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Picture of Faux Bamboo
I love the look of bamboo but hate how it cracks!  Plus getting larger diameter (3-inch) around by me (Western New York) is only by shipment and fresh bamboo weighs a lot!  In this Instructable, I'll try to show you how to make your own fake bamboo out of PVC pipe.  I know it's not "green" but it should really last!
 
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Step 1: Cut and Clean the PVC

Picture of Cut and Clean the PVC
P0027713.jpg
If you're gonna use a whole section of PVC pipe (they typically come in 10-foot lengths) then you can clean the whole pipe before you cut it.  It really doesn't matter.  We need to remove the ugly lettering and all the left over junk (chemicals) from the production of of the PVC pipe.  For this step I use Acetone because a) it's cheap b) it works good c) I had it laying around.  Make sure you follow the directions for using whatever you choose since some cleaners can be dangerous without proper ventilation!
I applied the acetone by wetting some paper towels with it and wiped until the lettering was gone.  During this step I use Nitrile gloves (Can be found at home improvement stores in the paint and stain section), I just don't like that stuff soaking into me!  The ink can go back on the pipe from the paper towels if too much ink builds up on the paper towels so you may have to find a clean spot on the paper towels and re-wet with more acetone.


Step 2: Cut for the nodes.

Picture of Cut for the nodes.
Nodes are the larger diameter portions of real bamboo and our fake bamboo can't be without.  In real bamboo these points are solid where the rest of the bamboo is hollow.  Luckily these are easy to create.  At this point you may want to reference some pictures or some real bamboo if you can find it to find a good nod spacing.  Another thing to keep in mind is node placement if you want to have a solid node (like a stopper or just a top).  Don't forget to place a Cut line near the end of the pipe (3/4 inch minimum is what I've found) for this purpose.  Using a razor knife, cut a line around the pipe.  For a better effect go around twice to get the cut a little deeper.

Step 3: Make the Nodes Look Good!

Now the reasoning behind cutting for the nodes.  At this point we will heat the PVC with a propane torch to give us a good look.  Heating the pipe will give us a node that has a larger diameter then the rest of the pipe and it will also give us a different colored ring which seems to give a more realistic look.

So the way I have done it is like this.  I would place a smaller diameter piece of PVC on my WorkVice table so that it is standing up.  It doesn't need to be that long, it just needs to help guide the PVC that we are decorating.

Work on one mode at a time as this can help with consistency.

Fire up your propane torch and lightly burn the knife mark that you just made.  I found that to give a quick burn mark the tip of the blue flame should be right on the PVC.  Remember to just lightly burn at this point!

Now heat the plastic until it's slightly pliable without burning it more.  I did this by holding the propane torch a few inches from the PVC and spinning it VERY quickly so that you evenly heat the pipe.  The amount of time it takes will vary based on the diameter of the PVC.  After the PVC is slightly pliable compress the pipe  and put some force to get it to expand some to a nice size then hose it off to cool it down quickly so it holds its shape. 

If you're creating a viaduct style fountain then don't forget to burn the inside also!  You'll need to cut the pipe in half before you burn the inside.  A band saw works pretty well.

On a 3-inch pipe each node took about 5 minutes each.  3/4-inch pipe takes less then a minutes this way.

Creating top nodes which were solid was both easy and hard.  Buy a PVC cap for the same sized pipe, and using a hole saw of the pipe size, drill it out.  Gluing it in place, at first, was a bear but after some tries I got a system that was pretty good.  Before you place the solid nodes, stain all pieces first!  Inside and out!  TRUST ME!  Now all you have to do is glue the solid node into place.  My glue of choice was aquarium cement since it goes on thick and doesn't drip and can support some weight (like the cap you drilled out).  First, place a bead of glue just slightly below the height that you want the node at.  Then lower the cut out cap into place (so that it resembles a bowl) and let that glue dry.  After it is dry put another bead of glue at the top to fill in the gap between the pipe and the cap cut out.  Using a gloved hand, spead out and smooth out the glue.  Since you stained/shellaced everything first the effect should come out pretty good.  Using a 2-inch hole saw to place a node in a 2-inch pipe can leave a substantial gap to fill but with 2-inch and smaller pipe you can but slightly larger hole saws (like 2 1/8-inch) to fill everything fairly tight.  Unless you plan on using the node as a water holding structure, I don't recommend filling the small center hole from the guide drill bit to allow water to drain that might build up.

