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Thread: Making a Toboggan (illustrating the steam bending process)

  1. #1
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    Making a Toboggan (illustrating the steam bending process)

    Earlier this month, I attended a toboggan making course at my local Lee Valley store.

    It was a two part course. During the first part, we steamed and bent the wood then, a week later; we took the wood off the forms, and assembled the toboggans. Everyone attending the course exited with a toboggan and, for a small additional charge to cover material, I exited with the bent wood that will allow me to build a second toboggan in the future.

    The main purpose of the course was to learn to steam and bend wood, producing a toboggan was just a bonus. The course was taught by John Robinson who is a well known Windsor Chair craftsman. John teaches chair making classes in both Canada and the USA and some of his chairs have been featured in Fine Woodworking.

    We made the toboggans with relatively green ash that John cut on his bandsaw shortly before the course.

    The toboggan making process is best illustrated with pictures. Five are attached to this post and more will follow in the next post.
    (1) We first marked the ash to show best orientation and position of cross pieces. Then we planed the edges and scraped the sides a bit. Next, the boards were placed into the (home made) steam box.

    (2) The boards were steamed for about an hour. Here is another view of the box.

    (3) The boards were (very carefully) bent over a circular form

    (4) Then, they were tied down. That's John Robinson in the background.

    (5) Finally, the boards were clamped in a couple of places. This assembly was allowed to dry for a week.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by Frank Pellow; 01-24-2005 at 9:12 AM.

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    Finishing the toboggan

    The second part of the course was straightforward scrapping, sanding, and assembly.
    (6) This is a photo of the toboggan as it was when I brought it home.
    This week I "finished" the toboggan at home. Tomorrow, I will take it to my daughter Kristel's home near Ottawa and give it to my granddaughter.
    (7) In this photo, I am burning name into the toboggan.

    (8) The next step was to finish the toboggan with 3 coats of clear Varathane and with two coats of wax on the bottom. This is a photo of taken after that stage (along with the second toboggan still in the form).

    (9) Finally here is the toboggan decked out with ropes and a pad and all ready to go.
    Last edited by Jim Becker; 12-29-2008 at 7:56 PM.

  3. #3
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    Very nice, Frank. I'll bet Jamie will really like that. I'll even bet it'll be the fastest toboggan around. And it will be a treasured keepsake for Jamie, that her kids and grandkids can use.

    How about some pics of her using it when you give it to her?
    Creeker Visits. They're the best.

  4. #4
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    Nice job, Frank. Looks like a fun project. You mentioned that you used green ash. Would the steaming and bending work as well on seasoned ash?

    Lou
    Procrastination.......

    Maybe I'll think about that tomorrow

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lou Morrissette
    Nice job, Frank. Looks like a fun project. You mentioned that you used green ash. Would the steaming and bending work as well on seasoned ash?

    Lou
    Lou, yes it was a lot of fun!

    Our instructor said that most kiln dried wood will not steam properly because most kiln drying is rushed resulting in "case hardened" wood. Air dried should be OK. I guess that properly kiln dried would be OK if you could get it.

  6. #6
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    Cool

    Very nice Frank ,
    Boy can I remember the days. using a toboggan, one of the longer ones, packing about 8 teenagers and going down the hill. What fun that was. Now the kids mostly use the inflatable ones that you can get at any store such as walmart.
    One of the guys I work with wants to make Marsh Skies , he does alot of duck and goose hunting. How thick was the ash that you bent for the toboggan , did it conform easyly to your form ? and how long did you have to keep it clamped up?
    Jim

  7. #7
    Frank,

    Great work! Well done!!
    "All great work starts with love .... then it is no longer work"

  8. #8
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    Frank,
    What a great project. Heard on the radio here that it was 40 degrees below zero in Ottowa! Is it really that cold?

  9. #9
    Frank, that is a great project! I'll bet it was fun to make. All of us from the mid west to the north east could use one this weekend. Lots of snow here. Really a neat project. What is the diameter of the round form? It looks like a piece of pvc pipe. How thick and wide is each ash board?
    Pete Lamberty

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Wolfe
    Very nice Frank ,
    Boy can I remember the days. using a toboggan, one of the longer ones, packing about 8 teenagers and going down the hill. What fun that was. Now the kids mostly use the inflatable ones that you can get at any store such as walmart.
    One of the guys I work with wants to make Marsh Skies , he does alot of duck and goose hunting. How thick was the ash that you bent for the toboggan , did it conform easyly to your form ? and how long did you have to keep it clamped up?
    Jim
    The ash is about 3/8 of an inch thick. Notice also, that it is close to quarter sawn.

    If you took care bending the wood, it did conform easily. I bent 10 boards with no problems, but some others did split some of their boards while trying to bend them. They either put pressure in the wrong place, waited too long before bending, or moved too fast while bending. I would say about 1 in 7 bendings did not work properly.

    I kept the wood clamped for 7 nights.

  11. #11
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    Frank,

    It is interesting how similar things are done in different ways. In our skin-on-frame kayaks the ribs (oak) are steamed for 3 minutes before bending. They are 1/4 inch thick and also as close to quartersawn as possible. The difference is that they are soaked for a week ahead of time to drive the moisture back into the wood. I suppose this has the effect of making them 'green' again, the water content allowing a migration path for the steam into the interior of the wood. In this case, steaming for even five minutes turns the rib into a cooked noodle.

    Greg

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Stutz
    Frank,
    What a great project. Heard on the radio here that it was 40 degrees below zero in Ottowa! Is it really that cold?
    It does get that cold in Ottawa and region. But right now it is a sunny balmy -23 (which I think is about -10 Fahrenheit). Perfect weather for a toboggan ride.

  13. #13
    Cool, Frank.

    Boats are next.

    “Perhaps then, you will say, ‘But where can one have a boat like that built today?’ And I will tell you that there are still some honest men who can sharpen a saw, plane, or adze...men (who) live and work in out of the way places, but that is lucky, for they can acquire materials for one third of city prices. Best, some of these gentlemen’s boatshops are in places where nothing but the occasional honk of a wild goose will distract them from their work.” -- L Francis Herreshoff

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pete Lamberty
    ...
    What is the diameter of the round form? It looks like a piece of pvc pipe. How thick and wide is each ash board?
    The form does use PVC pipe and it is about 8 inches in diameter.
    Each piece starts out about 3/8 inch thicke and about 2 and 5/8 inches wide.

  15. #15
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    Don't use kiln-dried wood

    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Pellow
    Lou, yes it was a lot of fun!

    Our instructor said that most kiln dried wood will not steam properly because most kiln drying is rushed resulting in "case hardened" wood. Air dried should be OK. I guess that properly kiln dried would be OK if you could get it.
    After making the above response, I decided to read the detailed hand-out that we had been given when attending the course. It turns out that no kiln dried wood should be steam bent. Here is a quaote from the handout:

    Kiln-dried wood must not be used; the lignin in the wood has been permanently set during the hot dry kilning process. No amount of steaming or soaking will weeken the lignum bond sufficienntly for sucessful bending. The same applies for air dried wood that has been allowed to dry and stabilize below 10% moisture content.

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