This steam box had an integral part in the process of building wooden boats. Several lengths of wood, usually oak or mahogany, that were pre-shaped into their finished profiles would be placed into the box and subjected to steam for several hours. Wood that has high water content is pliable. After being in steam for a while, the wooden parts would be flexible enough to be bent around a frame to produce gunwales, chines, or bow stems. However, determining the correct moisture content was not exact and resulted in mishaps.
While waiting for the wood to steam, shop workers would stay busy with other boatbuilding tasks. These included milling lumber, gluing up sub assemblies, or preparing previously finished hulls for the paint shop. Every so often one of the workers would go over to the steam box, lift the canvas flap, peer inside, then shake his head and walk back into the shop. Eventually, a worker after peering inside the box would don a leather glove, reach in, retrieve one of the pieces and carry it into the shop. Bending it around and fastening it to the frame took all the available workers.
Besides working handling steamy hot material, it had to be formed into its structural shape before it was secured. First one end was fastened into place with wood screws, Next, all available hands bent and twisted and applied clamps to hold the cooling piece of timber into position before it was permanently fixed into place. Sometimes before this task was accomplished a loud cracking sound would reveal that this piece had not been thoroughly steamed. The result would be a splintered half fastened piece of useless product. This event was usually accompanied by curses, mutterings and clanging noises from clamps hitting the floor as they were thrown off the piece of lumber that no longer held its place.
Fortunately more material had in the meantime been cooking. So, likely the next piece withdrawn would have a better chance of being bent without problem. Usually after cleaning up the mess from the broken piece and before drawing out the next one, a break was called and good mood restored. Happy attitude seems important when handling wood withdrawn from a steam box.