Back in 2012, I tried steam bending white oak for the first time. I had a ton of trouble on this first attempt at steam bending wood. You can read about it here. [This web page does not work, needs updated]
Since then, I have kept my eye out for articles on steam bending, that explain why I had so much trouble steam bending white oak. I found found the article that explains why I had so much trouble.
I don't know for sure, but I am 95% certain the white oak I tried to bend back in 2012, was kiln dried oak. Per the article above, the only way to steam bend it is to soak it at least 1 week in water and fabric softener!!
This article also suggested that one should keep the bend ends secured, versus floating in free space. My initial clock design in 2012 had one end secured, and the other end floating in free space. My guess is the bend radius changes over time on the unsecured end, with temperature and humidity changes.
Another article from Wood Magazine, has these tips, including soaking with fabric softener..........
Years of experience have taught Russ a few steam-bending secrets:
• Soften up hardwoods. Soaking air-dried hardwood parts for a week helps prepare the lignin for bending. To help the water penetrate the wood, add 1/2 cup of fabric softener as a surfactant. Add water daily so long as the wood absorbs it. Once the wood is bent and sanded, the softener won’t interfere with stains or finishes.
• Minimize wood thickness. When bending parts that will have a taper, Russ tapers the wood before steaming to reduce its resistance to bending. On parts where he’ll round over two edges along the inside face of a bend, he chamfers those edges before steaming to reduce the amount of wood to be compressed during bending.
•Learn from experiments. While steam-bending parts for a project, fill any leftover space in your steamer with various sizes of practice pieces to test their bending ability for future projects.
I sawed up 6 pieces to soak and then steam. When I was sawing them, I noticed one or two were really defective pieces. They had excessive splits or cracks in them. I decided to use them anyway, I could use them to verify my set-up before I tried bending the good pieces. The first piece I steamed, was a defective piece, and did split when I bent it........but I was able to verify my fixture worked ok.
On the 2nd piece, which was a good piece, I steamed it for about 35 minutes. The rule-of-thumb is 60 minutes per inch of thickness, and my pieces were 3/8" thick. Technically, it only needed 23 minutes, but I went 35 to be on the conservative side. I tried to bend it at a steady rate, not too fast and not too slow. It bent ok in the fixture......
I decided to try using 2 widths of 3/4" inch wide plumber's strap, to result in it being the same width as the piece being steam bent, at 1.5".
The tough part is trying to get the 2 pieces at exactly the same length or tension. I pulled on the end wood block to try to make them exactly the same.
My design calls for the ends to be tenoned into the base place. The base plate will have 1/4" wide rectangular holes. Since the bent piece is 3/8" wide, this means 1/16" must be removed all around the ends. I was able to use the router table to remove the material on 3 sides. On the 4th side, I sawed with a dovetail straight saw, then hand chiseled it.
When I bought this Sears router table almost 40 years ago, the sliding miter gage came with it.............and I'll bet I haven't used it for almost 40 years...........but it still works ok.
I glued up the boards, then planed them to 1" thickness.
I glued the paper pattern onto the boards, printed from Sketchup......using White Elmer's glue......so I could wash it off when done with a wet sponge.
I used my Delta mortiser to put in the 1/4" wide by 1-3/8" rectangular holes in the base. I had to free hand the location, because of the angles.
I initially used the router bit, shown below, not in the collet.........to flush trim the round pieces to the pattern. On the 1 inch thick pieces, the middle piece, the cutting area was just a little too short......and I had to take to the disc sander and sand off the little pieces it missed. I also got quite a burn on the white oak, which I had to sand out on the drill press drum sander.
I switched to the brand new blue Rockler, flush trim bit..............and wow.............did it cut nicely. I cut all the way around first, then just moved it up in the table, to finish the cuts. Wow, no grinder burn to have to sand out!!!!!! Maybe my old bit is dull, or wasn't that good to start with, I don't know.
I nailed the face onto the front using the little brass nails that came with the face........
5 years later, I still enjoy looking at these clocks. It is a neat looking design :)