Tips for Working Bamboo
Attracted to bamboo as a renewable resource, I decided to make a small table using bamboo flooring. I installed new blades in my planer and removed the ridges on the back of the 4-in.-wide strips and the finish layer on the front. I knew that bamboo is loaded with silicates, but was shocked at the condition of the blades after planing about 1/8 in. off of about 50 linear feet. After cutting the legs on the tablesaw, I tried to handplane the slight mismatches on the glued-up leg joints. I used very sharp blades at a high angle but still got extensive tearout. Scrapers worked but became dull so fast that they were not a realistic option either. Do you have any tips on how to work this green but gnarly material?
Daryl Boudreaux, Wallingford, PA
I’ve worked with solid-core bamboo plywood and with sheets of bamboo veneer. (In general, you can purchase bamboo as paper-backed veneer, in various forms of plywood where bamboo forms the core and the faces, and as laminated slabs.)
Typically, I stack solid-core bamboo plywood to get thicker pieces or, for thinner ones, resaw it on the tablesaw and bring it to finished size using a wide belt sander. I do not recommend putting pieces through a thickness planer, as you will get tearout regardless of feed direction.
For joinery, I’ve used dowels, biscuits, and slip tenons. When using through-tenons, I make them from bamboo. I use Titebond Original for laminating and assembling. I treat bamboo veneer like any other veneer, cutting and taping it to obtain the right size, and using Unibond 800 glue in a vacuum bag to apply the veneer. When trimming veneers, I use a standard carbide-tipped, flush-trimming router bit. I prefer to climb cut, which minimizes the splintering.