April 29, 2023
Bamboo is one of the most used and valuable plants in this world. In fact, it has around 1,500 documented applications and uses, and for this reason, bamboo is undoubtedly a beneficial plant. Yet, one of the best applications of bamboo lies in woodworking. For millennia, bamboo has been used for making almost anything, from eating and cooking utensils to roofs and walls.
Bamboo, however, doesn’t grow anywhere, and only recently did bamboo become available in regions where it does not grow due to modern bamboo processing methods. Moreover, bamboo has recently become available in Northern America as a product for countertops, flooring, cutting boards, and many more.
Characteristics and Properties of Bamboo
Many people think of bamboo as a wood species. Yet, it is not the case, for bamboo is grass and belongs to the grass family. Most bamboo gets imported from Asia, where it thrives most. Moso, for example, the most commonly used bamboo, hails from Asia.
Bamboo, of course, has a more remarkable similarity to Red Oak. Nevertheless, it is harder than Red Oak and features a finer texture. As a woodworking material, bamboo is a highly sought-after material because it grows fast. Besides, it regrows quickly and does not die when you cut it. So, without keeping you waiting, let me fill you in on the following properties and characteristics of bamboo:
Color and Appearance
Bamboo features a uniform, almost white to pale yellow appearance. You will also notice discoloration of live bamboo that is left standing for a long time because it is more susceptible to fungal decay. This discoloration comes in the form of black patches and streaks.
Bamboo’s density is around 40 lbs/cc, which is pretty similar to that of Oak. However, bamboo panels are a bit heavier than Oak with the same dimension because most Oak panels utilize Oak species of lower density in their internal piles.
Grain and Texture
Bamboo is a monocot plant of the grass family. As such, it doesn’t feature sapwood or heartwood. Nor does it have growth rings. Its texture is relatively uniform, ranging from delicate to medium density. However, bamboo that have been processed into pieces of lumber exhibits intermittent fiber variations at every node of its stern.
The end grain of bamboo resembles that of the palm, which is another monocot. Bamboo species, of course, may exhibit varying end grains, though no data yet is available about it. You can distinguish bamboo from solid wood and palms because of its hollow stem, lack of rings and rays, and pale color.
The Modulus of Rupture (MOR) of bamboo is anywhere from 12,000 psi to 22,000 psi. This MOR is higher than Red Oak. Besides, its stiffness ranges from 1.1 million psi to 2.9 million psi which is also higher compared to Oak.
Decay and Rot Resistance
Bamboo, like any organic material, is subject to decay over time. Over the years, if it doesn’t get treated, it will decay. Yet, bamboo has different species, and some species are more resistant to decay and rot. Nevertheless, they will succumb to rot and decay sooner or later if not treated. Bamboo is also vulnerable to termite attacks, marine borers, and powder-post beetles.
Bamboo stalks have high water content. Thus, bamboo’s cross-section will likely shrink up to 17%. You must treat bamboo properly to enable it to last longer and not shrink further. Besides, it will be best if you get rid of its excess water content prior to utilizing it for your projects.
For every three percent of MC change, bamboo will likely shrink by one percent in size. The swelling and shrinking, however, are similar radially and tangentially. Hence, you should handle bamboo carefully when you store it and dry it.
Guides and Tips When Working with Bamboo on Your Woodworking Projects
If it is your first time working with bamboo, you will find it very easy to work with. It is easy to machine and cut using your standard woodworking cutters. Nevertheless, it may splinter when you cut it across its grain. As a beginner in working with bamboo, it will help to know the following tips and guidelines when working with bamboo.
Drying bamboo is relatively easy. You can well dry it onsite. It will shrink, but its shrinkage percentage is not much different from that of Oak, though there is a bit of difference between tangential and radial shrinkage.
Cutting and Sawing
As you work with bamboo, you will notice that its fibers have a tendency to split when you cross-cut it. Thus, it will help to use masking tape on your cutline before making a cut to prevent tear-out. Furthermore, bamboo contains silica in its outermost stem layers. This makes it a bit challenging to cut. Thus, it will help if you instead use a carbide cutter when cutting and processing it.
Machining and Gluing
Bamboo comes in varied species. The Calcutta bamboo, for example, will glue well when you fashion it out as a laminated product. Its high density, however, might need preparation to ensure it will glue well. Try to figure out the best glue spread rate when gluing it. Besides, experts recommend you use PUR adhesive when gluing bamboo and fashioning them into furniture and cabinets.
Bamboo is easy to machine. Nevertheless, various species of bamboo may offer less or higher resistance to machine cutting. Besides, not many report allergic reactions to the sawdust of bamboo.
How to Work with the Laminated Bamboo
The available bamboo in the market might come in laminated form. Laminated bamboo lumber is popular for creating wall laminates, especially in regions where bamboo thrives. Nevertheless, bamboo tends to split fast, so its use gets often restricted to specific applications. Of course, laminated bamboo has been rolled out only recently, and many people worldwide are still not aware of its availability.
Laminated bamboo, however, is excellent to look at. You can use it to create an awe-inspiring home decoration. Besides, given the additional protection of lamination, it is very durable. So, you will only need to do minor maintenance on laminated bamboo. Plus, it doesn’t necessitate oiling or painting to make them last.
Bamboo has a very high density, and it is firm. Compared to other timber, it has a high Janka hardness rating. It may also be three times stronger than ordinary lumber. Nevertheless, it may succumb to decay if not properly dried and treated. As such, many people are still wary of its resiliency.
Bamboo, as a construction material, is one of the oldest traditional materials for construction. Its use as a construction material can be dated back to ancient times. As a modern-day material for construction, the technology in processing bamboo has significantly improved, making the finished bamboo products more resilient to decay and workable.
Bamboo, as a construction material, is eco-friendly. It is a fast-growing plant that can regrow from its stalks. As such, we will always have a bamboo lumber supply. It is also a cost-effective alternative; as such, it is perfect for those who don’t want to break the bank when woodworking.
Jason is a 40-year-old woodworker, carpenter and author who have been involved in the woodworking and woodcraft industry with 17 years of experience. He is expertise in technical aspects, woodcraft and furniture building projects.