Step 4: Sand and Stain

Picture of Sand and Stain
Now the fun boring part!  I used shellac to "stain" the PVC because it was recommended in a few forums.  Before we begin shellac-ing you need to lightly sand the entire PVC pipe.  The sanding gives a slight texture for the shellac to grab to.  Follow the instruction for the shellac application.  I applied 3 coats and was able to sand and re-coat after an hour.  I picked an amber shellac because all Home Depot had was clear or Amber.

The good and bad of shellac.  The good: When applied with a rag, the shellac gives a really nice uneven finish which I'm not sure regular stain would give. This finish reflects the imperfections of natural bamboo.  The bad: shellac doesn't adhere to the PVC really good even when all the instructions are followed.  Covering shellac with a polyurethane isn't recommended since shellac has a wax portion which doesn't allow the polyurethane to adhere well.  As long as the feature isn't regularly beat up too badly then this shouldn't be a problem.  Using stain may help, but I hadn't tried it yet.  Other forums seems to be split regarding stain vs shellac.

Step 5: Finished Product(s)!

Picture of Finished Product(s)!
P0047729.jpg
Pick something to build!  My first PVC conversion happened because I built a Dear Chaser fountain out of bamboo in 2006 and by 2009 it had cracked to the point of uselessness.  My mom liked the fountain so much I made her a triple fountain in a whiskey barrel for her birthday.  Then I replaced a viaduct style fountain I had also built out of bamboo in 2006 that wasn't ageing well.  Almost anything that you can think of that you could build with bamboo you can us this technique.  Bamboo hut, fountains...  use your imagination!

One thing I found is that the shellac doesn't hold too well in terms of abuse, mostly winter abuse, I think. I live near Buffalo, NY so can have our share of winter. What I ended up doing was sanding down any areas that had chipped / damaged shellac and re-applied the shellac. After it looked good and fully dried, I coated the entire shellac-ed surface (old and new) with about 4 coats of Rust-Oleum Crystal Clear Enamel Spray paint. It held up over the rest of the summer and winter so far but time will tell.  I may just touch it up with the Clear Enamel every year or so in order to have a wear surface.  So far, so good!
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slo5oh20 days ago

OP, you should link the other two similar 'ables in yours. The wood grain one is obviously different, but I think the use of rasp/file could be used to make some of your bamboo poles look imperfect. Also, that one uses artists oil color paint instead of shellac :

http://www.instructables.com/id/Make-PVC-Look-Like...

and

http://www.instructables.com/id/Making-Faux-PVC-Ba...

slo5oh slo5oh20 days ago

Forgot to add:

GREAT INSTRUCTABLE!

nstur65 made it!22 days ago

Thanks for the instructable! It makes a great fountain!

fountain.jpg
ntwrkguru3 months ago

Have you tried prepping the PVC with spray adhesion promoter? It's found with automotive paint and should help.

Ok, I had thought I
had found a site that made them but nope.
So let me take a few of your minutes to summarize what you wrote and if
I miss anything feel free to let me know.


  • 1. Clean the
    entire PVC pipe in order to get not only the writing off but any chemicals that
    may be on the pole with Acetone.
  • 2.Because of the use of Acetone the gloves of
    choice are Nitrile gloves
  • 3.You mentioned that you used paper towels to
    clean the pole with Acetone. Would using
    old white cloth to clean them or is paper towels still the best choice?
  • 4.The next step is to decide where to cut the Nodes.
    ( I have real bamboo so I know to make different cuts in different poles not in
    the same place. But I read Valster’s
    post about a PVC cutter and went to Lowes.
    The kid had no idea what I wanted to do, so I gave up. I agree with him that using one is the best
    way to get a perfect circle, but here is my question. Is there a PVC cutter that you can adjust the
    depth of the cut so it does not go beyond it?
  • 5.Ok next step after making the cut is to heat it
    up. I noticed that there is a difference
    of opinion between using a heat gun or a torch. If using the torch then you mentioned (. I found that to give a quick burn mark the
    tip of the blue flame should be right on the PVC. Remember to just lightly burn at this point!) Any inputs of the torch verses the heat
    gun?\
  • 6.Next step is to pull the flame away (Now heat
    the plastic until it's slightly pliable without burning it more. I did this by holding the propane torch a few
    inches from the PVC and spinning it VERY quickly so that you evenly heat the
    pipe. ) And because of your reply to me I
    understand why this is done. But for
    those who do not it collapses top to the bottom and that is where the node
    comes from.
  • 7.I am skipping the inside nodes because I will
    not be needing them.
  • 8.I really liked the color of your shellac but the
    lite color is nice also. That is just a
    matter of opinion.
  • 9.SANDING. You
    said boring and I agree. But I
    understand why because the Stain needs something to grab on to. But I
    was told that you could do the same thing with something called BULLDOG. Is that advised? Or should sanding be the choice of all?
  • 10.WOW 3 coats.
    Was that your decision or is that needed? And I see you lightly sanding in between each
    coat. What grade paper did you use?
  • 11.OK now the final thing I can think of. When you put the shellac on I assume that you
    just went up to the nodes and not on top of them because you would want a dark distinction.
  • 12.You are in New York and I am in Florida. I am wondering how it will hold out in the
    sun?

