From time to time I get together with my mate Phil Bradley, who is a terrific basketmaker, for a day trying something out. Sometimes he is showing me, sometimes I show him and sometimes neither of us know what we’re doing. They are wonderful days and in my opinion, extremely important for craftspeople. All too often we are working alone and stick to what we know. There’s a kind of fear of trying new things, not just of failure but of wasting valuable time that could have been spent making familiar work. Taking time out to experiment and spent time with other makers should be a regular activity for more of us, it can stimulate all kinds of ideas, leading to new products or simply reinvigorate creativity and curiosity for a material.
This time Phil wanted to learn about steam bending wood. Susan & Ian, who are also basketmakers came along too which made four times the fun. Steambending is actually quite easy; make an insulated box, fill it with a steady supply of steam (in my case from a wallpaper stripper) and put your wood inside until it’s hot and then bend it!
The key to success is preparation; getting your materials ready, building a suitable former and having plenty of hands or clamps available as you’ve not much time while the wood is hot to get it bent into shape.
Phil has been doing some chairmaking recently and has designs on a double bow windsor but for this session we were doing fairly easy bends in round hazel for basket handles. Once we’d got a system sorted they soon stacked up. You could probably produce the same by bending fresh sticks freehand but the steam will make these set much better, holding the tight corners for a more distinctive shape.
In between work we spent the day (and evening) looking at the birch bark boxes I’ve been making recently, discussing the show season and catching up on personal news too. Can’t wait for the next.