Making Faux PVC Bamboo





Introduction: Making Faux PVC Bamboo

About: I build cool things from trash and recycled materials. I like noise and sound circuits. I live with my wife, a chihuahua named Monkey and an awesome cat named Honey Boy. I'm a full time maker.

I love it when a project comes together! I got the idea for this project about four hours ago and now I'm posting it.

It all started with zaphodd42's Make PVC Look Like Wood instructable. I use PVC in a lot of projects and I'd never thought of using this approach. I was reading the comments and someone asked about simulating bamboo in PVC. My friend and partner in the local maker scene Instructomaker suggested using a heat gun to soften the PVC and compressing the two sides to make it flare out. Hmmm....

I ran out to the garage, grabbed some scraps of PVC and a heat gun and started tinkering. Here's what I came up with-

Step 1: Shaping the PVC

I started by using an old kitchen knife to scratch some long grooves into the PVC to simulate grain. I heated and shaped each node one at a time. I wrapped a loop of baling wire around each node and gently heated it with a heat gun until it was soft. I rolled the piece back and forth as I heated it to insure it softened evenly. I then forced the pipe together causing the softened plastic to flare out while the wire loop prevented the center of the bulge from expanding. This gave each node the classic bamboo look. The important thing is to be patient, work in a well ventilated area and never over-heat or burn PVC. This can be very dangerous.

When the nodes where shaped and cooled down I gave the whole piece a good sanding to smooth out the rough spots and prepare it for painting.

Step 2: Painting the Faux Bamboo

This was a very fun project because it combined three of my favorite things- PVC, bamboo and spray paint! Spray paint is idea for creating organic textures and color gradations because it's transparent. You can build up really deep, rich colors easily.

You can follow the pics above for the step-by-step process, but basically I painted the whole thing brown and then wiped it down with a rag leaving dark accents. Then I built up thin layers of color, accenting the nodes. I used spatter to simulate mold growth and rubbed brown paint into the groove of the nodes to darken them. I let it rest for a few minutes a couple times, but mostly the paint was put on in thin layers, wet-on-wet. When it was done I gave it a good wipe down with an alcohol soaked rag to smooth the surface and remove the last bit of uncured paint. This kinda 'marries' everything and eliminates any sharpness, making everything look organic.

Step 3: What's Next?

OK, so that was quick and easy. What next?

I've made flutes out of PVC and bamboo. Both materials have their pros and cons. Bamboo looks really cool but it's fragile, it likes to split as it ages and it's hard to get the inner diameter uniform enough to tune it properly. PVC flutes are easy to make and they're virtually indestructible, but they look a little drab. A PVC flute with the look of a bamboo flute would be really cool.

So what else can we do with this technique? Custom tiki mugs? Of course this put a new spin on the classic PVC patio chair. You could build a tiki bar or any number of outdoor structures. Basically, you could use this anywhere real bamboo would get wet or not be feasible.

Another idea I'd like to pursue is dying the PVC. PVC can be dyed with Rit fabric dye. This gives color that actually penetrates the surface a tiny bit, meaning it can handle little scratches that would eventually ruin paint. When I was heating the PVC to shape the nodes it started to get darker. This combined with a tan dye and a darker paint rubbed into the grooves might make a sturdier finish.

Try it for yourself and let us know what you come up with!

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46 Discussions

This is awesome! I'm going to use it and make a hiking staff. Might even try it in green.

how did you come up with useing the wire wrap? brillant

That is very impressive! Probably the best faux bamboo I've ever seen. I can't think of any use I'd have for it, but I kind of want to try to make some anyway.

Your product is a work of art! I'm already thinking of ideas - the exposed electrical conduit for a start. Even the PVC bows in other Instructables. Your use of the wire is genius.

ingenious and very cool!

Cool instructable, the results look great, and all of your ideas from patio furniture to flutes are neat.