Now that I have put it in terms that I hope I understand, if
there is anything you would like to add or take away please feel free to do
so. I just wanted to summarize what you
said mainly for my own purpose but to raise questions also. I promise you I am not going to be a
pain. You did so well you set the
standard high.

Thank you

Steve

I do not want to sound like an idiot but can someone clear this up for me. Pictures would be wonderful.

Creating top nodes which were solid was both easy and hard. Buy a PVC cap for the same sized pipe, and using a hole saw of the pipe size, drill it out. Gluing it in place, at first, was a bear but after some tries I got a system that was pretty good. Before you place the solid nodes, stain all pieces first! Inside and out! TRUST ME! Now all you have to do is glue the solid node into place. My glue of choice was aquarium cement since it goes on thick and doesn't drip and can support some weight (like the cap you drilled out). First, place a bead of glue just slightly below the height that you want the node at. Then lower the cut out cap into place (so that it resembles a bowl) and let that glue dry. After it is dry put another bead of glue at the top to fill in the gap between the pipe and the cap cut out. Using a gloved hand, spread out and smooth out the glue. Since you stained/shellacked everything first the effect should come out pretty good. Using a 2-inch hole saw to place a node in a 2-inch pipe can leave a substantial gap to fill but with 2-inch and smaller pipe you can but slightly larger hole saws (like 2 1/8-inch) to fill everything fairly tight. Unless you plan on using the node as a water holding structure, I don't recommend filling the small center hole from the guide drill bit to allow water to drain that might build up.

Also it said to stain/shellac the tube first. Does that mean the yellow color that is shown? Because it is white in the picture or is that just showing how to do it

Thanks

I really want to do this right.

PUSH come to SHOVE is this whole thing on You tube? and if so under what name. and if not it should be. Fantastic

Steveclegg@gmail.com

Can anyone please do a step by step instruction. Or better yet a video? And how did you get that color? This is so cool. I made a small fence out of real bamboo and it rotted and I had to remove it. Please send me anything instruction and pictures. I have worked with wood but I have not worked with PVC and make the nodes is totally new to me.

Thanks all

Steve

diamondemb9 months ago
Thanks for this great idea!
I made this deer scare using some of your ideas. I used a heat gun to heat the nodes. I used a torch to "toast" the PVC to make it look like tiger bamboo. You must be very careful not to breath the fumes while toasting.
temp_1142426990.jpgtemp_-1871192265.jpgtemp_1233016802.jpg
bwente3 years ago
Just made my faux bamboo today! They turned out great! Thanks for the instructable. I using them to turn my daughter's loft bed into a surf shack. The detail turned out great.

photo 1.JPGphoto 2.JPG
drose25 bwente1 year ago
Hey Bwente, what did you use to apply the shellac on your PVC? It's got great striation and looks awesome.
bwente drose251 year ago
It was a happy accident. I burnt the PVC real good, I wanted to have large bulges at the seams. But to get them to fade I had to sand off the charring a bit. I used a really coarse sandpaper and I as I was sanding it was leaving tiny grooves in the PVC. Then the burnt PVC dust got into the lines. It really looked good, so I painted over it by painting in the same direction. I used disposable rubber gloves and small pieces of a terry cloth towel.
annieym bwente11 months ago

My gosh I would pay you to make some for my bride!

That is amazing!!!!

from Annie@annlyzangevents.com

PaganRaven2 years ago
Really like your 'Ible! I can see oh so many uses for this, in place of the real bamboo. Just a thought here - you ended up using a clear coat spray that has worked (so far) for you. I have used a matte clear coat for anything I've painted/stained for outdoor use and it's worked great for me. Wondering how that would look on your faux bamboo, since natural bamboo doesn't have such a high shine on it. Good work, petejc!!!
petejc (author)  PaganRaven2 years ago
It holds up better than nothing but still not good. I'm guessing it has to do with the wax in the shellac. We'll find something that works outdoors eventually!!
MaskMarvl2 years ago
Great idea! looks awesome... :)
oldalgebra2 years ago
Do you think spraying the pipe with a PVC primer would help the shellac adhere better - or would that be a waste of time?

