The undulating, winding and twining loops of wooden lighting by Tom Raffield

A pioneer of his craft, with so many impressive accolades and visual marvels in his wake, Tom Raffield remains honest to the art of traditional steam bending. Self-taught in this age-old technique, his work is a celebration of nature and demonstrative of his fascination to mimic organic shapes through the twists and turns of the wooden structures he creates. 

You may recognise the signature steam-bent shapes and curves of Tom Raffield’s work from the RHS Chelsea Flower show 2018, which showcased his handcrafted pavilion and was awarded the highest prize of 5 stars; Or perhaps his home build project, featured on Channel 4’s Grand Designs, Kevin McCloud rightfully describing it as a place that ‘has the potential to be Tom’s masterpiece; the summation of his life’s work’. Even most recently, his ‘Full Circle’ garden installation proved to be a huge hit at the virtual Chelsea Flower Show 2020.

What is steam bending?

The curved bands of a rocking chair, the sweeping hull of a boat, or the narrowing waist of a violin, steam bending has been carefully shaping our lives for centuries. The labour-intensive craft has been used to naturally and efficiently manipulate wood to create a diverse range of forms, simply by heating wood to boiling point.

The plant-cell walls of wood are made up of Cellulose fibres – used to create paper, and Lignin – a natural thermoplastic. Heating the Lignin in the wood to 100 degrees Celsius allows the cellulose fibres to move freely and be carefully repositioned into new forms. When the wood cools the Lignin sets and the transformation becomes permanent. The process is sustainable and eco-friendly, devoid of glue and machining.

Steam Bending at Tom Raffield

Q. Tell us more about what Tom Raffield do?

Tom: I design and craft steam bent furniture and lighting. It’s a very low tech process. There’s no really expensive machinery or expensive equipment being used it’s all so basic. But the thing that makes it special is our belief in doing things in a new way and using the tools in a new way and the outcome is something that is completely unique.

Q. Why do you prefer to use traditional handcrafting methods to create your furnishings?

Tom: It’s not for us just about making a beautiful product, it’s also about understanding where that product’s come from, about understanding the process that made that product, understanding the trees that created the wood to make that product.

Q. What qualities do you achieve through handcrafting?

Tom: Things that we produce cant be mass-produced. It doesn’t matter how many of the lights and how many pieces of furniture we’re making. We always make that product in the same way. With the same amount of care and attention for each individual product. It’s made by a craftsperson, by one of us in our workshop. It’s not been made on a large production line. We want to make sure it’s as good as it possibly can be, so it’s going to last a lifetime.

Tom Raffield’s Skipper Lighting Range

The Skipper lighting range (featured above) is based upon Scandinavian design principles combined with the signature Tom Rayfield aesthetic. Each sculptural piece is crafted from sustainable ash, oak or walnut. Creating magnificent light casts that dart and dash at the surrounding surfaces, and rich, warming shadows that only steam-bent wood can achieve. Embracing simplicity yet making a statement within the space.