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Unveiling the Craft: The essence of steam bending and how we use it create our handmade furniture & Lighting

Welcome to the heart of Marlo Woodwork, where the craft of steam bending breathes life into every curve and contour we create. Let's have a look at how we started steam bending and the roots of this age-old technique, demystify the process, and understand why it's more than just a craft—it's an age-old tradition.


Our story begins in Tasmania, an island steeped in woodworking history. Here, the air carries tales of craftsmanship from generations past, and the spirit of artisans lingers in the woodwork. It's in this woodworkers' paradise that we discovered the age-old practice of steam bending.



Handmade furniture
Tasmania Forest


So, what exactly is steam bending? Imagine working with wood as though it's clay in the hands of a sculptor. Steam bending involves exposing wood to steam, making it pliable enough to bend and shape into elegant, flowing curves. It's a bit like coaxing the wood into revealing its more graceful side through the gentle persuasion of steam. Steam is merely the vector for the heat, which temporarily softens the lignin and cellulose components of the wood; the moisture helps to slow the process of the wood becoming too dry and brittle. The piece of wood can then be bent around a form to create the desired shapes, although with limited time and radius of bends, mastering this technique takes years of practice.


Historically, steam bending found its origins in boatbuilding. Craftsmen needed a way to shape the planks for hulls without compromising the integrity of the wood. Enter steam bending. By introducing steam, they could bend wood into intricate shapes without the risk of splintering or breaking.



Steam bending boat
Steam bent boat


The key components of steam bending are quite simple: wood, steam, and a mould. The wood, usually in plank form, is carefully selected for its flexibility, usually defined by its grain pattern and how the wood has been dried (air-dried is superior to kiln dried). It's then exposed to steam, which softens the fibres and allows the wood to bend without snapping. The mould gives the wood its final shape as it cools and hardens.


Our journey into steam bending wasn't just about learning a technique; it was about embracing a tradition. In Tasmania, we found workshops where artisans, steeped in boatbuilding tradition, shared the secrets of this craft. It's not just a mechanical process; it's an art passed down through generations.


In our hands, steam bending isn't a rigid method; it's a dialogue with the wood. It's about understanding the natural tendencies of the material and guiding it into shapes that tell a story. As crazy as it sounds, the wood talks to you when steam bending. The science behind this is obvious, the continued compression of fibres will cause the sounds, but we like to think that the wood is simply telling us the direction it would like to go or that it has simply had enough and will refuse to go any further without breaking! So for us, we're not just crafting handmade lighting & furniture; we're creating functional art pieces that embody the essence of craftsmanship.



Marlo Woodwork steam bent oak
Steam bent oak


Now, back in Sydney— our workshop has been designed as a space where ancient techniques meet modern creativity. Steam bending became more than a skill; it became a bridge between eras. It allows us to honour the heritage of woodworking, whilst creating contemporary pieces that carry the spirit of the past. Our Tullah Coat Rack is a nod to where we first learned these techniques and the beauty of the lake where some of the boats are first tested. If you find yourself in this region of Tasmania, I cannot recommend enough a visit to Tullah to see the beauty of the lake and the surrounding mountains.


So, the next time you run your fingers along the curves of a Marlo Woodwork creation, remember it's not just about aesthetics. It's a nod to centuries of tradition, a whisper from the artisans of old, and a celebration of the timeless artistry that is steam bending. At Marlo Woodwork, every piece is a testament to the harmony between craftsmanship and the natural beauty of wood.




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