I am a little fearful of the torch, but I"m going to try this.
petejc (author)  oldalgebra2 years ago
Not sure. Coating with clear spray paint protects it from chipping but I'm having an issue with UV fading of the shellac. Covering the shellac with something else like a polyurethane finish won't work to well due to the wax in the shellac. Some people say a NON polyurethane finish will work but I haven't tried that yet. All that said, if your project is inside then this is a non issue! Play safe with the flame! Or use a heat gun, but no scorch mark then!
Marfinhead3 years ago
You can get de-waxed shellac at woodworking stores but it will usually come in flake form and need to be mixed with alcohol.

The process looks great I'm going to try it out
tracyquilts3 years ago
Fabulous! Thanks for the instructable.
How do you compress the pipe?
Having played with heated PVC before: holing the pipe vertical, grasp the pipe above the heated ring and push down. Eyeball the process to ensure the pipe stays straight, or you can rig a metal guide, or you can have sections slightly off-straight for realism.

Short version (too late): hand pressure is plenty.
ekbruster3 years ago
When you going to post the instructable for the fountain?
petejc (author)  ekbruster3 years ago
Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures when I made the fountain. People don't like a picture-less Instructable!
Well send me the measurements, I'll build (and photograph) one in the spring (after I finish the tiki bar). :) Thanks again for the awesome bamboo!
IMG_8078.JPG
ekbruster3 years ago
This is perfect! Just created 2 1-1/2 x 5' long pieces to cover the canvas supports for my mobile Tiki Bar! turned out better than I ever expected, can't wait to see if people can tell if they are real or not next summer!
petejc (author)  ekbruster3 years ago
One thing I found this summer is that the shellac doesn't hold too well in terms of abuse, mostly winter abuse. I live near Buffalo, NY so can have our share of winter. What I ended up doing this summer was sanding down any areas that had chipped / damaged shellac and re-applied the shellac. After it looked good I coated the entire shellac-ed surface (old and new) with about 4 coats of Rust-Oleum Crystal Clear Enamel Spray paint. It held up over the rest of the summer and early winter so far but time will tell.
Dy7lan4 years ago
It looks absolutely fantastic... does it sound realistic?
petejc (author)  Dy7lan4 years ago
It does have the hollow sound, but definitely not the same sound! Unfortunately this is just for looks...
aar0nc0le4 years ago
Looks great!
tismemimi5 years ago
Great Look, and good instructions. I'm with the others, real bamboo is hard to find in large sizes, and fairly expensive. The pvc will last forever. Ask the "green" people, no one wants pvc in a landfill ! This is a great way to recycle also. I love the look, and a headboard for a guest room with Asian influences awaits. Thanks for the trial and error being done for the rest of us. Cudos.
grd5 years ago
Perfect timing! I was looking at the gap at the ridge of my kids' almost completed grass thatched cubby house and thought that a painted PVC pipe would be the best way to cover it. I was going to paint the nodes, but heating the pipe is a wonderful solution. Thank you!
Valster5 years ago
If you're going to be doing a lot of these it may me worth the $$ to buy a PVC cutter. Obviously it will cut the PVC but you can also score it easily and uniformly for the nodes. Just ratchet it enough to make a shallow cut and rotate the pipe. I've already experimented with the nodes and am getting good at it. Next, shellac. Thanks again for sharing an amazing idea!
EmmettO5 years ago
Would a heat gun work, or do you need the flame to scorch the PVC for the darker color?
petejc (author)  EmmettO5 years ago
I'm not sure if a heat gun would get the PVC hot enough to get pliable. The scorching is optional, but I really like the way it looks in the end.
Yes a heat gun does work to heat up pvc to become flexible as I have used one to do this many times. In fact it heats pvc much more evenly without scorching than the torch will. Heat guns will not however, put on the fine dark rings on the nodes like a propane or butane torch will. You will need some kind of torch for the precision that will be required for the rings.
petejc (author)  the crowing5 years ago
This nice to know since using the torch to evenly heat the PVC can be very difficult. If you stop spinning the PVC it burns beyond a scorch. Using a heat gun to create the nods then a torch to darken it should make it easier. Thanks
spa31rky petejc5 years ago
Plumbers and Electricians use a heat gun/torch to heat PVC to bend it the way it is needed for the application. Too much heat will cause it to be so soft it will loose any strength and not be worth using.
milesduggan5 years ago
Wow I am so doing this!! Great instructable!!
capricorn5 years ago
The amount you rock is too much for words mate. Thank you for sharing. Thank you VERY much
justineo145 years ago
one word for ye sir *epic
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