Following my last post about treating cherry with lye solution, a local woodworking friend asked me,
“When did you learn that?”
I had to tell him that I’ve been using that technique for so long that I couldn’t remember where, or when, I learned how. What I can clearly recall though, is the exact moment when I first became intrigued with the chemical coloration of wood.
When I was a youngster, Pop took it into his head to show me how to steam bend oak for a landing net hoop, for trout fishing. We would ideally have used green oak, but all we had were some very dry white oak boards. But Pop had a fix for that. First, he ripped the boards into thick strips. Then we took a section of black iron pipe with a cap on one end, filled it with water, and inserted the oak rippings. We left them in the pipe for a week, then drained off most of the water. We supported the pipe horizontally with the open end slightly elevated, and started heating it with a torch for about ten to fifteen minutes. Pop put on a pair of thick leather gloves, then quickly grabbing one of the strips pulled it out, and did a 180º free bend, bringing the ends together side by side, to be clamped together.
It was a very impressive demonstration, filled with science, drama, and a bit of adult language for emphasis. Pop was very pleased with the result, and with the opportunity to teach me something about woodworking. The problem was, I was less impressed with his steam bending demonstration, than I was with the effect of the iron pipe on the oak. The oak went in blond, but it came out with a wonderfully ebonized color, from contact with the iron. I was hooked after that.
Ebonized, steam bent oak rims on nesting trays.