Boil in the bag steam bending

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A few years ago whilst designing a commission for a study, the client asked if it might be possible to create handles for the cabinets from the same wood being used for the door frames. After throwing around a few sketches, I started looking into how to bend small pieces of wood. There were plenty of videos and articles showing a technique using the microwave. 

This method has the wood soaked in water for 24 hours then wrapped in a wet cloth and placed in the microwave for 30 seconds, whip it out quick and get it into jigs. Frantic.  

The image below was the first prototype made for approval, I like it but the customer wasn’t as keen, so I increased the curve meaning the recess could be removed.  

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Curve increased and this is what made it in to production.  

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Around 60 handles over five or so different jobs, these handles have become a production favourite in the workshop. Using the microwave method worked but had quite a high rate of atrition. I’d maybe need to cut blanks for double the amount of handles needed as some would just snap or split while getting the form, or the spring back made them unusable.  

Mid way through the second batch, I came across a core77 article http://www.core77.com/posts/35838/A-Better-Way-to-Steam-Wood-for-Bending-Use-a-Plastic-Bag and immediately found some extra heavy-duty, lay-flat poly tubing 250 microns thick from Kite Packaging. 

So when making the most recent batch I thought I would take a few pictures, do a little run through of the processes involved in making them. In the past they have been created in Elm, Oak, Ash, and Southern Yellow Pine. 

Material selection is key, I’ve found that to get the best consistency is to try and get as close to quarter sawn as possible, so with the piece of stock pictured below I had to rip a couple of pieces off the block, then rip the strips from them.  

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Strips ripped and then cut to around 300mm to get plenty of room and leverage on the bend. 

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I made a bending jig which has two sides, male and female formers, cutting a piece of the poly tubing with plenty hanging in and out of the jig.  

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We popped the two strips into the sleeve, hooked up a wallpaper stripper and placed tension on the jig with the clamp. Herein lies the beauty of using the ploy sleeve, after around 3-5 mins of steaming you can start to apply more and more pressure to the bend, all the while steam is still running through the set up.  

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Once the form is fully closed the steam can be cut off and the jigs allows to cool. I have three forms to enable a batching of 6 handles per day.  

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Once cooled the outer forms can be removed, the poly sleeve cut away and clamps then reapplied. This is then left overnight to dry.  

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For the final drying they are screwed down to a piece of scrap for as long as possible.  

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A wee trim to length, sanding, rounding over, coat of oil and they’re done.  

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The doors are then routed out from both sides, a longer slot on the back, these ones just need the filler piece in the back.  

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And there you have it. Boil in the bag steam bending.  

This week in the shop

Well when I say this week, I mean the last few weeks. Absolutely flat out at the moment which is why these updates have been... well non existent. We've had a really varied few weeks, in and out of the workshop, fitting, and spraying. Working on two joinery packages at the moment, a few sets of loft wardrobes, desks, shelving, media rooms, all sorts. 

On the site where the workshop is based, we are very lucky to have access to quite a nice spray booth, keeping the process in-house. 

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The design has been produced by Yam Studios who are an interior design company with a leaning toward Scandinavian style, so quite clean simple designs using veneers and sprayed finishes. The veneer specified is from a company call Apli Wood which produce an engineered veneer made from sustainable species and formed to create a straight grained consistent look. Each sheet is exactly the same in colour and pattern. This stack I had made up by Read Veneers and is 36 sheets of 3m x 1.2m needless to say we were slightly fatigued by the time it was all in the workshop. 

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One set of loft wardrobes and shelving, quite a nice challenge to scribe and cut the tops in to the roof line. 

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Heaps and heaps of work going on.  

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Jumped on the hairpin leg band wagon. We had an off cut of birch ply with a laminate top and together with a nice set of low coffee table legs, there's a nice gift for brother Robinson. 

In possibly the biggest news of the last few weeks, a new workshop is afoot!  

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Ooooooooooooooooooo you cannot imagine how excited I am. Measuring in at a beautiful 1100sq/ft and yes, yes that is a 5m wide 3m tall roller shutter. It is an absolute beast, electrical work is all done, a few other bits to get sorted before moving in but can't stop thinking about all of the opportunities this space is going to offer. 

Will keep you posted on the move and should have some nice finished products to show in the very near future.  

Me Ole Bamboo!

This was waaaaaaaaaay before I had my own business, I started making a Bamboo bike in the living room of my one bed flat. As I may have mentioned I really like making things, alongside that I enjoy two-wheeled, human powered devices. I've ridden most forms from BMX, commuting, dirt jumping to racing short course downhill. So what could be more rewarding making your own steed?

