Is there an ideal wood for steam bending, assuming you had a project where you could choose any wood?
Michael Dresdner: There are many woods that work well, including (but not limited to) hickory, oak, ash, and yew. Is that enough to get you started?
Simon Watts: There are quite a few timbers that are amenable to being bent with the aid of steam. Among hardwoods I would put ash, most of the oaks, hickory, black locust and beech in the top form. The only softwood I know that bends well is hackmatack–also known as tamarack or larch. The moisture content of the wood is critical–the greener the better. If you can only get kiln-dried stock, prolonged soaking in salted water restores some, but not all, of the bending properties. If you have access to back issues of WoodenBoat magazine, see my article ‘I Like it Hot’ in issue #88.
Rob Johnstone: I’ve never had a hardwood refuse to bend when I used steam as an aid. I’ve also never really had a great steam bending experience. It is a putsy and annoying technique from my perspective. With that said, what makes a hardwood ideal for bending is straight running grain with a minimum of flaws, and a moderate specific density.