Monday, July 7, 2008


It's been awhile since the last post, but all is well. I've been traveling the slow and steady road forward.

The nicest thing that happened between posts was getting to spend some time with my dad on father's day. Amy and I traveled down to Pintlala for the weekend. We even got to play some dulcimer together.

Here's a photograph of my dad playing a Bowed Psaltry that he built himself. As I mentioned in an earlier post, dad was an amazing woodworker.

I use the word 'talent' occasionally, but I don't really believe in it. I believe that anyone can do anything that they put their mind to, talent is not involved. My father was a great woodworker because he had the will, the desire and the patience to be successful.

I'm lucky in the fact that I got to see my father shape wood. I watched him design and build furniture. I attribute my woodworking ability to my father. Although he did not really show me the tools or how to use them, just by shaping the wood he showed me something far more important...he showed me the possibilities that the wood had to offer. What we need today, much more than talent, are possibilities.

On the way home from Pintlala, Amy and I stopped in Chilton to get some fresh peaches. Chilton County is known throughout Alabama for their peaches. There must be dozens of peach orchards throughout Chilton County.

Since the beginning of this blog, I've made a bit of progress with my woodworking. I'm always tinkering with something, creating a new tool or jig that makes the process more efficient.

I have a new client, Nic, who has very specific needs for his banjo. Nic is a bluegrass player who is interested in playing clawhammer. Nic has requested an openback banjo, but with a similar feel to his bluegrass banjo. I thought that this would be a good opportunity to revisit the building process, to note the changes and improvements that have occurred.

Well, enough of all that. Let's roll up our shirt sleeves and get to work.

Let's steam bend some wood for the pot.

First I soak the wood to be steamed in a soakbox (above). I use 1/4" maple. The wood has been planed to the correct thickness and width, but not yet cut to length. My soakbox is nothing more than a PVC pipe cut to length and capped at both ends. This works very well. I soak the wood for a few days before steaming. This assures that the wood will thoroughly absorb the water. This will make the wood heat evenly, assuring a good bend.

Above are some detailed photos of the steambox. The box works well, but I am limited to steaming only two pieces of wood at a time. That was plenty when I began, but now I find it is insufficient. To be limited to steaming just two pieces at a time is wasteful of time, energy and fuel.

But, that being said, as long as you're not going to be doing production work, this box will serve you well.

The photographs of the steambox are self explanatory. It's just PVC pipe cut slightly longer than needed, with a t-connection in the middle. I drilled holes through the PVC and inserted bolts to create shelves for the wood. A hose connects the box to a five gallon metal gasoline "safety" can. The can rests on a propane fueled turkey fryer. Just fill the gas can full of water and light the burner.

All of the parts and supplies should be available from your local hardware store. A burner works just as well as a turkey fryer, whichever is less expensive.

I place the maple in the box just before the water boils and let it steam for 30 minutes. Once the wood is removed from the box it must immediately be placed on a form to give it shape.

And that's all there is to building a steambox and steaming wood.

The followup to this post, the actual bending of the wood, will be posted within the week (lord willin' and the creek don't rise), so stay tuned. Feel free to post a comment if you have any questions or suggestions.

Also, my friend Brian Kimerer is building his second gourd banjo and posting the progress. He has a great site and can be found here


buck said...


Thanks for the link to my web page. I can't wait to see how you bend the wood. Have someone take lots of photos.

Brian Kimerer

Randy said...


I'm really enjoying your site. I'm getting pretty inspired to try my hand at a gourd banjo.

Amy was gone the day I steambent the wood, so I did my own photography. It takes two hands to bend the wood, so unfortunately, there will be more descriptions than photo's. Hopefully I can describe it well enough. It's pretty simple.

As usual, I am behind on the post, but I hope to have it up this weekend.

Can't wait to see your finished banjo!!