Bamboo Wood Characteristics, Uses, and More

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Every homeowner aspires to acquire unique wood furniture and other wood products. However, over time, mass production makes rare pieces very expensive. Therefore, you may want to consider cheaper woods but outstanding in terms of availability, durability, and beauty. 

In this article, our expert woodworkers will guide you in choosing bamboo wood for your next project. 

Characteristics of Bamboo: A Quick Overview

What is Bamboo?

Bamboo is a unique plant native to Indochina and the southern Chinese province of Yunnan, but it has been extensively planted and grown in several other places.

It is currently widely grown in the tropics and subtropics of Asia, Africa, Australia, Southeast, and South America. Despite being renowned for agricultural production, they are naturally occurring plants without human cultivation. 

Bamboo has outstanding characteristics that set them apart from other wood. They can stand extreme climate conditions than most woods. They grow faster and can already be harvested after four to five years. What makes them unique is their regeneration abilities after cutting.  

bamboo plants

Bamboo has many uses, including ornamental purposes, medicine, textile production, charcoal, and biofuel energy resources. The young bamboo shoots are also popular for food consumption.  

Recently, bamboo has gained mainstream popularity in construction and furniture production. They are most appreciated by environmentally conscious consumers who support sustainable products. 

Bamboo Species

There are many bamboo species, but they are generally divided into two categories: the grass family and the timber-producing bamboo.

Poaceae is the grass family of Bamboo. They are comprised of 1200 species, mostly perennial plants. They naturally grow in the tropical, subtropical, and typically temperate regions of Asia, America, and Africa. 

different bamboo sizes

Meanwhile, Bambusa is the specie of bamboo known for construction purposes. They are tall and usually has thorny and dense clump native to Southeast Asia. They are commonly used for house construction, roofing, rafters, handicrafts, furniture, and fencing. 

Is it a Fast-Growing Tree?

Bamboo is one of the fast-growing plants. They initially grow at full width and have no tampering and horizontal growth. Some remarkable species can even grow up to three feet in just one day. As they mature, their strength also develops and becomes fully grown after just one year. 

Most bamboo species become fully mature in two to four years and reach their optimum strengths and durability. After this period, fungus and mold buildup will start to develop outside the culm. 

The bamboo plant will eventually weaken and collapse due to decay. Therefore, they must be harvested during their maturity period when they reach maximum strength and hardness.

Appearance and Color

Bamboo has an even pale yellow to nearly white shade. When live bamboo is left standing for an extended period, it may develop fungal decay that may cause discolorations, forming brown or black streaks and patches on the wood.

sawing bamboo

Odor

Bamboo does not naturally emit a strong odor, and the scent is mostly neutral. However, it has a distinctive earthy, woody smell while being worked or processed. For some species, it releases an unobtrusive scent when rubbed. 

Texture/Grain

Bamboo, as a monocot in the grass family, lacks sapwood/heartwood and growth rings. The texture is consistent, ranging from medium to fine based on density. Bamboo fiber will have intermittent variations on each stem’s node after it has been split and processed into lumber.

Endgrain

The end grain of bamboo is like the Palm, which is also monocot. Currently, no relevant basis can distinguish the end grain of bamboo species. Typically, bamboo has a hollow stem, no rays or pores, and a pale color, distinguishing it from palms and other wood.

Resistance to Decay

The only downside of bamboo is that they are prone to decay and rot faster if not maintained properly. When they are exposed to harsh climate settings, they deteriorate only after a couple of years. 

bamboo woods

This can be attributed to the short lifespan of the bamboo plant. They easily reach the maturity stage only after two to four years but will decay after that period already. 

Also, bamboo attracts sea borers, termites, and powder-post beetles which cause the wood to deteriorate and decay faster.

Workability

Bamboo needs a different woodworking approach compared to most wood. Generally, it is not difficult to use and may be appropriate for most wood projects that sell. However, it requires special care, and you must be more cautious when working on them. 

When being cross-cut, its fibers tend to split and disintegrate. Therefore, it is recommended to apply masking tape across the cut line beforehand to prevent it from tearing out. 

milling bamboo wood

Also, bamboo has high silica content concentrated on the stem’s outermost layers, which makes them slippery [1]. Therefore, you need to be more cautious when cutting bamboo.

It is highly recommended to use appropriate cutters, like carbide. It is also advisable to use surface sanding for a high-quality surface finish.

Toxicity

Bamboo may cause skin irritation, but a severe reaction is highly unlikely. There is no clear indication if the bamboo plant directly irritates or is due to the fungi usually found in bamboo plants. 

Availability and Sustainability

The most admirable characteristic of bamboo plants is their ability to regenerate independently after harvesting. Therefore, growing bamboo trees is easy and does not require much care. This is the reason why they are sustainable, and there is an abundant supply of bamboo.

bamboo mill

Bamboo is typically available in the market in three forms: hollow turning-blank in various sizes, glued-up boards or sheets from smaller strips, and paper-backed veneer. 

Common Uses

Bamboo is popular for veneer, paper, flooring, fishing poles, ladders, scaffolding, musical instruments, furniture, window shades, carving, turned goods, and other handicrafts. 

Cost

Their prices vary depending on the type of bamboo products. The raw materials are usually cheaper due to their abundance in the natural environment.

However, processed bamboo products, like glued-up boards, can be very expensive and even exceed some hardwood prices. 

(You might want to check the recommended places to buy lumber for woodworking.)

Why Should You Opt for Bamboo?

Strength and Density

Bamboo is durable and can also last longer if maintained properly. Some varieties of bamboo have tensile strengths greater than those of steel. Bamboo can also withstand strong winds and earthquake impact due to its flexibility. 

milling bamboo plant

Ease of Drying

Bamboo has a high moisture content, which is 50 to 60% than most wood. However, drying bamboo is easier compared to other wood. The common drying process used for commercial purposes is air drying which may take 6 to 12 weeks. 

Machining and Gluing

What we like the most about working with bamboo is that you do not need powerful tools and equipment. It is only recommended to use cutters that work well with the slipper surfaces, like carbide

Despite its high silica and moisture content, bamboo works well with the best wood glues, stains, and finishes. 

Stability

Bamboo raw materials are remarkably stable due to their high fiber content, allowing them to expand and contract. In fact, bamboo has higher stability than some hardwoods like Teak, Hickory, and Oak. 

bamboo processing plant

Therefore, bamboo will not fall apart when exposed to excessive moisture or sudden change in temperature. 

Photos of Bamboo

The below photos show the different types of bamboo typically used for flooring. There are three styles of bamboo flooring: horizontal, vertical, and strand-woven.

installing bamboo flooring
brown bamboo flooring
living room with bamboo flooring
house with bamboo flooring

Conclusion

Bamboo wood is versatile and can be used for many wood products. It is a good option as it is more sustainable and eco-friendly than other wood types. Choosing bamboo for your next project will save you great money because it is so much cheaper.

Also, bamboo products are aesthetically pleasing. They have a certain uniqueness and add character to your home design. 

Robert Johnson is a woodworker who takes joy in sharing his passion for creating to the rest of the world. His brainchild, Sawinery, allowed him to do so as well as connect with other craftsmen. He has since built an enviable workshop for himself and an equally impressive online accomplishment: an extensive resource site serving old timers and novices alike.
Robert Johnson
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