PVC Faux Bamboo Privacy Wall With LEDs

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Introduction: PVC Faux Bamboo Privacy Wall With LEDs

We love the Tiki / Adventureland-esque decorating style we put into our deck, but needed a visual screen since our deck looks directly into our neighbors’ kitchen (and vice-versa). We stayed overnight at a McMennamins property in Bothell, WA called Anderson School, where their theme is very Indonesian and tiki-like with bamboo accents galore. We loved the theme so much that we wanted to bring the same flavor into whatever we did at home. We looked at tall plants, fence toppers, screen walls and even real bamboo timbers (very expensive here in the Pacific Northwest!). We settled on a bamboo screen wall, but didn’t want to deal with the eventual rotting of the wood.
Enter Instructibles!
A quick search for faux bamboo yielded several great Instructibles that inspired us. Of course, we always try to “plus”anything we do, but more on that later.

Step 1: Materials & Tools

PVC pipes, thirty 1-1/2” and thirty 2” dia. 8’ lengths, schedule 40 (like for an in-ground sprinkler system).
Five 8’lengths of white PVC pipe, schedule 125 (thin wall, used for in-wall residential vacuum systems).
1/8” threaded rod with couplings, nuts, and washers
Rope
Golden oak wood stain
Minwax Polycoat clear coat

Heat gun
Miter saw and box for cutting PVC to desired lengths
Drill and 1/8" drill bit
Misc work surfaces and clamps
Paint trays, stain rags, gloves
Lots of patience, time, and space!

Step 2: Node Scoring

Making A PVC pipe look like bamboo or wood is easy, and several great Instructables authors have already paved the way (Faux Bamboo, Making Faux PVC Bamboo, Make PVC Look Like Wood). However, for this large scale project, we needed assembly line ingenuity.

My wonderful, thoughtful, and incredibly attractive wife of 25 years sanded off all of the manufacturer labeling from each pipe while I did the nodes.

Bamboo nodes have a bit of a hard line where the leaves originate. To score the hard lines, we placed a screw into the side of our miter box so the sharp point would be on the inside. Then, while holding the pipe firmly against the screw, we rotated each pipe inside of the miter box to score a deep gouge along the entire circumference of the pipe. It's best to rotate the pipe toward yourself so that you can match up to the initial score line as it comes back around on top of the pipe. Making several of these along each length of pipe is the first step, and doing this to over sixty pipes can give you quite a forearm workout (remember Popeye?)!

Step 3: Heat Gun Jig Set Up

After the scoring was done, replicating the nodes to keep them looking similar was the hardest part to figure out.
Our requirements:

  • Similar appearance for each node
  • Secure the heat gun for safety and hands-free operation
  • Ability to spin the pipe easily
  • Ability to move the heat gun easily to different areas of the pipe with minimal effort
  • Ability to remove the PVC pipe quickly to 'bump' the node (more on that later)

A consistent distance from the heat gun nozzle is key for even heat distribution to the PVC pipe. A few initial test pieces that were melted too much proved that to be a major requirement!

Using a piece of wood with a V notch cut into it kept the pipe centered and at a consistent distance from the heat gun's nozzle. We clamped this to an upside down wire basket from a chest freezer, ensuring the wood was back a bit from where the heat gun would be mounted. An old milk crate or other sturdy bin could have worked just as well.

We secured the heat gun to the wire basket by using several Velcro ties. These allowed the heat gun to be moved up and down to adjust the distance as needed for the different diameter pipes. The entire assembly was able to slide forward or backward along the work table, depending on the location of the node on the pipe.

We clamped a large dowel to a step ladder to support the other end of the pipe. Slipping the pipe over this dowel made for easy rotating of the pipe, and keeping the pipe against the step where the dowel was clamped helped to keep the pipe from drifting while turning it.

Step 4: Bumping the Nodes

To create the node 'bump', we heated the scored area on the pipe just enough to make the pipe soft. Steady, consistent rotation of the pipe over the heat gun was essential. About one rotation per 6 seconds is a good speed and it doesn't cause too much darkening of the color - just don't stop or you'll burn the material and you do not want to inhale those vapors! Lightly toasted marshmallow color is a good target, and the pipe will just begin to warp as well.

Obviously, the area you just heated is now hot. Hot things hurt, so be careful. Use your common sense. 'Nuff said.

