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Name: Sis
Status: educator
Grade: 9-12
Location: NY
Country: USA
Date: Winter 2009-2010

Before steaming wood to bend it, I was told to submerge the oak in salt water. Can I just use fresh water and add salt?

Hi Sis,

Although I know nothing about steaming wood, I see no reason why making your own salt water using 35g of ordinary salt per liter of water, would not work just as well as real seawater. Of course, seawater contains other salts as well, but very little compared to its content of sodium chloride (ordinary table salt). So whatever the seawater soak is supposed to do, it is sodium chloride that is doing it, so there should be no difference between using sea water or your saltwater substitute.

But I really wonder if pre-soaking in salt water will make any difference. The world's most famous chair made from steamed and bent oak (and sometimes other wood) is the "Thonet Chair". You can see details here... "". Some 50 million were made between 1860 and 1930, and all were made by steaming and bending the wood. There is an ancient video of these chairs being made, that is shown at the Vitra Chair Museum in Weil Am Rhein, Germany, and one can clearly see the wood is being put into the steamer, with no presoaking. So I suggest you first try steaming without the presoaking, before you assume you must soak the wood first.

Bob Wilson


I live in Virginia and the watermen often sink their new boats in the brackish water to swell the wood and reduce the space between the seams of the boards.

That is, they soak them in the estuaries that have approximately half the salinity of the sea.

I do not think it matters whether you soak your boat in fresh or salt water, But yes, you can add salt to the water to meet your need to soak it in salt water.

Sincere regards,
Mike Stewart

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