Introduction: Weave a Bamboo Privacy Fence

For some time now I've been bemoaning the lack of privacy in my back yard. Adding a privacy fence seemed too hard as large trees have large roots all around the fence line, and I didn't want to pull up the mostly-fine chain link fence that encloses the yard. With a bit of thinkulation, a bit of googling for inspiration, and quite a bit of perspiration I came up with a fine (and free!) solution to my privacy situation that makes great use of unwanted vegitation. A wattle-woven bamboo privacy fence!

Step 1: Obtain Bamboo

This step could be quite easy or quite hard. I placed an ad on Craigslist saying I'd come clear bamboo if someone had a patch of it they wanted cut down. In a few days someone called me and in a few more days I'd gotten about 8 pickup truck loads of 10ft bamboo poles, and the owner of the land it was on got a nice pile of bamboo tops to have himself a great big bonfire with. I just used a good set of lopping shears and tried to cut square and low to the ground, the shoots ranged between 1/2"-2" in diameter.

Next I set it out in a sunny place to cure. This is in a way the hardest part of the whole process if you've got a project in mind since you need to wait for it to dry out a bit before further processing. Clearing off any limbs on the poles can be done now though. If you try to split and weave the shoots before they turn yellow they're prone to splitting badly and snapping rather than bending.

Step 2: Poking Poles and Bolstering Chain-link

This part is pretty easy, just slip your poles between the fence and it's top rail, then stab the bottom of the bamboo pole into the ground as hard as you can. Space them evenly every few inches down the length of the fence. Don't bother cutting them yet, that'll be next up. If you're like me and couldn't wait til they were fully sun-cured before starting your fence, at least wait til they've cured before cutting them to height, or you'll have a hard time cutting them and they'll crush more than shear. Try to poke them in so they fit flush with the existing fence, and are more or less facing vertically. Don't sweat it that some of them aren't super-straight, the weaving can help straighten them somewhat.

Since the fence I'm working with is a somewhat worn-out chain link fence, I reinforced it's weaker spots with large zip ties and new hardware in places the old pot-metal brackets were broken. The extra zip ties also helped hold the poles still between the top rail of the chain link fence and fence net itself.

Step 3: Trim the Ends

Now that your poles are in and fully cured, lets trim them to size. Decide how tall you want your fence to be, and trim them all to the same height. Stringing up a taut string between the ends around 7 ft high is a good idea, or you can just wing it and try to keep them around the same height like me. :P

Save your cutoffs, these will become your weaving sticks in the next step.

Step 4: A Tool Worth Making

Maybe not good for your hair, but splitting the ends you trimmed in the last step is where we're gonna get the material to weave (actually wattle) the fence.

Splitting it into halves or quarters with just a machete is possible, but in my experience not easy. A split usually runs off to one side or the other, so after turning a half dozen or so shoots into kindling, I made myself a bamboo splitting tool from some threaded rod and an old flea-market quality katana sword I've had laying around for a long while. I cut the sword into 4 pieces with an angle on each one's end, then welded them together in a + shape, then welded a square of threaded rod at their corners, then added two handles on the corners. I've seen professionally made splitters for around $100, and look quite similar to my tool. The bamboo splits pretty easily and quite evenly since any quarter that tries to run off is held against the one next to it, preventing it from doing so.

Step 5: Let's Split Up Gang!

Now that I had a good splitter and a wheel barrow full of ~1 meter long cut off ends, I removed all the extra limbs from them with a small machete, trimmed the ends square where they were too wildly sharp, and went about splitting them into quarters. Wear gloves here if nowhere else as the edges of the split sticks will be sharp enough to draw blood as your hands run down them. Sometimes the ends will have already begun splitting in quarters; make sure to set the blades of the splitter into these or the whole shoot is likey to turn into a mess. The nodes can be hard to run through, so helping things along with a mallet or bumping the bottom of the shoot on a hard surface is helpful. Once all the cutoffs are split up, we're ready to weave!

Step 6: Weave, Weave, Weave Your 'boo...

Now for the somewhat tedious and definitely satisfying job of weaving. Actually it can save time if you have a helper splitting and you're weaving. The basic process is to slip the split sticks between the uprights so they stay put. Start with a row around shoulder-height all the way down and work your way up for a fence like mine. I did this so that if I ran out of weaving sticks I'd still have coverage around eye-level, and I can always add more later if I like! Since honeysuckle is already starting to engulf the fence I doubt it'll be needed this year though.

Here are some tips to help make the weave look nicer and the fence straighter:

*twist the vertical sticks if they're facing a funny direction, as most bamboo won't be dead-straight.

*if you can't twist it, put more weaving sticks on the side you'd like to have "pushed" straight. every stick you add adds pressure on the unruly pole.

*don't worry about keeping to any pattern. Some sticks will be longer than others, some poles will warrant very even weaving, others will want to clump together like they're a single pole, Just roll with it.

*try not to let the ends of too many sticks be too close together, this will make a weaker spot in the fence if anything pushes on it, and it draws the eye to that spot rather than the whole fence.

*when you use one large stick, even it out with some smaller ones to keep the look consistent. Don't put all your wide sticks on one end of the fence and all the scrawny ones on the other.

Step 7: Plant Some Vines and Enjoy!

Whether it's honeysuckle, jasmine, tomatoes, or wysteria, this kind of fence looks great with a healthy crop of vines using it as a trellis, and the more grown-on it is, the more private it will be. I was fighting honeysuckle and air potato by the time I was starting to weave my fence, and the local lizards and birds seem to enjoy it as well.

Happy wattling!