Steam bending for basketmakers

Phil Bradley steambent basket handleFrom 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.
steam bending wood

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.
basket handles

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.

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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One Response to Steam bending for basketmakers

  1. Susan Pettman says:

    A day like this creates a real buzz. Thanks Steve! As with so many skills – craft or otherwise – it’s all to do with preparation, practice and detail. And learning from someone who knows what they are doing. I had always been a bit despondent about my lack of strength to bend thick rods but TaDa! – steam bending made it much easier. Thanks too to Phil for hosting us.

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