Steam Bending #1: Steam Bending A Trout Fishing Net

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Blog entry by Retsof posted 09-27-2012 02:18 AM 8187 reads 2 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Steam Bending series Part 2: Steam Bending A Trout Fishing Net - Video Update »

Fly fishing is one of my other hobbies and like wood working, it can be very expensive. Thankfully, I’ve been fly fishing for close to 25 years and gradually acquired some really great gear that will last a lifetime. To keep costs under control, I like to tie my own flies and build as much of my own gear as possible.

I built a custom fly rod back in 1998, and it is still my favorite (a 9ft 6wt on a Winston 3-piece LT blank). I was able to save 60% off the stock rod by building it myself. I was also able to get all of the features and performance that I was looking for, without having to compromise on materials or style. I get an extra thrill out of catching a beautiful trout with a fly I tied and a rod that I built myself.

One thing I always wanted to try was building my own custom landing net.

If the plan is to just make a functional net, I realize that this is one project that will not save me any money over buying a cheap net off the shelf. I was in my local Bass Pro Shops looking for a rubber replacement net bag to use on my frame (no luck) and I noticed that they had foreign made wooden nets with cheap nylon bags for sale as low as $4.99! I’ll probably spend more on the glue to make my net!

I want a high quality net, with a rubber bag that is easier on the fish, as I tend to release almost all of the trout I catch. I plan to make mine much prettier and more durable than the cheap nets at Bass Pro Shops. I have all the materials on hand, so really, I’m making my net for the cost of a replacement net bag (I’m pretty good at convincing myself when I really want to build something).

To build a wooden net, I needed to learn steam bending, a woodworking technique that I have also wanted to try for quite a while. I checked out a few steam bending blogs here on Lumberjocks and I read all the books in my local library before working up the nerve to give it a try.

Here are some photos to show you my progress:

Here’s my steamer set up. I used my Coleman camping stove as the heat source and my “lobster pot” from my backyard grill to boil the water.

I ripped several 3/8” strips from 60” boards using my table saw. This was a little dicey because I had to remove the blade guard in order to get the fence closer to the blade. I used a long push stick to feed the wood and made sure to position myself off to the side and out of the “line of fire”. This is probably my least favorite wood working technique because it is the most dangerous.

The first two strips that I tried to bend, one cherry and one walnut, cracked and wound up in the scrap pile. I think I have this figured out now. My wood is all kiln dried and sits in my garage where the humidity is usually less than 10% and temps can get as high as 120F for weeks at a time in the summer. I decided to soak my strips in my swimming pool for 24 hours before attempting to steam them.

Once the water gets boiling, the steam rises up through the clear tubing and into the 3” ABS Pipe which serves as the “steam box”. The temperature in the steam box gets up to 210F according to my kitchen thermometer.

After about an hour of “cooking”. I took my strips of wood out of the steam box and bent them around a form that I made out of MDF secured with dowels to a Melamine base. The MDF ring is covered with clear packing tape so it won’t get stuck to the net frame during the glue up process.

Above is a 3/8” strip of alder clamped around the frame and glued to a walnut handle. I used high quality waterproof wood glue.

Above is a 3/8” strip of walnut glued and clamped around the alder.

Above is a close up of the handle. I have a lot of hand shaping and sanding to do once the glue has dried.

This first net is built on a template with a 9” diameter (I traced a dinner plate on to MDF and cut it out with my jig saw). The length of the hoop is 13.5”. The handle length is 9”. This should be big enough for most of the trout I typically catch. Now I need to find a good deal on a net bag.

I plan to plane the strips even with my block plane (the walnut is slightly taller than the alder), round the hoop on all sides using sand paper, and shape the handle using a combination of hand rasps and my orbital spindle sander. I’ll then drill the holes for stringing the net bag to match whatever net bag I decide to use (I’m leaning toward the Brodin rubber catch and release bag unless I can find a better price on a similar product). When it is ready for finishing, I will seal it with several coats of spar varnish I’m not sure if I will use any stain first or not. Once the varnish is dry, I’ll attach the net bag and add a lanyard and a retainer clip to the handle.

Stay tuned for an update showing the shaping and finishing. If you have any questions or suggestions, please let me know in the comments.



-- "There seems to be a black hole in my garage that swallows up pencils and tape measures as soon as I put them down."

7 comments so far

View rance's profile


4279 posts in 4445 days

#1 posted 09-29-2012 06:33 AM

I look forward to seeing the finished product.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View shipwright's profile


8760 posts in 4083 days

#2 posted 09-29-2012 02:57 PM

Nice job.

Steaming is a lot of fun and a very useful technique.

A couple of things that may help in the future:
1) try not to use kiln dried wood… life will be easier. The steaming kiln dries it anyway.
2) if you have trouble wih the corners slivering off and ruining pieces, take a tiny chamfer off each corner before steaming.

