Faux Bamboo

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About: I'm a lowly data analyst for NYSDOT. I make database and maps. I LOVE DIY Projects!

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!

Step 1: Cut and Clean the PVC

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.

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

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)!

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!

4 People Made This Project!

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60 Discussions

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trickster721

Tip 3 months ago on Step 3

Burning PVC plastic is extremely dangerous! It releases chlorine gas (mustard gas!), which causes acid burns to the eyes and lungs and can kill you very suddenly. Be very careful heating PVC, and never burn it on purpose. Normal safety gear will not protect you from gas, the only way I would follow these instructions is with airtight swimming goggles and a wet towel covering my nose and mouth.

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TerryD81

10 months ago

Hi, I have had some success with this but find a lot of the time my "node" buckles in, in places , any idea what I`m doing wrong ? some come out nice and even all around , thanks

2 replies

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

1 reply
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steve.clegg.73

3 years ago on Step 3

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

1 reply

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

1 reply
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bwente

6 years ago on Introduction

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
4 replies
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drose25bwente

Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

Hey Bwente, what did you use to apply the shellac on your PVC? It's got great striation and looks awesome.

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bwentedrose25

Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

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.

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annieymbwente

Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

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

That is amazing!!!!

from Annie@annlyzangevents.com

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MykeM3

1 year ago

This is Beautiful. Thanks so much. I do have 1 question. I have never used Shellac before. How did you get that 2 toned look. The yellow with the brownish streaks. is that just where it had heavier coat or did you have to paint over it or ??? Thanks again for the information and all the creativity you and EVERYONE puts into the world.

2 replies
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petejcMykeM3

Reply 1 year ago

Applying the shellac with a rag does it by itself! It simple does a light and heavy coat which gives the different shades!

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MykeM3petejc

Reply 1 year ago

Nice! Thanks so much for getting back to me so quick. I appreciate your time. It's awesome to see people put energy into positive things. Good thoughts to you and yours!

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Gofish

1 year ago

Brillient! I love what plastic does but hate the look of it, now I can have the best of two worlds.

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dochendo

1 year ago

Thanks for the instructions! This is a fountain made with PVC bamboo of four different sizes, recirculating in a 40-gallon reservoir under the rocks. It works great, and no one has caught on to the 'faux' nature of the bamboo until informed.

bamboo fountain.jpg