Now I know bamboo bikes are nothing new but when I write this I am referencing a time in 2013 when not a great deal of research/articles/knowledge was available for the build process. After a monster amount of searching and reading, I thought I had just about enough information to make a Bamboo bicycle.

Being super noob, I took photos of every stage of the build believing that "yeah I'm gonna photograph everything I make." Didn't last long. But I do have a silly amount of images of this build process so fasten your seat belts, you're in for a one hell of a geek out. 

We took a donor frame for all of the bits we needed to hold bearings, wheels and forks. It had a broken swing arm and was going to the scrap bin. I won't go in to detail on every photo but this project was mainly done on the dining table in our tiny one bed flat and managed to get it finished just as I was moving in to my very first workshop.

Sadly as you can see the first ride was going really well up at Bedgebury Pinetum, around the 8th mile of single track, a fast right hand berm and *SNAP* the seat tube section gave way, grinding quickly to a halt and an hours walk back to the car. Glad I got to ride it.

Thats where the story ends. I still have the pieces in the workshop but currently have zero spare time to get it back riding. One day.

This week in the workshop

Great week. Started out putting the finishing touches to this latest project, getting packed up and ready to fit. Tuesday was the first day of fitting which went well but not without unforeseen issues. Every job no matter how well planned and thought out will throw up some kind of problem to overcome. Sometimes it will work in your favour sometimes it takes a silly amount of head scratching to get it looking perfect. It's an inherent part of making bespoke furniture, we pride ourselves on making straight, square boxes which then get fitted in not so straight or square houses. 

The space was compact which is always challenging, only bringing in the elements in, one at a time as needed. Having the van right outside the front door helped massively, love a good parking space.

The home office is constructed in birch ply with an off-white, high pressure laminate applied to it for durability. The L-shaped desk has a raised back section, designed to accommodate a radiator across the back wall, doubling up as a monitor stand. To finish it off, two wall mounted shelving sets for books and display, with base cabinets and drawers for extra storage. 

The pictures -  these are from my phone and as the space was tight I had to use a clip on wide-angle lens.

 

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Three days to fit, super pleased with the results and the customer was over the moon. All in, a good productive week, it's nice to have a job off the list. We're getting new some projects underway next week which will keep us busy for the next few months, so the updates will be coming thick and fast. 

One workbench to build them all

I've always wondered how the first tool was made, like say with a vice, how did they clamp a lump of metal down to machine it accurately enough to make a vice? I suppose I should look it up rather than just musing, but I digress.

Work benches, possibly the most important tool in any workshop. Otherwise it does mean using the floor, which can work but won't be a great deal of fun. The last few years in the workshop have seen butt loads of benches. Some super quick "lash ups", through to my current beast benches I'm using all day.

I've always liked making things. Doing DIY at home and fixing the odd appliance or car where I can brings me to what I consider to be my first ever work bench. Ladies and gentlemen, the IKEA Benjamin stool. There I am in the living room of our one bed flat in the sunny south east of London, clearing the rug away, lining up these stools (the chairs to our dinner table), quick gripping lumps of wood down to hack them up with an array of second hand and cheap tools, kneeling on top to stop it from skittering around. Ahhh thems were the days. 

 My very first work bench  

My very first work bench  

On a couple of mortifying occasions, I realised I was over cutting and taking chunks out of the furniture. I decided it was time. A plan was hatched and some rough sketches made for a chunky fold up bench made from off the shelf materials. Off I go to the local branch of a large DIY shop, select all of the accoutrement and gleefully return home to get making. 

 Workbench 1

Workbench 1

 Work bench 1 travel mode

Work bench 1 travel mode

 Workbench 1 action mode  Then came the first workshop, a wee shoe box in complex of artists studios in Woolwich. Here I made a few "lash ups" to make do while I worked things out. They served their purpose but ultimately didn't last long.

Workbench 1 action mode

Then came the first workshop, a wee shoe box in complex of artists studios in Woolwich. Here I made a few "lash ups" to make do while I worked things out. They served their purpose but ultimately didn't last long.

 Shoe box workshop - Lash up benches  

Shoe box workshop - Lash up benches  

Did a few small jobs for friends and family, made a bamboo pushbike and big light up letters for my wedding and cemented my love for making things. This is around the time I moved to the workshop proper mentioned in my last post, 600 sq/ft of ground floor awesomeness. This is where things start getting a little better than the quick and dirty pallet wood benches. The next up was a bench with storage combo and a good heavy joiners bench. I built both of these pretty much side by side in the early days of starting out. 

The joiners bench was in the last post so won't go into that too much. 

