CHOPSTICK Steamer and Bending Jig




Called a renaissance man more times than I can count, I am the type of person who believes you ca...

With all these chopsticks laying around (My wife loves to eat Chinese a little too much) I'm always looking for ways too make use of these little shard's of wood. It occurred to me that  I could probably make some cool curves, however looking at my 6ft wood steamer outside really was a waste of a lot of electric and water just to steam a couple of small sticks of wood. I've steamed and bent a lot of wood pieces over the years and this will be my first try at chopsticks. I am thinking about another project that I can use these for.

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Step 1: Materials:


2" PVC Pipe a little longer than the chopsticks, But planning ahead for smaller projects than my 6 ft steamer.
2" PVC Fittings (I used a screw on end cap and a 90 degree)
Various sizes of wood to make a stand
Multi-groove / fluted wood dowel pins
Old Pot for heating water
Tubing (I used a plastic tubing that is re-enforced)
Hot plate or stove
Chopsticks or wood dowels
Aluminum foil

Tools used:
Drill press (optional)
Various size drill bits
Hole saw (or jig saw will work in a pinch)
Crosscut saw (circular saw or hand saw will work too)
Wood lathe (Optional: used it just for looks)

Step 2: Lets Get to Steamin' the Cut Up

First: Put the the 2" screw cap on the pvc pipe
Second: Cut the legs of the stand, this is kind of important remember to make them long enough to put the steamer high enough over your hotplate and pot
Third: Trace out the hole on each leg and drill with hole saw then test fit the PVC pipe
Forth: Cut the base long enough and wide enough to support the steamer
Finally: Cut the top plate for the steamer pot, Make sure you cut it larger that the pot so that it overlaps the edges of the pot

Step 3: The Assembly

First: Drill and countersink the base to the legs
Second: Place the the PVC tube through the holes, then countersink, drill, and screw just above the each of the legs into the PVC tubes body to keep the PVC body from moving.
Finally: Glue on all the fittings to finish the first part of the steamer.

Step 4: Finishing Touches

Now I just needed to button up a few of the finishing touches the will complete the steamer and get it working!

First: Drill a steam escape hole in the bottom of the tube (later on during steaming I found the hole I had drilled was to small and need to be a little larger instead of an 1/8" hole like viewed in the pics I had to go up to a 1/4" hole)
Second: Drill 2 pilot holes for long screws (I suggest galvanized or outdoor deck screws as they with with stand the moister better) and drive the screws into these holes creating legs inside that the chopsticks will sit on to surround them completely with steam

The next few steps have a lot of optional ways to create a steam funnel. I opted to create custom fit circles that fit my pot and PVC tube, however you can make these square with a square wood funnel. My regular hot plate is currently being used for another project so my height needs to be variable in this project.

To create my steam funnel:
First: Take all your measurement's (Remember the old adage "Measure twice cut once"  ), set your hole cutter, and cut your circles to be a little larger than the outside diameter of your pot and PVC 90 degree elbow.
Second: Put the circles on your wood lathe and cut down half of the edge to fit the inside diameter of both you pot and PVC (again this is optional one idea I had for the PVC was to use a cap off and drill a hole to accommodate the tubing).
Third: Measure the tubing (Again twice) Select the right drill bit (a little larger than the tubing) and drill holes in the centers.
Fourth To attach the tubing to the pots lids I heated it with a torch almost to melting point and with a bic pen flared the plastic down over the additional square I had cut to attach to the lid
Fifth: Align the tube funnel and wood washer to the hole in the lid, then drill pilot holes and screw together
Finally Line everything up and feed the other end of the tube into the receiver hole into the end cap on the PVC side, place on hotplate and get ready to start steaming!

Step 5: Doing the Jig! Building It Not Dancing It.

There are very simple steps to making a bending jig, anyone can build one with a saw and drill!

First: Measure (twice "always") and cut your base plate down to a useable size; longer than the chopstick and 6" to 10" wide (optional)
Second: Get out your rule measure and a straight edge, start laying out your grid (TIP: measure your dowel pins first, then account for the width of your chopstick, so if my dowel pin is .300, my drilled hole is .325, my chopstick is .250 at it's widest point then my grid lines should be roughly .525 apart top to bottom.
Third: Find the right the right size bit for the dowel pins, and drill a hole at the cross sections of the grid (TIP: before you get into too many holes do a test fit to verify your dowel pins fit properly) then continue drilling to you have completed the grid.

Step 6: The Jig Is Up!

Now that you've drilled and drilled, it's time to sand sand sand! Place a few pins on your board and your ready to form shapes in wood.

