White Oak Stems


LOVES Wooden Canoes
Has anyone had any luck bending outer stems of white oak. All the material around here is kiln dried. I assume air dried that still has some moisture is better to use, but here it checks when drying. The rear outer stem is dry rotted. I broke a few attempts last weekend and I am getting held up here. What's the secret to get this done?
white oak

White oak bends quit well, it would be better if it were air dried but
if you soak it for a few days before bending, you should be OK.

Later Dave
Well that gives me hope, I'll run to Denver and pick up another piece. Should I steam it longer then an hour? I did an hour on an inch thick piece and it still was not very flexible.
white oak

One hour should be enough, if you steam to long you only
dry out the wood. A good soaking before is really the important
Good Luck Dave
boil it man

If its kiln dried, its several % below what the driest climate will do to it. Used to work in a hardwood flooring factory, the kilns would really dry it out before machining, and now adjusting claims I see so much of it damaged from floods; it grows and swells unbelievably when wet just trying to recover moisture. You can put the moisture back, but you'll really need to soak it before steaming.

Some folks have mentioned soaking in kerosene for even better result. For a stem I soak a week and steam or boil an hour per inch and use a backing strap.
Well I will soak it up good, at least five days and have a few extra pieces soaking if needed. I'm hoping I can get this in the water In June. What a job! The only things that haven't been replaced are, 3 battens, seat, thwarts and all the cleats, inner stems and can keep the front outer stem.

If I ever decide to do this again you guys call the shrink!

Thanks for the help. Let me go join up.
Come and visit

Hi jchu, I live in Elizabeth Co, just SE of Parker,Have built numerous canoes of various types and restored several Old Towns. Fiive canoes hanging in the garage and shop. If you are in the area and would like to visit give me a call and we can compare notes. Bill Mackey 303 646 4646.
Hi I have found that bending stems and thicker pieces of wood, even when properly steamed takes a fair amount of effort to bend. The bending jig needs to be well braced. As stated before a soaking for several days before hand and backing strap, and steaming one hour per inch and good straight grain wood should but you on the right road to a successful bend. Also a extra set of hands can go a long way- - good luck Bill
Well I soaked some stock, underwater, for 5 days, steamed it for 50 minutes and when it broke the inside was dry as could be . I'm at 9700 ft, could altitude have anything to do with it?
I don't want this to hold me up from getting it in the water this spring. I've arranged on getting some green, just cut material shipped. I can try that and let it dry for a few months on the jig if it works. I still have some soaking and a few extra pieces. So have a few more shots.

Until then I've made one with 1/8 inch strips glued together with titebond III. It will allow me to put on with bedding compound, finish the ribs, and pop off later when I get one bent.

I've struggled with this.

The boiling point of water at your altitude (9700 feet) is about 20 degrees F. under 212 F. Temperature, as well as moisture, plays a significant part in benidng wood -- instrument makers (of guitars and violins, for example) usually bend their dry wood over a hot pipe, with no steam. I don't know what the ideal temperature is for bending wood, but your steam, at 193 F., is going to take more time to raise your wood to the proper temperature than steam at 212 F. will, assuming that heating your wood to no more than 193 F. or less is high enough in the first place. I would think at a minimum you should try a significantly longer time for your steaming.

White oak is rot resistant because it does not readily soak up liquid water -- soaking for several days might raise the wood's moisture content because water vapor has passed into the wood, but I would not expect the interior of white oak to feel wet, especially when warm or hot, after only a few days (or even weeks) of submersion.
Boiling water not steam

I live in Colorado at 6400ft, and have had success bending oak using boiling water. I use a 10' length of downspour, that I tie to a support at about a 30 degree angle, fill with water and build a small fire under the end near the ground. Tie a string to the end of the oak and insert it into the down spout.Dont make the fire too big or you end up with a boiling water canon. A gentle boil for about 30 min has been enough to bend 3/4 X3/4 oak, Only lost one in five attempts. Pinch off one end of the downspout fill the bottom with about 2 cups of sand to reduce water loss and have at it.Top end of spout is about 5' off the ground, low end placed on a cinder block and the fire next to the block. I have also used it to bend ribs with great success.
Well what would be best, leave it the full 1" by 1 1/4" or trim it down to size and try to eliminate some material. It ends up being a full 1" wide, and at its thickest part 1 1/4" tapering down to an 1" at the top to 3/4" on the bottom then cut at a 10 degree to a 1/2 inch for the 1/2 " brass oval. Have tried both so far. Pasta is harder to cook up here so imagine wood would be to.
no problem

You have learned what won't work. sometimes they break. With the altitude adjustment I would think you should steam longer. Also consider soaking a full week (maybe even in kerosene). Don't forget the backing strap. Also, as you bend you will get a feel for whether it will relax and bend or if you have reached the dreaded breaking point. It'll seem dry on the inside. but the goal is to not find out.

keep trying. Also consider selecting the stick according to the grain very carefully. Maybe resaw a wider board to get a better lay of the grain? You'll get there.
I think the next shot will be kerosene. Have one thats been in water for a week, so will try that. Got the wood from Paxton In Denver. Wonder if where it grows makes a difference? I selected straight grains for pieces. It will get done, just not sure when.
Cutting wood

Cut and bevel the wood to the desired final dimensions. Its easier to cut bevels when the wod is straight. Leave it longer than you will nee and trim length after bending.
White Oak vs. Red Oak

If I may weigh in on this...as a Paul Smith's College forestry graduate. White Oak is the wood of choice for barrels because it doesn't soak up water, beer, whiskey easily. The reason is because the pores in the wood are angled, small and thin-walled. The pores are also constricted by crisscrossing fibers called Tyloses which slow the flow of liquid. Kiln drying tightens things up even more. You can soak kiln dried white oak forever and it wouldn't help. If you want to use White Oak get it straight from the sawmill brfore it gets dried. As an alternate use Red Oak that has larger rounder thick-walled pores and no Tyloses. It will soak up water better. I would still use wood straight from the sawmill before its dried. If memory serves correctly Rushton used Red Oak exclusively and advertised so in his catalogs.

Source on Oak info: "Textbook of Dendrology," Harlow, William M., Ph.D., McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1969.

Just my 2 cents worth...you all can throw stones at me now... my chest is bared.

Jim Clearwater
I think your right about kiln dried Jim. I just had another go at it, soaked for 8 days, thought I'd steam longer this time, 1 1/2 hours, steamed 50 minute last time, same results, brittle as can be. I think fresh cut wood is whats needed, air dried a little. Frustrating after coming so far with this canoe. I know some of you here have done it. Just won't work for me.

What will kerosene do?

You THINK I'm right?? I'm always right - just ask my ex-wife. You could even ask my ex-mother-in-law if the answer you get is unsatisfactory.

I think there was a discussion not too long ago about bending mahogany and how to do it successfully. Mahogany is about impossible to get air dried.

Good luck,
Jim C.
Red oak in a boat or canoe is a no-no, for just the reason you gave, ie, the open pores that suck-up water, causes it to rot very fast.

And the opposite is true of white oak, for the same reason, ie, closed pores.

I have managed to bend kiln dry WO, as it's the heat that softens the "links", but you're right, if he could get undried wood that would be better.