 

 Joiners bench from all the best bits I had laying around  

Joiners bench from all the best bits I had laying around  

Then the bench with storage just peeking out in the back ground there. The frames were half lapped together, the boxes were rebated with handles cut in and the tops were a couple of old fire doors. Home made hardwood drawer runners too. 

 Work bench storage combo  

Work bench storage combo  

These benches were with me for a good while in the process of getting established. The next bench made in the workshop wasn't for my own use, it was for workshop neighbour Roger Dawson. The Man The Legend Roger Dawson, a double bass maker or a luthier if you will, has been exquisitely carving basses for millions of years. He asked one day if I would make him a specific bench for carving the fronts and backs of the bass. 

 Job specific  

Job specific  

Made from beech, the frame is tapered to stop any flex when in use and mortise and tenon joints bolted through with M12 barrel nuts, yes, M12. I channelled my old BTEC in General Engineering and cut, faced, chamfered, drilled and tapped four sections of 35mm diameter mild steel bar.  

 The Man, The Legend, Roger Dawson  

The Man, The Legend, Roger Dawson  

In this action shot you can see the top is tapered to accommodate the shape of the carving and a range of threaded inserts were placed from the underside to accept fixtures for the different shapes. 

The next and final bench of this post is my current squeeze. As things progressed in the workshop I found the designs were getting larger in size and scale and the joiners bench became dwarfed. As a quick and dirty, I chucked an 8x4 on it with a 2x4 frame to make it a bit more rigid, which was great in terms of size but a joke for usability. For around a year I planned and schemed 'The Beast' taking a little inspiration from the Paulk bench and the need for having a flexible workshop layout, I designed this absolute beaut. 

 

 Ridiculously photogenic workbench

Ridiculously photogenic workbench

So let me take you through the vital statistics. Birch ply construction, 100mm square legs inset from the top box section with storage boxes underneath. The top has apertures cut for extra storage and tools when working. And my absolute favourite part... the orange string and white band under the lower section. That is a flip down castor system where I can lift each end of the bench, then the wheels lock into place so it can be moved around with relative ease. When you're done, pull the cord and it sits back down. And if I do say so myself, it works proper good. 

When I started writing this I thought it would be a short little "boff there you go, workbench" but scrolling back I realise how much has gone into getting to the current iteration. From the humble beginnings of the IKEA Benjamin stool to the beast bench, each one was made using the last. No doubt more to add with ongoing development but there you go, a wee history of my workbenches. 

Hope this wasn't too boring.

My First Time


I love making things! The idea - the refinement - the sketches - the calculations - the refinement - the research - the hours of questioning - the CAD model - the refinement - the materials selection - the processing method - the yield - the schedule - the refinment - the double check - the triple check - the ordering - the delivery - the cut list - the refinement. Then the best bit. Getting the ole hands dirty, setting machines, checking accuracy and bringing everything together. Seeing the finished product is awesome, hands down one of the best feelings as a maker, all of the previuos steps and experiences culminating in a tangible useful piece of furniture that hopefully other people will like, bloody brilliant.

So this is the crux. All of the pieces on the website and posted to social media all have a story, lots of different materials and methods, giving a myriad, a plethora, a smorgasbord of work all unique. This "blog" is intended to serve as a window to the workshop, will be trying to put up a weekly update on the goings on around the shop, looking a manufacturing processes, tools (my favourite), and generally what goes in to making the things we do. One caveat, I am by no means an expert, self taught through watching countless hours of the likes of Norm Abram and other makers and making countless mistakes. Just wanted to put that out there.

Soooooooooo suppose the inaugural post should have something about the start maybe? The first tentative steps in building M W Robinson Furntiture? The Workshop. 

 22nd of December 2013 Got the keys to my first proper workshop

22nd of December 2013 Got the keys to my first proper workshop

Note the holycrapwhatamidoing look on my face! Big moment, at this point I was still working full time with half a business plan and a shabby array of tools, BUT I had a table saw, an old Altendorf panel saw that my current employers (at that time) were junking. Needed some love and a whole lot of effing and jeffing to get it located but there you have it. The first step.

 12th January 2014 Juuuuuuust about ready to start making things 

12th January 2014 Juuuuuuust about ready to start making things 

So what's the first thing you make when you have a new workshop? A new work bench! Made from an old kitchen worktop, pallet wood, haggard old drawer runners and painted with left over floor paint, the only thing new is the vice. Served me well for a couple of years before deciding I needed a much bigger bench, but that's for another time.

 My first workbench proper

My first workbench proper

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Gonna call this one a day here, just been going back through some old photos and realised I've got heaps random images from the last three years, so might do a few short features along side the weekly shop updates.

Over and out.