Step 7: The Heat Is On

Now that everything is built it's time, it time to try my new creation, a bench top mini wood steamer! Place in your chopsticks, add water to your pot, and turn on your hotplate. In just several minutes you should have nice soft wood that bends easily!

Notice you'll see a few changes in the pics and I'll address those on the final step "The Learning Curve".

Step 8: The Big Finish

Well it took awhile to get to this point but we made it! The sticks finally steamed  and softened enough to put a few slight curves in them, now what to do with them, hmm! Maybe a laptop stand, wind chime, or whatever my mind can come up with.

TIP: The drying times may vary widely but something this small easily fits in the oven and 10 minutes at 250 degrees dries them up quickly.

Step 9: The Learning Curve

OK now that the projects complete I always like to go back and see what I've done so I can review what went wrong what didn't work and how I can do better if I build another or modify it.

Never having steamed wood chopsticks before I really learned that they take a "LONG" time to steam, after a couple of failed attempts I was surprised that it took almost and hour of constant steaming and 2 pots of water to steam these tough little things, the one I had are glued strips of wood, next time I think I'll try heating them in the oven for a little while to soften the glue before steaming them. It will probably work fast with just regular wooden dowels.

I need to get a second hotplate, I had attempted to steam the water on an old Quesadilla Maker that I got off Amazon for 20 bucks, and while it make a good lunch it just didn't heat the pot well enough to produce at lot of steam. Moving to the kitchen stove did the trick (thankfully I made the funnel adjustable height, however I still had to tilt it slightly to get the tube to line up with the stove). 

Last but not least we all have our "DUH" moments and I'm no exception, I know a big steamer produces a lot of hot steam, but it slipped my mind that when it comes to steam it's "HOT" no matter what the size! OUCH, Steamed finger tip doesn't feel good, and regardless of what anyone else tells you dancing around in your workshop shaking your throbbing finger doesn't help, ICE! So make sure you don't forget to put your gloves back on, "A good instructables picture isn't worth an hour of pain".

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    19 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I love this, though when I first saw it I thought it was on a much larger scale lol. I just built a 1ft x 1ft x 4' wood steaming box so I was excited. Im thinking Ill take your idea and upscale it ;)

    One thing I thought of here though was for all that work in fabricating the steamer would it not be easier possibly cheaper to head to walmart and buy a $20 rice/veggi steamer? lol if all your doing is chopsticks it would do that in a few minutes lol


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    yes safe to use PVC but steam will easily soften the pvc pipe I have now use a piece of spiral wrapped stell duct which is much better and does not distort.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Yes when I built a 6 footer I had the same question but after googling it is a world wide professionals choice to use pvc pipe as a steam box, I first seen it on the yankee workshop


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    The 6 foot one works great and I wanted to see if a small one would work too for things like a back scratcher. Good luck on building and let me know if I can be of any help.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    wrap them in w wet towel and put them in a microwave works and it only takes few minutes....................................


    5 years ago on Step 9

    Have you considered putting the chopsticks in a pressure cooker and softening up that way? I imagine it would soften them up in just a few minutes assuming of course that you can get a large enough pressure cooker to put a full length chopstick inside.

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Step 9

    Interesting thought? I never considered putting them in something like that, or just in boiling water for that matter. It might worth an i'ble to see if there is a design that could be created, or how they would even react to that method. Thanks for the idea!


    6 years ago

    That a brilliant idea I'm going to make one thz


    6 years ago on Step 9

    Are you sure that your chopsticks are wood?
    Quite often they are bamboo, which might explain the difference in steaming time.
    Great instructable BTW - I may have to give it a go, if I can only think of something useful to do with a bunch of bent chopsticks!

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Step 9

    Great observation, it didn't occur to me these chopsticks might be bamboo. It makes sense given the origin of the utensil. I picked these up from a couple of sources but the majority of them for the project were from Krogers, So i made the assumption they were made cheaper brand of wood. As for what I used them to make was for a desk stand for my Barnes and Nobles Nook, which was good for awhile but I moved on to another stand. But I had a couple of ideas like some kind of art deco wall hooks or other types of stands for something.

    I had tried to use that as a shortcut once for a big project, no matter how soft I got the wood (even balsa) the pins just couldn't stand up to the pressure when the wood would start to dry. For something small didn't take long to drill for multiple forms, If I'm doing something bigger I just trace the form and drill just what I need to make it no more. Thanks for the reply


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks, The pegboard idea I've had a lot of mixed results when trying to do that, but and it could work with a lot of layers, but after a few missed attempts I just started drilling the forms,


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks I looked at your Humane Animal Trap as well, First thought that came to mind was "Cool way to think out side the box" but I didn't want to post such a bad pun on your 'ible, LOL!