Hand Tools Archive

Steam or wet bending of white oak

Bill Houghton, Sebastopol, CA
I'm trimming out the current remodel, which is a room converted, badly, from porch after World War II. There are, of course (as in, old house/of course), slight flooring height differences between the room and the adjacent rooms, and I'm installing white oak thresholds stained and varnished to match or at least be happy with the flooring colors (it's an 1895 house, so I choose details that will look like they fit - exterior thresholds are better than the usual interior stuff for this application), and installed with screws and plugs. The thresholds are roughly 4-1/2" wide, 5/8" at their thickest, tapering off at each side. The adjacent floors are higher than the room's floor, by about 3/8" in both cases (except see below), so I'm putting 3/8" oak reversible base down as a shim on the low side.

One of the adjacent rooms disagrees with the room in question as to what is level, by 1/4" over 32". I'm planing the oak shim and a filler piece to be 3/8" in the room, twisting to "level" with the dining room floor. The threshold will then twist by the same 1/4" over its length. I can try just forcing it down with the screws, but I'm wondering whether I should make things easier (theoretically easier...) by either steaming or soaking the threshold and clamping it in the twisted state while it cools. This would involve making up a form, so there's extra work involved.

I'm sure I'd get some springback, but the screws should take care of that.

If this seems feasible, I've got two choices for heat:
a) I can put it in the hot tub (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for an appropriate period, or
b) I can make up some kind of steam box.

The first choice is much faster, but I don't know how hot water affects white oak and whether it's as effective as steam.

I've never done any steam/hot bending, so I'm approaching this from a state of nearly complete ignorance, and will appreciate advice from the collective wise folk here.

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