Rib Steam Bending


1943 OT Yankee
Hi guys..I tried my hand at steam bending some cedar ribs as a prelude to a repair job and have a bunch of questions.

1. How can you tell the differences between red and white cedar? I am using cedar siding. The grain runout is true. I think I need white cedar but may have used red.
2. On a 16' OT Yankee the ribs are tapered. How long do I leave the ribs while bending around the hull? If I leave the ribs long I can bend more easily but how would I get the taper and width of the rib right?
3. I did a test steam (20 min of good hot and wet steam) and bent the piece around the canoe. I backed it up in the keel area and tried to form to the hull. It resisted a lot to the bending force and snapped as I was about 2 inches from reaching the gunwale. Is there a special trick or should I just be more quick?
4. Is white cedar easier to steam bend? My documentation states that the '43 Yankee used white cedar. I'm wondering if I am just using the wrong wood.

Thanks a bunch!

Dave Peterson

Big difference between Red & White Cedar. White is much easier to bend. But Red is not impossible.

Either should be soaked for 3 days or more. and then steamed for 20 minutes. The soaking will make a big difference.

You should only need a few extra inches for each side for the length of rib. When you measure each one and number them, you can put the same amount of taper on each rib and trim the same amount after mounting to the gunnel. End result the taper is uniform throughout the canoe.

Good luck,


Paul, Thanks for the reply. I have done steaming before but only for planking and not to any extreme. It seemed like it should have gone a LOT easier. I guess I'll have to track down some white and try again. I have a source for white the material I had looked good from a grain and color standpoint. My steamer seemed to be doing the job it was intended to do. The red did bend but just not enough.
Hi Dave,

In my limited experience, Red is more brittle than White. I think it is very important for a hobbyist like me to soak the wood ahead of time. A day or two for white is what I do. I then boil my ribs in a 6 foot long tank over a double burner propane. I boil for a few minutes. When I take it out it feels like a noodle. Too much boiling (steaming) seems to make the thing want to break. When bending I go slow. I put the heel of my hand on the rib at the bilge while stretching and bending with the other. I can feel the stress in the wood as it bends. I go slow and the wood has a moment to think about what I am doing and it relaxes as I go. I don't put too much pressure on. If I am alone I clamp on the tip of the rib to the inwhale and then do the other side. If the Roxinator is bending with me we bend simultaneously. I used to find it acceptable if 6 ribs broke for an entire canoe. Now that I soak them I am disappointed if one breaks. I've never done the Red Cedar for ribs, but have used it for planking. If you need a small amount of white and can't find any, and aren't far, I can hook you up.
Peace, Dave.
I broke lots of ribs until that learning curve flattened.I do soak ribstock most times but not all,sometimes I will put a dry rib right into the steamer.My experience is not to steam too long 8 to 12 minutes.You can pull a rib out and give it a little bend after awhile you can gauge the limberness (?) of the rib it has a feel to it after steaming you will know whether it will bend or not.
When steaming onto a form for a new canoe will soak the ribs in a childrens plastic swimming pool,the ribs go in at different intervals so as to not oversteaming.Seems the lignum or some such in the wood will cook and become brittle with too much heating.We will use a long piece of used auto seat belting from a junked vehicle or have even used a thin scrap of wood longer than the rib to be bent and use this overtop of the rib to help hold grain together if the grain on your ribstock is not quite correct.
Cedar siding is usually western red of sometimes redwood,I would think that your stock may be one of those wood species
Usually cut the ribs 3-4 inches longer than needed and the taper that is left after trimming is pretty close to original
Have used sitka ,engelmann spruce,red, white and yellow cedar for bending ribs ,of them all white cedar bends the easiest in my experience
Hope this helps good luck with your steaming and restoration.Oh and one more piece of advise when about finished with your boat start looking for another
Red cedar siding is kiln dried and that makes bending more difficult. Also the grain is generally 90 degrees to the bending direction. If you can boil it, you would most likely be better off. When steaming and you steam to short of a time or not hot enough or even enough it is hard to bend.If you steam to long it will be very brittle. If you need white cedar ribs I hope to be milling some out with in a week, when time and weather permits in Canisteo. Let me know if you need anything or suggestions on where to go next.