Bamboo Offers Furniture, Cabinetry and Flooring Makers Interesting Options

By Jo-Ann Kaiser



Phyllostachys pubesecens and various species form the Arundinaria, Bambusa and Dendrocalamus of the Family Gramineae.




Most industrial bamboo averages 40-foot plants, but can grow as tall as 120 feet. Weight not applicable.

  • Machines easily.
  • Sands well.
  • End grain seals and fills easily.
  • Can be finished well.

Wood of the Month makes a slight detour from the forest this month to spotlight bamboo. While wood-like with a woody stem, in reality bamboo is a giant of the grass family.

INBAR, the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan, says there are roughly 1,500 documented traditional uses for bamboo, ranging from foodstuffs and landscape elements to furniture, flooring and paneling.

Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world. Albert Constantine Jr. writes in his book, Know Your Woods, that bamboo species in Ceylon were observed to grow 16 inches in a day. Other reference books document growth of as much as 36 inches in 24 hours. While not all bamboo plants grow that quickly, most reach their full height within a few months.

There are more than 1,000 species of bamboo worldwide. Maxfield Hunter, president of Western Dovetail Inc., says one commonly used species, moso bamboo (Phyllostachys pubesecens), "Can grow to a height of 40 feet or more with a diameter at the base exceeding 6 inches in a space of three to five years."

Bamboo is considered a green product. Hunter said most major bamboo mills claim that their bamboo comes from managed forests and does not pose a threat to the endangered Panda bears living in the wild. Supplies typically come from bamboo forests under the control of the Chinese Department of Forestry in Hunan, Jiangxi and Fujian provinces.

Tom Harrison, owner of AlterECO in Oakland, CA, has been using bamboo in ecologically friendly furniture and cabinets for some time. "Bamboo fits in well with our philosophy and product lines and customers who like the environmental aspect, but it also has potential with people who like the bamboo esthetic," Harrison says. "In the past we made bamboo cabinetry on a custom basis, but this year we introduced a line of bamboo cabinetry."

Harrison uses bamboo in a variety of formats, including veneer and panel form, to make beds, tables, and cabinetry, sometimes teaming it with other woods such as butternut.

Royal Style

Bamboo has gone in and out of style as a furniture material. Some say bamboo’s current popularity was fueled by the 1998 estate sale at Sotheby’s of items owned by the Duchess of Windsor, including numerous real and fake bamboo accessories and home furnishings.

Hunter says, "It is important to note that you have the many traditional uses of bamboo in the natural state, what we call the pole version, and then there is a entirely different segment that is using bamboo in a more engineered way." His company has been using bamboo panels to manufacture custom-made solid bamboo drawers that are completely assembled and finished.

Bamboo is available in natural or amber colors. "The amber color is achieved by a carbonization process," Hunter explains. "This heat treatment causes a darkening of the color throughout."

Hunter says that bamboo veneers can be laid over nearly any substrate. "They machine very easily and sand well," he adds. "The end grain seals and fills very easily with conventional finishes." In addition, bamboo is remarkably stable, comparable in strength to northern red oak and similar in hardness to maple.

From Pole to Panel

A unique method turns bamboo poles into panel products. "Bamboo lumber products are made from bamboo strips cut from the walls off the hollow stalk that can be up to an inch thick," Hunter explains. "The strips are treated with a boric acid and lime solution to extract the starch that attracts termites or powder post beetles. The strips are then milled square on four sides and kiln dried." Strips can be joined at their edges to create a thin single-ply panel or laminated again to each other to create a multi-ply bamboo panel.

Those using the new bamboo products expect to see additional uses of the versatile material coming to the marketplace soon, such as bamboo edgebanding.

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