I’ve always admired the Shakers for the perfection of their forms. That and their work ethic. They got a lot of stuff done in their short time here. They are not credited with the invention of the bentwood box, but many believe they perfected the form.
To build my shaker boxes, I decided to finally make myself a steam box. A steam box is a simple box into which you pump hot steam. In the photo below you can see the front of my simple box placed out my shop window in an attempt to keep the moisture from entering the shop and changing the humidity. The black tube is the route by which steam is injected and leads to a commercial wallpaper steamer I bought specifically for this purpose.
By steaming pieces of wood, you soften the lignin bonds that hold the wood together and allow it to be bent into radically different shapes. I’ve been wanting to play with bent designs for quite some time now, and decided these boxes would give me the excuse I needed to get a move-on. The boxes also required construction of the cores and shapers used to shape the bent forms. I used patterns from John Wilson’s (http://www.shakerovalbox.com) publications to build these, making them for box sizes 1 through 6. The photo below shows some of the shapers in the background.
For the bands, I found some very nice quartersawn cherry from our local hardwood supplier here in Portland and tuned up my new Laguna 16″ bandsaw and carbide blade. Re-sawing was a revelation with this new tool! Finally I am able to re-saw thick material – it opens up so many possibilities!
Once the bands are bent around the forms, you use copper tacks and a hammer and anvil to hold them together.
Once cinched, the shapers are placed in the top and bottom of each box and they are allowed to dry for a day or two. After that, it’s simple matter of cutting the top and bottom pieces to size, fitting them and tacking into place with small splinters of wood (I used hardwood toothpicks). My tops on these were spalted alder. The boxes need a bit of hand sanding, then oil and wax, and the result is a set of very cool looking oval boxes! These are destined for a wedding gift for two friends of mine – never mind that they are 6 months late (Officially, my wife tells me, I have up to a year…). I think they will really like them. I have some reservations about use of the spalted alder for the tops as it is not quartersawn, and may swell and break the bands someday, and it is quite fragile (being rotten wood after all…). Still, I think they will be OK if treated with a bit of care.
Things I’d like to get better at with these are;
1) Don’t dent the cherry when installing the tacks
2) Line up the fingers on the top band and the box bands
3) Line up the tacks more evenly
4) Build bigger sizes – through size 10 at least.