The making of the Wave

We spent last winter making our most ambitious steam-bent structure yet, a pavilion for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2019 called the Wave.

The steam-bent Wave is now available to buy at Sladers Yard Gallery and install in its permanent location. Made over last winter for the Chelsea Flower Show 2019 as part of Thomas Hoblyn’s Dubai Majlis show garden, as far as we are aware the Wave is the most radical steam-bent form ever made.

Thirty-foot lengths of solid Herefordshire Douglas Fir were bent using only skill, steam and man-power. This beautiful structure makes a remarkable feature in any garden.

With a glass back wall, it could frame a view and offer shelter from the prevailing wind. It could have a textured back wall as Tom Hoblyn used it, for shade and tranquility in the hectic Chelsea Flower Show. It could be a performance space or an elegant place to sit. Being Scandinavian, Petter imagines it surrounding a hot tub. It makes a remarkable feature and point of focus where ever it goes.

Could this be the structure you need?

The Wave at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2019

The Dubai Majlis Show Garden

Thomas Hoblyn’s Dubai Majlis Show Garden

If you are interested in the Wave or in Petter Southall’s steam-bent designs, please contact Sladers Yard Gallery on t: 01308 459511 or email: gallery@sladersyard.co.uk

We have installed the Wave in the yard here at Sladers Yard with dry stone walls and a temporary wooden structure to anchor it in place however there are any number of potential ways this piece could be made to work in your space. Petter is happy to discuss ideas for its next installation.

View Petter Southall’s website http://pettersouthall.com
An overview of the furniture we hold in stock at Sladers Yard can be seen at https://sladersyard.wordpress.com/petter-southall-furniture/

Mad, bad and beautiful…

First there were some mad bends, and then some successful smaller bends…

25. Making some mad shapes

Before we finally got the process down almost to a fine art. Just in time for a visit from the Architectural Association students.

28. Passing on the knowledge

 

Something a bit different for them to see!

31. The bends pile up and the AA students come to visit 1 copy

The curves were beginning to pile up.

27. Divulging the secrets

Time to talk them through the process while the wood is steaming.

29. Letting off steam once the wood is bent

Very relieved to do a perfect bend in front of an audience! Here you can see the steam box cooling down after being hoisted on the pulleys off the hot plank. The steam bending arm has come all the way round and the end of the piece of wood is clamped round the former. The cell structure of the timber has now been altered and will cool to its new shape.

24 Drying in the new shape

And here is one we did earlier. We just keep it clamped into shape until the design of the pavilion will do that for us.

 

Steaming up

19d. ready for the first bend copy

Despite all resolutions to keep my blog up to date I have been very quiet because this project has really been a challenge!  Here we were, ready to go.  The bender was built and we turned on the burners.

20. Brewing up copy

Steam began to fill the steam box and the wood began to soften. We were about to realise that it doesn’t soften very much…

21. Steam coming up copy

While the wood steams we wait anxiously and try to get ready.

21a. Petter with the first bend for Chelsea copy

But the wood was full of knots and it kept cracking.  While we turned it around the former with tremendous effort – literally every ounce of strength we had – we could hear the gunshot sounds of the wood cracking.

21a. After the first bend cracked

After every failed attempt, we rebuilt the jig, looking for ways to channel the pressure smoothly. Jim Tory and I worked together for a long time. He is a tremendous help when ideas are bouncing around in my head!

22. After many failures finally a Beautiful bend copy

Finally, finally we managed to get the shorter lengths to turn smoothly without cracking. What a relief!

Success at last!

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I’m so pleased to be able to show full-length smooth bends at last.  It has been a stressful few days trying to get this wood to bend without cracking. Our former is much stronger than it was and modified in many ways having been rebuilt after every attempt.  Not sure why I always have to push the boundaries and set myself such very difficult targets!

The simplicity and strength of these lines are going to be very striking in the finished sand-dune inspired pavilion for Tom Hoblyn’s garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

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Getting ready for some serious steam bending

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All set to steam bend these beauties in an exciting project to design and build a pavilion for garden designer Tom Hoblyn at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

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Steam bending is an ancient boat building technique, I learnt building traditional wooden boats in Norway. For this project we have built a very long steam box which lifts off once the wood is up to heat. You can see the piece of wood inside the box and the pulley to lift the box off quickly. Once the wood is hot, it is very hard to handle but it is malleable – if you are strong and bend it quickly before it cools down.

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This is the former we are bending the wood around with my good friend Jim Tory in action.

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This is the arm we use to push the wood round.  It gives good purchase but takes a lot of strength.  Most of the rings and arcs I make for my furniture are turned with a mechanised Ringmaker which I built with my brother-in-law James Powell who is an engineer.

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Here it is before the steam box went on. A lot of fine-tuning is going on now to get the wood to take the form without cracking. The knots in the wood are knot helpful.

Great to have this wonderful barn to work in and a great team with Jim, Christoph Kurzmann and some others who are coming along to add muscle power for the bends.

Love a challenge – especially if it involves steam bending solid timber!

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I’m thinking I should start a blog to record some of our more exciting projects!

Here I am in our temporary workshop in the Dorset hills taking on a gargantuan steam bending project to build a pavilion for the Chelsea Flower Show.