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When I moved into my current home there was some bamboo growing in the backyard. After a little while the yard was nearly overrun with it. Most people in my area consider it a nuisance. I saw it as an opportunity to work with a material that few in my area have experience with.

In this insturctable I will explain how to harvest, dry, preserve, and work with bamboo. I will take you from the ground to the finish product. I have tried to break this instructable up with summary information for those with little time, and detailed information for those who want to know more.

Step 1: Harvesting

I live in the southeastern United States in the Upstate of South Caroline. The bamboo that grows on my property varies in size. The largest being about 40 feet to the smallest over ten feet. The largest diameter I have seen in about three inches to the smallest a quarter of an inch.

The Dos and Don'ts of bamboo harvesting

Summary
Do
Know what you want to use it for.
Know how old the stalk is.
Use the proper tools

Don't
Harvest too young or old for your purposes
Harvest when it is wet

Details
Know what you want to use it for...
Harvesting bamboo depends on what you want to use it for. I allow my bamboo to grow for at least two years before harvesting it. You can allow it to grow for longer.

The further down the stalk you cut the more dense the bamboo. The part near the bottom will be thicker than that at the top. The base of the stalk has to support the rest of the plant.

Know how old the stalk is...
You will need some method of knowing which stalks of bamboo are ready and which ones are not. Newly grown bamboo in my area has a white film on it that can be brushed off with your fingers. Also older bamboo is a darker green that the rest.

I unfortunately have a problem with a black mold the grows on the bamboo. I also use mold growth on the bamboo to tell how old it is. If there is very little mold then the piece must be young.

Use the proper tools...
Once you have selected a piece of the appropriate age you can harvest it. I like to use a serrated hand saw. For smaller pieces you can use loping shears. I have also seen a reciprocating saw used effectively. Be careful when cutting. It is easy to injure yourself or others.

Don't harvest too young or old for your purposes...
If you harvest the bamboo too soon,1year old or younger, it will collapse on itself and only be good for basket making. After two to three years it should be good for making vases or small items. After four or five years you can use it for furniture. Longer than that and it starts to lose strength.

Don't harvest when it is wet...
Moisture will rot your bamboo. Try to harvest it during a dry season.

Step 2: Drying/Preserving

Bamboo is a plant and therefore subject to insects, mold, and mildew. However there are steps you can take to protect it.

Summary
Dry bamboo in an upright position
Clean the bamboo with a magic eraser
Soak the bamboo in water to preserve it
or
Heat the bamboo to preserve it
or
Soak the bamboo in borax to preserve it


Details
Dry bamboo in an upright position...
Bamboo drys fastest when it is standing upright. I have a large shed that keep my bamboo in while it drys. It takes about six months to dry. This is dependent on the weather.

Clean the bamboo with a magic eraser...
My bamboo has a mold problem and I have tried many things attempting to get rid of it. If the mold is kept dry it does not bother my bamboo. To remove the mold I have used Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. This is the most effective tool. It does not damage the bamboo and removes all the mold.

In the past I have used bleach and other mold killing products. These products were not effective and damaged the bamboo, often stripping the wax off the bamboo.

Soak the bamboo in water to preserve it...
Once your bamboo is clean there are some steps you can take to protect it. You can soak the bamboo in water for about four weeks. Immerse the bamboo completely in water. You will need to weight the bamboo down. You will also need to change the water every week. I like this method as it is the most natural.This process pulls the starches out of the bamboo. The starches are what the insects and mold like to eat.

Heat the bamboo to preserve it...
You can heat the bamboo. Take a hand torch and move it along the surface of the bamboo. This process hardens the bamboo, but can also take the protective wax off. If you take the wax off the bamboo will take a stain or paint better.

Soak the bamboo in borax to preserve it...
You can soak the bamboo in a mixture of water and borax. I only used this method once. I soaked the piece for about a week. The borax kills any insects or mold. I use 20 mule team borax.

These are only a few of the methods that can be used. They are however the cheapest ones I have found.

Step 3: Cutting/Drilling

After you have your bamboo you have invested a great deal of time harvesting and preserving it. You can cut the bamboo before drying or preserving it, but I have found that cutting it before drying often leads to splitting.

