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, I’ll walk you through why you might want to consider 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 been making waves in the construction and furniture sectors, particularly among those who are eco-conscious and committed to sustainability. Trust me, once you get to know bamboo, you’ll see it’s a resource that wears many hats, and wears them well.

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

So let me clue you in on something about bamboo—it’s not invincible. You’ve got to harvest it when it’s mature, and at its peak strength and hardness.

One thing to watch out for—if you leave bamboo standing for too long, it can start to decay. I’ve seen this lead to brown or black streaks and patches, which, trust me, you don’t want. So, timely harvesting isn’t just about strength; it also keeps your bamboo looking its best.

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. 

And let’s not even talk about pests—sea borers, termites, and powder-post beetles love this stuff, speeding up the decay process.

Workability

Working with bamboo is a different ballgame. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not difficult per se, but you do have to treat it differently than other types of wood. Generally, it’s 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. One trick I’ve picked up is to put masking tape over the cut line; this helps prevent the fibers 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.

From my experience, using carbide cutters and doing some surface sanding usually results in a pretty high-quality surface finish.

Toxicity

Bamboo may cause skin irritation, but a severe reaction is highly unlikely. The jury’s still out on whether it’s the bamboo itself or possibly fungi on the plant that causes the irritation. Either way, better safe than sorry, right?

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. 

See Also: Maximizing Safety on Scaffolds 

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

One thing I love about bamboo is its durability. Take care of it, and it will last. 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. Air drying is the go-to method for commercial use, and you’re usually good to go in 6 to 12 weeks.

Machining and Gluing

What I 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 slippery 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. Honestly, I’ve found it to be more stable 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. For me, that’s a win-win.

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

robert headshot

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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