When the pipe just begins to bend at the heated area it is ready. (You can use a small amount of bending pressure as you're turning the pipe to help identify if it's ready). Remove the pipe from the jig, stand the pipe up vertically and use both hands to slowly but firmly push straight down until the heated area "bumps" out. You may need a to use your feet or knees to help hold the lower end of the pipe steady while using both hands above the heated area to push down with enough force. Hold the pressure to maintain the bump for about 5 seconds, and apply a wet rag to the hot area or use a spray bottle to speed the cooling process. Set the pipe aside to cool more while you work on a node from the next pipe. Be sure to lay each pipe flat on the ground or lean it against a few other pipes to ensure it doesn't bend more while cooling.

Step 5: Prep and Stain

Once all the nodes are done, I wrapped a drywall mud screen tightly around the pipe and sanded it back and forth a few times to rough it up and give the entire length of the pipe some 'grain'. This is a quick process and it helps to clean up a little of any unintentional scorching from the nodes. Once the pipes are all scraped, they are ready for color.

We used three coats of Minwax Golden Oak stain, followed by three coats of Minwax polyurethane clear coat to seal it. We used wipe on gloves for both the stain and the poly seal.

9 month update:
The cold/heat fluctuations over the winter made the poly seal begin flaking off with the most gentle of a touch. The stain also began rinsing off in the heavy rains we have here in the Pacific Northwest. This spring I experimented with a few paints for plastic, but settled back on using the original stain. I waited for a few hot sunny days and power washed off as much of the poly as I could, then re-stained the wall in place using a 4" brush and the same stain. I laid it on thick in the sunlight and gave it a gentle brushing along the grain to help lay down the pigment and enhance the grain lines. I followed the stain with a few heavy coats of Rustoleum satin clear coat, formulated for plastics. So far, it is holding up very nicely.

Step 6: Panels and Lashing

Due to the final weight of our wall, we knew up front that we'd need to keep it in small panels to be able to move / remove / maintain the entire wall. We arranged the pipes into an aesthetically pleasing line with random heights and numbered each pipe on the bottom inside to help us remember the order. Each panel consists of one 3" diameter pipe, seven 2" pipes, and seven 1-1/2" pipes.

We drilled holes through each pipe near the bottom and near the top for the threaded rod to pass through and secured each panel together. Working on one panel at a time, we laid the panel on a blanket covered table to do the lashing work.

Attaching natural sisal rope lashing was the most difficult task of this entire project. We tried many different lashing methods before settling on one that looked good, would stay in place, and adequately covered the threaded rod between the pipes. The panels were heavy and we needed to pass the rope over the end of each pipe, so we were glad we were using a table instead of working on the panel upright!

We tied the rope to the end of the panel using a clove hitch, ensuring that the threaded rod was covered. From there, we used shear lashings, similar to that used in How to build a wooden tripod, but with only 3 wraps and a single frapping pass. Here is a short video. We also wrapped the pipes by using a loop of rope rather than passing the entire length between the pipes. Once we made 3 wraps, we pulled the slack of the rope from the bottom to snug the loops together and cover the threaded rod. We repeated the process until the entire panel was lashed together, ending with a clove hitch to secure the rope to the end of the panel run. A few times we did need to connect ends of rope spools together by splicing them.

Step 7: Securing the Panels

Metal fence posts were hammered into the ground about every 3 feet, aligning with the 1-1/2" pipes. The assembled panels were slipped over these fenceposts to keep them securely upright. Each panel was then connected to the adjacent panel using threaded rod couplings. Slightly larger holes had to be drilled in the pipe sides to accommodate the couplings' larger diameter. A few quick hammer taps on the threaded rod at the end moved it enough to attach the couplings and tighten the pipes back into place.

Once all couplings were in place, both ends of the threaded rod were tightened down using washers and nuts. the rope was then shifted over the end nuts to hide them.

Step 8: Adding LED Lighting

While we were originally staining some of the smaller pipes, we stood them upright in the garage, and discovered that they glowed really well when positioned against a shop light. The larger, three inch diameter pipes were added to the design after this discovery to 'plus' the project by adding glowing bamboo pieces.

We purchased three 30-foot lengths of waterproof LED light strips, connecting wire, connectors, and a wireless RGB strip controller from Amazon.com.

We started from a nearby outdoor outlet and placed the controller inside the bottom end of the first 3" pipe to protect it from the weather. From there, the LED strip runs vertically inside the 3" diameter pipe to an eyebolt placed through the center of a pipe cap placed on top of the pipe. The end of the LED strip is connected to the eyebolt using a zip tie. The extension wires run from the end of the LED strip back down the inside of the pipe, across to the next large pipe where they are connected to the next LED strip. The process repeated all the way to the last 3" diameter pipe.

