Project: Bamboo





Common Name(s): Bamboo.

Scientific Name: Hundreds of species among dozens of genera from the Poaceae (grass) family
(Many timber-producing bamboos are from the Phyllostachys and Bambusa genera).

Distribution: Most timber-producing bamboos are from south Asia.

Color/Appearance: Generally a uniform and pale yellow to almost white. Live bamboo that has been left standing too long frequently develops fungal decay, discoloring the wood with brown or black streaks and patches.

Grain/Texture: Being a monocot in the grass family, bamboo does not have any sapwood/heartwood or growth rings. Texture is very uniform, and ranges from medium to fine depending on density. Bamboo that has been split and processed into lumber will have intermittent variations in the fiber at each node on the stem.

Odor: Bamboo has a unique, earthy smell while being worked.

Common Uses: Veneer, paper, flooring, fishing rods, ladders, scaffolding, musical instruments (flutes/woodwinds/chimes), furniture, window blinds, carving, turned items, and small novelty items.

Comments: Bamboo is one of the most unique plants on earth. Unlike trees, bamboo grows initially at full width, with no tapering or horizontal growth. Some species can grow up to three feet a day! After just one year, bamboo reaches its full height, and in subsequent years, the stem (called the “culm”) continues to harden. The strength of the bamboo continues to increase for the next two to four years; most species of bamboo are considered fully mature in just two to three years. After this time, fungus and mold begin to cover the outside of the culm, eventually working its way into the interior, weakening the plant over several years before it eventually collapses from decay. For this reason, there is a window of time when it is considered best to harvest bamboo for optimum strength and hardness. Bamboo is known to have a high shrinkage rate when initially being dried, amounting  to 10-16% in culm diameter and 15-17% in overall wall thickness. Bamboo tends to shrink more towards the outer wall than at the interior: for this reason, surface checks can develop on the outside of the culm if it is dried too rapidly. However, despite the high shrinkage rates for bamboo, once it has adjusted to equilibrium moisture content, it is somewhat stable in use. Although many prefer the aesthetics of bamboo for its unique, down-to-earth, Asian-flair, the real story on bamboo lies in its mechanical properties. Although it is hard to typify a group of over one thousand different species into a single set of mechanical values, on the whole, bamboo possess some of the best stiffness/strength characteristics, and strength-to-weight ratios of any woody material on the planet. But the difficulty in qualifying bamboo’s strength lies not only in the abundance of species, but also in the lack of standardized testing: a complicating factor is that bamboo itself tends to be harder and stronger toward the outside of the culm, gradually getting softer and weaker toward the center. In some testing, certain species of bamboo at certain areas of the culm have exhibited stiffness (m.o.e.) and bending (m.o.r.) values far exceeding that of any hardwood. The only “weakness” of bamboo is simply inconsistency: with so many different species, and so many ways to cut and process bamboo, it is hard to be assured of the mechanical characteristics of any given bamboo product.


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