The result looks amazing but my question is what's the purpouse? was it just an experiment or was there any need of avoiding real bamboo? because in my experience natural bamboo is easily avaiable, fairly cheep, light and also its "structural properties" should be better compared to a pvc pipe so I can hardly imagine a good reason to use pvc pipe instead(and to spend time to make it look like bamboo) except maybe for safety/sanitary reasons or to disguise exposed pvc pipes of an electrical/water plant in a "tropical themed" room for example.

6 replies

You said readily available and cheap. Where do you purchase it? I am in Florida and a 6 foot 2" round piece can be bought 2 hour drive from my house for $25-30. That is not very convenient or cheap. Maybe I am looking in the wrong spot

I live in the plains of Northern Italy and the climate here is far from being tropical, but anyway bamboo grows quite well here and can be found in gardens, near fields and near ponds(but usually they are not as thick as 2").
Bamboo here is sold in hardware stores and is used to hold tall plants in vegetable gardens like tomatos.

I found one selling packages of 25 bamboo canes 210cm(6.89 ft) long and 25mm to 30mm(0.98" to 1.18") in diameter for 41€,(1.64€ each) while you can buy electrical PVC pipes 200cm long and 32mm in diameter for 1.2€ each.
then pvc is actually cheaper but if you need to work and paint every single cane and you also need paint and the cost grows...

Well, you kind of answered your own question there at the end:).

Bamboo is an awesome material, however the places it grows (tropical humid zones) are not the ideal places to use it. Bamboo is very susceptible to humidity and will rot over the course of a year or two. It's also on the menu of several species of beetle. I cut about 200' of bamboo a few years ago and put it up to cure for flutes, only to have it all destroyed by a beetle infestation. Beetles and humidity won't affect my PVC bamboo.

Check out this project-

I've made many bamboo flutes over the years. It's a great material (free, easy to work and beautiful), but as it dries it shrinks a bit. This causes it to split eventually, allowing the air to leak and no longer function as a flute. It's also a bit fragile. This PVC/bamboo flute will never crack and it's much sturdier than real bamboo.

Bamboo is flammable. It lights pretty easily and burns very hot and quick. In applications where there is a chance of fire , faux bamboo is a good choice.

Faux bamboo can be shaped and colored exactly the way you want it. For building stage sets and themed environments you can exaggerate the features of the faux bamboo to make it 'read' from a distance. You can also color it the match or contrast with the rest of your set.

Finally, unless you live in an area where bamboo grows and you have room to store it while it cures, it is pretty expensive. PVC is cheap and sometimes free. If I wanted to build a tiki bar in Toronto faux PVC bamboo would be a cheaper option, the same way we use polyester batting and styrofoam blocks to simulate snow and ice down here in Florida..

agree with the rot. I have some bamboo stakes that I use to tie up my tomatoes... but indeed, after 1-2 years they will break just from trying to push them in the soil

A really valid question, but also a really good answer.
As far as I go, I need to transport some water in my garden and where it comes above ground, I will try the bamboo theme.
I have some large PVC pipes that I want to make a plant bed from and I am considering doing those in a bamboo theme too

Read his Bio, says he builds "cool things from trash and recycled materials." Many of us read Instructables for that very purpose.

The point of structural integrity was mentioned. Well, it might not be a good solution for everything (like furniture) but if it has to bear a load, like for instance a gazebo, how about filling it with concrete and then pushing a rebar in it?

Finally, not sure if you are in any contest... but I would vote for you

This is a great creation, but it seems like a lot of work if you need many pieces. Now the challenge will be to make bamboo look like PVC!

1 reply

Niiiice! They look fantastic. How similar is the technique to the one used in this instructable?

3 replies

Hey, that's mine! Still getting attention after all these years! This is a fairly similar process to make the nodes. Heat it up and compress. I used a torch and he uses a heat gun. His paint job is much better, as mine fades in the sun quickly. I think the nodes mine creates are a bit more realistic, but i might be skewed :-). Saw the fake wood one and have been meaning to try it!

So yours is tried & true. I've been wondering, how is the integrity after modification? I'd like to use structurally.

I'm going to try to make some patio furniture with my PVC bamboo, so I'll see how structurally sound it is. I've tested my nodes by trying to break a piece and it seems pretty tough.