How to Use Bamboo for Fine Furniture
Anyone out there using bamboo in their furniture? This renewable material is showing up everywhere from flooring to socks and furniture makers have jumped on the bandwagon too. What about you?
Many turn to bamboo for its sleek appearance and “green” cache. The plant is a fast-growing grass that can take less than five years to mature. Hardwoods, on the other hand, can take decades. The material is also incredibly durable–harder than maple–though tough on tools.
|Award-winning material. This bench by Phillip Sell won best-in-show at the Texas furniture maker’s show two years ago. Photo: Asa Christiana|
Never tried it before? Here are some tips on how to use it from a Q&A in our magazine. This is the only information I found in our archives on plywood, so if you have tips/lessons from the field to share… please post a comment below.
How to work with bamboo
Question from Daryl Boudreaux of Wallingford, Penn.
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.
Answer by David Ebner, a contemporary furniture maker from Brookhaven, NY
I’ve worked with solid-core bamboo plywood and with sheets of bamboo veneer. 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.
In short, carbide works well on bamboo but steel planer blades don’t, and sanding is the best way to get surfaces with no tearout.
Other tips from out there in cyberland? Please weigh in to share your experiences and questions…
More on Bamboo Woodworking:
- Bamboo Bikes? You Bet.
- Japan Society Displays the New Bamboo
- John Tetreault’s Bamboo Blog
- And check out our Image Gallery below:
Do you use bamboo in your furniture? Take our poll below. In general, you can purchase bamboo in several ways: as paper-backed veneer, in various forms of plywood where bamboo forms the core and the faces, or as laminated slabs.
Hard but smooth. Bamboo is almost impossible to plane either by hand or machine, but it cuts very cleanly with carbide. Get tips on working with bamboo from furniture maker David Ebner.