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Steam-bending wood was a career-changing revelation for me. It’s easier than bent-lamination, and the continuous-grain pieces are stronger than sawn curves.
Many species, especially when green or air-dried, bend with ease when heat is introduced, and the box that holds the wood (and steam) can be a surprisingly modest affair (plans are included in the Rockler kit and on their website, and you can also find plans in FWW #195). The trick is finding a quality source of steam. The new steam kits from Rockler and Woodcraft have many advantages. They are relatively cheap and portable; they produce steam quickly (about 30 minutes) and have more than enough capacity (5 liters) for most bending jobs; the water level is clearly visible; and there is an automatic shutoff if you let the water level drop too low.
My only criticism of the kits is that the hoses are too long and if uncoiled will cause some minor heat loss on the way to the box. To get around this, I coiled the excess tightly and wrapped it in a towel.
The kits are identical, (Earlex on left; Rockler on right) except for the color of the reservoir, and both are simple and safe to use. So I’d go for the less-expensive model: the Earlex.
Curves on the cheap. With these simple units, you can get into steambending for under $100, including the cost of materials to make the steambox.
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