Bamboo Furniture: Make furniture out of grass?
Can you actually build furniture out of a grass?
Yes, you can with bamboo. Bamboo is actually a grass not tree. Because it’s hollowed out stem does not contain any woody material. However, its hollowed out stem is being dried, cut and glued into plywood sheets. These plywood sheets look and behave like any other plywood sheets.
So, how well does bamboo plywood compare to good old red oak plywood?
Bamboo has a similar in density to red oak, about forty pounds per cubit foot. A bamboo plywood sheet will be a little heavier than a red oak plywood sheet because the filler wood in the bamboo sheet is bamboo and in red oak plywood it some other wood. It is a cost savings thing for the manufacture; however, we still pay the full price.
How stable is this bamboo plywood?
Overall bamboo plywood is about as stable as red oak plywood. For every three percent change in moisture content results in one percent change in its size. This is inline with the behavior of red oak plywood. Interestingly enough, shrinkage is about the same radial and tangential directions. That is across the grain. Thus end checking is more likely. However, since the bamboo is laminated in a cross grain pattern in the plywood construction, this risk is minimal.
How well does it machine?
From what I have been able to find out, it cuts about the same as oak plywood. Carbide tipped tools cut through it with about the same effort as cutting red oak plywood. Due to the number of species of bamboo, effort to cut it may vary slightly from one species to another. However, you are not going to see a huge variation like machining poplar compared to purple heart.
As a side note, I built a set of picture frames out of purple heart. It is a beautiful wood that is pretty tough on the tools when cutting. Especially my old stacked dado head cutter whose teeth are high speed steel not carbide!
Where does it come from?
There are over 1,100 species of bamboo that grow in tropical environment. Bamboo grows mostly in the rain forests of Brazil, China, Southeast Asia and India. And as expected the grain pattern, quality, and hardness varies among them from dark to light in color.
Bamboo is a fast growing grass that lends itself to sustainable foresting practices. In four years a bamboo shoot can grow to over forty feet tall with a six inch diameter trunk. When growing conditions are ideal it can grow to over 90 feet with a two foot diameter trunk! When it is harvested, the root system will send up new shoots to replace the cut down ones. There is little human intervention needed to replace the plant, it does itself!
How is the plywood sheets constructed?
There are two major brands of bamboo plywood available in the US, Plyboo and Durapalm. Plyboo is made from long narrow strips cut 1/4 inch wide by 1/8 inch thick. They are edge glued together which forms a 1/8 inch thick veneer. Durapalm is made from strips that are 2 inches wide by 1/8 inch thick. They are edge glued together which forms a 1/8 inch thick veneer.
It looks like an interesting wood to work with. Maybe build a small project with it to see how I, and more importantly the wife, like it. I have not yet priced it locally to see how it compares to oak or maple plywood. I am curious to see how it takes a stain.