After a chance phone call with my old TWA chief pilot, he mentioned that his son and daughter-in-law make canoes for a living and have tons of experience with a steam bender. I pulled up their website www.wood-canoe.com and called them right away.
I could not have stumbled into anyone better to help me learn this process! In 30 minutes, Dylan Schoelzel walked me through the process, answered my questions and gave me lots of useful tips. I am forever grateful.
For those of you following in my footsteps, here are a few of those tips:
Pre-soak your wood - I complained to Dylan that my longerons did not willingly go around my bend, even after steaming. Dylan told me that my kiln dried ash was really dry and that soaking them in water for 24 hours would help soften them up. So, I got some 4 in. PVC pipe and filled it with water. The kids slide came in handy...again...even though I had to beg forgiveness...again.
This really helped the bending process. When the wood came out of the steamer, it went around the jig with little resistance.
Make the appropriate jig - Since my ash is not square (1.5 in. X 1.25 in.) the wood will have a tendency to twist. Dylan warned me about this and I had that happen with the last bending attempt. So, I had to make a new jig with a ridge (see above) to not only clamp the wood on the curve, but clamp it to the ridge to keep it from twisting.
Allow for springback - Add about an inch on either side of the arc you want to bend. The wood will spring back a little after it is removed from the jig. Also, let a foot of wood hang over the edge. It's nearly impossible to start the bend right at the end of the longeron. Plan on your bend occurring a foot downstream. Same for the other side.
This is the upper longeron in the jig. I have to build the lower longeron jig next.
Here are the clamps in place.
Thanks again to Dylan and Emilie Schoelzel at the Thompson Canoe Works. Their tips were invaluable.