(Wiring them up in series resulted in the last light strip being more dim than the first one, so I plan to re-wire all of the light strips to be in parallel.)

The wireless controller can connect to your WiFi network and there are several apps available to connect to it. We use a free app called Magic Home to set the lights to slowly fade up and down at specific times only on the weekends.

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    33 Discussions

    Why not use bamboo? Even more authentic looking. <grin>

    PVC is pretty evil stuff in terms of it's lifecycle environmental costs. I'd like to see this done with a more benign material.

    http://www.bambooworld.com/bamboo-poles 3/4 x 12 feet $1.62 1.5" x 8' $4.60

    This is about half the price of PVC. Probably can get better prices if you search for a nursery supply store in your area. Lot of bamboo used for training trees and grapes.

    7 replies

    No good, it is like comparing a Bigmac against a home-cooked stake, the former is artificial. Do you, old people like me, know what a bedpan is? Well, here's the joke: it is said that bamboo lasts longer than a bedpan which is used under the bed for 15 years, then is used as a flower pot for 30 years, then it lays out in a landfill for 100 years. It is so true. With a little care bamboo is wonderful, and very strong.

    Agree, PVC is real nasty stuff environmentally-wise. Good cured bamboo should do the work too, if it gets some additional treatment for extreme weather conditions.

    PVC is legal, lasts far longer than the best maintenanced bamboo ever would, and is something I can actually afford to get.

    Not to say I don't use pvc (my hoop coop tractors) and yes, affordability and availability plays a role with me too ; )

    Good link... thank you for sharing! We initially looked at 3/4” using some leftover schedule 40 from the sprinkler system and determined that it would look like reed grass over the 15’ span. Definitely not what we wanted.

    We had some small real bamboo left outside in the direct elements and found that it did not keep its look to our liking.

    This many cured bamboo timbers in the diameter and length we required could not be found at the time we started this project. To have the lights show through the larger poles, we needed a thin walled material. Bamboo could never do this, but PVC pipe fit the bill for each of our requirements, and is readily available.

    If it’s not being used for something beautiful like this, it is being used for other things like water delivery, so getting it out of our environment doesn’t hold water (sorry for the pun... couldn’t resist!). My point is that it is there anyhow, so why not creatively “misuse” it for a different purpose that will enhance our surroundings.

    I priced timber bamboo, the kind wide enough in diameter to look cool and found we could never afford it. I don't want bamboo twigs that are half an inch wide.

    huge fan of the instructable.. but this just made me want to do the real bamboo wall instead..

    Cool idea. This will last for many years. The led is very creative.

    Fabulous!!! I must do this; have the precise problem-spot where this would save my deck design. I had originally intended to use timber bamboo before, I too, discovered the material's prohibitive cost. But before I was stymied, I had purchased several books on Japanese garden design to get fence pictures and rope-tying/lashing instructions. I had even bought several rolls of the correct black twine they use on their fences.

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0007TBMM4/ref=o...

    Bonsai Twine, Hemp Palm Black - 328 Ft Coil, in the 'Joshua Roth' shop.

    Plus, this sturdy plastic will last as bamboo never would. I think the potential hazard of melting the plastic is easily dealt with safely by using a set-up with excellent ventilation.

    I will probably just sand the pipes and paint and seal them, as I also own a stack of books about painting decorative finishes, faux textures and trompe l'oeil to consult.

    I am amazed at the result. Looks so real. I need a solution like this too and the LED option is very interesting. Thanks for sharing!

    2 replies

    Thank you! If you do end up creating something similar I hope you post a picture of it to share. I love seeing different interpretations on a theme .

    Sure I will. I need to check the cost of the PVC pipe and real bamboo. However, I like the idea of the PVC pip because it may last longer. Thanks again!

    Genius! I love this. And, by the way, don't think real bamboo is maintenance-free; it's not.

    1 reply

    Oh, I agree. We discovered that as well.

    Excellent work, I just think your basic solution was off the mark. PVC is not a green solution. Natural bamboo is one of the most resilient materials for exterior use, witness the construction scaffolding used all thru asia. Protecting stained and finished surfaces in a wet exterior envrionment is going to be a continual maintenance issue over time.

    1 reply

    I wasn’t aiming for a “green“ solution, but I agree with you that natural bamboo is very resilient and highly renewable. However, you cannot put lights inside of real bamboo.

    Refinishing it as needed will be just like re-staining my fence.

    Beautiful work. I'll be using this. I do a lot of home improvement work, and am always looking. The work looks professional.

    1 reply

    Thank you. I’m glad to hear you like it.