Steam Bending and Its Role in Making Antique English Windsor Chairs
The more you discover about antique English Windsor chairs, the more you will realise just how important steam bending was in the design process. Take a look at an antique chair of this type – ideally an English Windsor armchair where a virtually U shaped piece of wood is required to form the arms and the back of the chair – and you will see what can be done with the process of steam bending.
Steam bending is exactly what it sounds like. Steam is used to bend a piece of wood to mould it into the exact shape that is required. Of course there are still limitations on what you can do with it, but the process was frequently used to make these curved sections of the antique English Windsor chairs.
Most people know that wood contracts and expands depending on the atmosphere around it. The heat makes it expand and the cold makes it contract. This is why a wooden door can sometimes stick in warm weather. Steam bending uses the same principle but takes it to the next level, providing moisture to encourage the wood to bend.
Typically speaking it is easier to bend a piece of hardwood than it is to bend a piece of softwood. Thus certain woods were chosen to form specific parts of an English Windsor chair, so as to get the best results without any danger of splitting or damaging the wood. Red oak is often thought to be the easiest wood to bend in this way, and steam boxes were often used to create the required bend.
The idea is that once the wood has been bent into the required shape, it is allowed to dry before being used in the next stage of the chair’s construction. As you can see, steam bending is a very important part of the creation of antique English Windsor chairs. Without it, it would not have been possible to create chairs that looked as stunning as they still do today. This is an old technique that really comes into its own in this situation.