Daily Archives: August 17, 2012

Using steam to lift dents in briar

ImageIn the early days of our marriage, my wife and I bought a lot of used furniture. Today many would call them antiques but then they were just used furniture and were quite inexpensive. I bought a book on working with furniture called the Furniture Doctor by George Grotz in which he gave all kinds of helpful tips on restoring wood furniture. One of the tips that I used for years was a simple procedure for raising dents in wood. He explained a process of steaming the wood to lift the dents. I can’t remember his exact method any more as I have modified it and made it mine over the years so I don’t know where George leaves off and Steve takes off. It seems to me that it was a simple procedure of place a damp cloth on the dent and applying heat to the surface to make steam. I always used a steam iron from the laundry closet to do this. I would wet a cloth and place it on the dent and then apply the hot steam iron to it. There would be a resultant hiss and steam released. I would repeat the procedure until the dent was gone. Then I would refinish the piece with sand paper and stain it again to match.

When I got into refurbishing pipes I decided to try the same thing. I had not read about it anywhere, though since I have seen others speak of it. I tried the cloth and steam iron but found it too cumbersome to use the big iron on a small dent on a smaller pipe. The iron just over shadowed the pipe. I tried using just the tip of the iron and it worked quite well but I wanted a bit more of a vantage point when I was doing the steaming. I wanted to see that I was actually placing the heat on the dent. So I tried a few methods from the tip of a soldering iron to a lighter to try to accomplish the same thing.

Then one day I was frying a couple of eggs on our gas stove and the lights came on. I laid aside the frying pan and ran down to my work bench for a pipe I was working on to put my idea to the test. I wet a dish cloth (shhh don’t tell my wife!) and then took one of the butter knives from the cutlery drawer. I heated the tip of the blade over the gas flame for a few seconds and then applied it to the wet cloth on the dent in the pipe. Viola! It worked exceptionally well. I repeated it several times on the dents on the rim and around the sides of the bowl and was amazed at how I could put just a bit of the wet cloth and the hot tip of the knife exactly on the spot. It really left little to work out once I was finished. The wet spot under the towel quickly dried and the finish was only left with a matte look to it. I took it to the buffer and within moments the matte area was polished and the pipe was as good as new.

Over the years now I have used this method on lifting dents in the shank area of pipes, on the sides of bowls and on the rims with great success. I have refined it a bit from those early days of experimentation so now I use a small piece of cotton cloth and a “not so new” butter knife that I requisitioned from the kitchen cutlery drawer. I love the control you have over the field of repair. To be able to directly target the spot of the dent and not put the wet cloth on the entire side of the bowl is amazing. I keep using it and reworking it to find other ways to do the work but I come back again and again to the kitchen stove, fire up the gas burners and work on the dents. I have learned, by and large, to do this when the kitchen is not occupied by my wife or daughters as they go about their preparations for dinner – you see, you can teach the old dog new tricks!

Give the trick a try, experiment with it and post here to let us know how it works for you.