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.
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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
Know what you want to use it for.
Know how old the stalk is.
Use the proper tools
Harvest too young or old for your purposes
Harvest when it is wet
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.
Dry bamboo in an upright position
Clean the bamboo with a magic eraser
Soak the bamboo in water to preserve it
Heat the bamboo to preserve it
Soak the bamboo in borax to preserve it
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.
Let it dry and then cut.
Hand or power tools are okay
Use metal cutting blades
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.
Paint does not stick
Wood burner works great
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.
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