Summary
Let it dry and then cut.
Be Careful!
Hand or power tools are okay
Use metal cutting blades

Details
Hand or power tools are okay...
When cutting bamboo you can use either hand tools or power tools. If you use hand tools any saw or knife will work fine. If you want to make a cup you will want a vise and some sort of hand saw. Again be careful.

Use metal cutting blades...
I like to use power tools and for this project I am cutting bamboo to make a storage tube. I use a miter saw with a metal cutting blade. I recommend the metal cutting blade. If you use a wood cutting blade about every fourth piece you cut will explode. Be careful, bamboo hurts when it shatters in your hand.

The metal cutting blade generates much smoke, but you will have a clean cut with no splinters. For my tube I cut a piece with a node on each end and no branches. I left about a quarter of an inch on each end of the node. Then I cut the top of the storage tube about an inch from the node.

I drill two holes in the top of the tube and two in the body of the tube. The size drill bit you use depends on the size of your zip tie and toothpick. I used a pencil to mark the tube so the holes are lined up. One set of holes go in the side of the tube and the other set goes in the body of the tube.

Step 4: Decorating/Finishing

Now you take your tube and put a zip tie into the holes on the side. Make sure where the tie connects is on the inside of the tube. Then you can glue a toothpick in the lid hole. This will act as a catch to hold the tube closed.

Summary
Paint does not stick
Wood burner works great

Details
To decorate your tube you can use a conventional wood burner or paint. Paint will not stay on well because of the wax on the bamboo. You can also apply this instructable on engraving wood with sunlight to bamboo. I used the sun engraving technique to burn an image from a popular online game.

I have made many things using bamboo; cups, wind chimes, a table, bookmarks, letter openers, and a catapult. Bamboo is a great and underused resource.

I hope you have found this instructable useful and informative. Thanks for reading.
<p>I have seen a few furniture pieces made of this durable bamboo material which my friend had bought. I have always thought it would be great for many other products too but I never knew we could harvest it by ourselves. I have some canvas paintings stowed in my self storage unit which sometimes get moldy due to moisture. I can visualize these bamboo tubes being able to solve that issue of mine after I roll up my artworks.</p>
<p>I have always known you could achieve some great results with these bamboo sticks because of their durability. However, I do not own the right tools as of now but I guess it is time to invest in some. Apart from storage, I think if we could saw the bamboo up further into smaller pieces, we could build a completely different object that is just as sturdy like a bigger container.</p>
<p>That is a great idea. Please post anything you make.</p>
I love the idea of using bamboo for storage! It&rsquo;s eco-friendly and simple! I can foresee this being used for paper storage or maybe even condiments like garlic. May I ask what do you put in this bamboo storage tube? Also, anyone knows where I can get good bamboo in Australia?
I use it to store my dice. Thanks for the comment. Hope you find some good bamboo.
we have a lot of bamboo here in florida, Ive tried a couple of times to harvest and dry it but it always gets brittle. I'll have to try soaking it and then drying it. I always thought the chinese and other asians just harvested and used it to build scaffold and whatever, guess I should have researched it !
Good Job! I wish I had a bamboo garden here in chicago! I need a storage system for camera parts.<br><br>The plastic binder hinge is an efficient proof-of-concept, but it would be nice to have a closure system that is concealed. How hard would it be to cut and sand to create the illusion of a single piece? being a camera guy I keep thinking that a m42 mount and cap could be scavenged and attached for a cap.<br><br>Cool to see you using the bamboo in your yard. Pretty crazy that south carolina sees bamboo as a nuisance and America imports billions of tons from China per year... Hardy har har... You could go into business. <br><br>Check out this fact sheet for more uses and import stats.<br><br>ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/a1243e/a1243e04.pdf<br>
I have thought about using pvc pipe to make a cap.
Thanks unlearny. I have thought about selling bamboo, but have never gotten around to it.
Wow you have river cane growing in your back yard! <br>You should try making a blowgun like the Cherokees or maybe a flute. <br>Bamboo is a very awsome and useful plant.
I like the blowgun idea. I will have to try that out.

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Bio: I am a former English teacher turned Interactive Media Instructor. I like to make, fix, and take apart. Few things are more fun than taking ... More »
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