-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

View Retsof's profile


134 posts in 3520 days

#3 posted 10-01-2012 04:02 AM

Thanks for the tips. I’m not likely to find non-kiln dried wood out here in Las Vegas. We don’t have the luxury of buying right from the mill out here in the middle of the Mojave Desert (unless I special order and have it shipped to me). For now, I’m experimenting with the wood I have on hand. Soaking it in the pool for 24 hours before steaming it seems to have done the trick. I bent a second net frame today out of cherry and walnut with a maple handle. I need to buy a few more clamps so I can bend more than one net at a time.

-- "There seems to be a black hole in my garage that swallows up pencils and tape measures as soon as I put them down."

View patron's profile


13722 posts in 4626 days

#4 posted 10-01-2012 04:23 AM

thanks for this blog

brings steaming to us beginners
in a simple way we can understand

looking good

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View BigTiny's profile


1721 posts in 4173 days

#5 posted 10-05-2012 08:25 PM

Nice job, but a couple of things hit me a bit off key. First was using a Coleman inside. VERY dangerous due to the fumes. Second is cutting thin strips using the fence so close to the blade. There’s an easier, safer way and that is to use a thin strip cutting jig. The jig is simply a piece that locks into the miter slot and sets a distance from the blade but is set up ahead of the blade by several inches. To use it, you set the distance between the jig and the blade on the side opposite to the fence. You then lock the jig to the table’s miter slot. You set the wood against the jig and bring the fence up snug against the board. Fire up the saw and make your cut with the majority of the board between the fence and the blade, leaving the thin strip free. To cut another strip, put the board against the jig and move the fence up snug to it again. Keep this up until you have enough strips cut or the board gets too narrow to safely run through the saw.
There are a number of simple jigs for this purpose here on LJ. You can make one in under an hour out of odds and ends around the shop.

Hope this helps.


-- The nicer the nice, the higher the price!

View BigTiny's profile


1721 posts in 4173 days

#6 posted 10-05-2012 08:39 PM

By the way, my late father would have loved one of these. He retired to Campbell River, British Columbia as he loved fishing and hunting. His proudest moment fishing was his “Tyee pin” winner. To qualify for the pin, you must use no heavier than a 20 pound test line and you can’t have your line and your outboard in the water at the same time. If you intend to troll, you must use oars.

Dad’s fish was a 46 pound salmon. Took him an hour and forty five minutes to land. Got his photo on the front page of the local paper and his was the biggest taken by hook and line that year. To top it all off, he used a hand tied lure of his own design and work.

I think the grin on his face in that picture was bigger than the salmon! (grin)


-- The nicer the nice, the higher the price!

View Retsof's profile


134 posts in 3520 days

#7 posted 10-10-2012 05:48 AM

Hi Paul,

I’ve made three net frames so far with my steamer. I think I’m finally done with sanding and ready to move on to finishing them.

Thanks for the comments. I hope I can get to BC someday. It sounds like fly fishing paradise. I grew up on the East Coast and used to fish for landlocked Atlantic Salmon in Maine every summer.

I have only fished for Pacific Salmon at the Salmon River in Upstate New York (a tributary of Lake Ontario). I had one awesome day there back in late 1997, with my cousin-in-law. I landed several big fish on my 8wt fly rod and the largest was a 40lb male King Salmon with a huge hooked jaw. It’s still the largest fish of any kind that I have ever caught. What I remember most was that I tripped on a submerged rock and went for a swim in 34F degree water (while snowing) while posing for a photo with that fish. I managed to hang on to it and I had it smoked. It was delicious. I was glad that I had a change of clothes in the car that day.

Now that I live in the middle of the Mojave Desert, I don’t get to fish for salmon. I manage to make a few trips a year to fish for high elevation trout in Northern Nevada, the Eastern Sierras of California, or South-Central Utah (all between 4 – 5 hours drive from my home).

I try to be as safe as I can when I’m woodworking. The Coleman stove is technically inside my garage, but what you can’t see in the photos is that it’s only about a foot from the open garage door and there is a fan blowing out on top of the oak bookcase that is right behind the steamer. I’ve thought about moving my steamer to my backyard so I can run it off the side burner on my BBQ grill as I have a gas line from the house to the grill and won’t have to use those little Coleman fuel bottles. First, I need to build a rack of some sort to support the steamer tube on the closed top of my grill and I haven’t gotten around to that yet. Sounds like a good project to tackle this weekend.

I would love to cut my strips using the jig you suggested. I’ve researched them before. The problem I have is that my table saw is a Craftsman with non-standard miter slots and I have yet to find a source for aftermarket bar stock to fit the oddly shaped slots. I was able to make myself a crosscut sled by using maple runners on the outside edges of the table (I posted a video blog about this sled), but I haven’t figured out a solution to allow the strip cutting jig on the left side of my blade yet. I was thinking maybe of trying the magnetic type that fastens to the table top if that will work with my saw. Another problem I think I will run into with my saw is making a zero clearance plate for it. It would require a very thin insert. The stock insert is pretty close to the blade on the right side, but there is a large gap on the left that I will need to close to cut strips on that side.

Someday, I’ll have a better table saw, and all these problems will be a distant memory. At least I’ll know exactly what I’m looking for when I can finally afford it.

- Regards,


-- "There seems to be a black hole in my garage that swallows up pencils and tape measures as soon as I put them down."

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