place on the former then Charlie finished the bending while I was away.

For this particular job, we’ve developed a new form of bending compression strap which has made the work a lot easier.




Six pieces of oak are loaded into the steamer at a time which is kept running all day.  The steamer features a faceplate with slots for the wood.  These keep the boards spaced apart so the steam can circulate and also minimise the amount of steam lost when the door is opened. Many of the pieces were bent in two parts, first around a tight floor mounted former and then free bent around the former.  Working like this requires a good team who can see what’s happening, communicate and work together well.  The wood is cooling all the time so there is a time factor but it’s important to stay calm and work carefully so as to achieve the right shape and not break wood.

The base of the bannister features four pieces bent in an ‘S’ curve. Since both faces of the timber will now be on the outside of a curve this is a technically more challenging shape.  These curves were achieved by steaming first in the steambox for the initial curve and then through use of a steambag, a sleeve of material which covers the area of the second bend and inflated with steam.

Now comes the less exciting process of sanding everything and carving posts to facilitate fixing of the new banister to the existing supports. We’re due to go to London next week for the installation so it’s a busy time; still lots to do.

About Steve Tomlin

I am a greenwood worker and scythe tutor. I carve spoons, bowls and other products from locally sourced greenwood. During the summer I teach scything around the UK.
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