When you think of lumber, the first thing you think of is trees.
Trees in the middle of the forest cut down by large and loud saws, with tree logs toppling over with furry friends scurrying away trying to find a new home.
What if there’s another way to do lumber?
What Is Bamboo Lumber?
But first, what’s lumber? Lumber is processed wood used as a building material for any project you can dream of. Think of wooden lego pieces used to build anything you want.
Bamboo lumber is the same, except it’s not made from trees. It’s made from bamboo turned into strips and then pressed together to create a block of bamboo that can be used the same way hardwood is used.
Bamboo Lumber vs Hardwood Lumber
How They’re Made
While both are nature-made, bamboo and hardwood lumber go through different processes to get to the plywood or plank stage.
Between hardwood and lumber, the creation process is very different. Hardwood trees take at least 20 years for a tree to be fully grown and cut down because it has to grow to a specific width and height. It’s then debarked, cut to wanted sizes, then air dried for 2-12 months, depending on the type of wood and location.
Bamboo grows extremely fast compared to hardwood. It can grow to its full size in 5-7 years and can be regrown again and again without “killing” the plant.
Compared to hardwood, bamboo lumber requires a few more steps, so we decided to put it into an easy-to-follow list:
- After the bamboo is cut, the raw bamboo pole is split into multiple pieces, and the outer green layer and nodes are stripped and removed.
- Bamboo is then planed, roughly polishing the split bamboo to a uniform shape and size.
- Then it’s carbonizing time, where they go through high temperatures and pressure to release starch and sugar within the bamboo. This process is vital because it kills off organic material that can rot, decay, or be eaten by insects.
- Bamboo is then dried in a kiln for five days to get the moisture content to about 8-10%.
- After drying, the bamboo is cut to a uniform shape and size.
- Glue is then applied to the bamboo and pressed together by a machine.
- Depending on the client, the compact bamboo lumber is cut into different sizes of plywood.
Knots or No Knots
Unlike hardwood, bamboo lumber doesn’t have knots. It’s smooth and seamless without any interruptions. With bamboo lumber, you get straight lines and seamless connections.
When it comes to sustainability, refurbished and recycled wood near you is the #1 sustainable option.
If you don’t have any of those, bamboo is a great next option.
Bamboo grows in a fraction of the time it takes trees to grow. Unlike trees, bamboo can self-regenerate from the same plant. It regrows, and the roots stay in place, so there is no erosion either.
Oak wood is a popular hardwood lumber option, but when looking at the Janka scale, which rates the hardness of wood. Based on the Janka scale, strand woven bamboo is 3x as strong as oak. For example, strand woven bamboo ranges from 4000-5000 on the rating while Santos mahogany is 2,200 and hard maple is rated at 1,450.
Both bamboo and hardwood lumber can vary in color. While bamboo has a natural, calming warm light brown, hardwood lumber can vary based on tree type. Both can easily be stained to be darker colors if you wish.
When it comes to hardwood lumber, you can sometimes find knots in them, which some people don’t love while others love. If you don’t care for knots in your lumber, it won’t be an issue with bamboo due to its manufacturing process.
As popular as bamboo products are, bamboo lumber can be hard to find compared to hardwood, especially in local hardware stores. However, it’s not impossible. Check out the list of retailers below that hold quality bamboo lumber.
Hardwood lumber, on the other hand, can be found easily at any home improvement or hardwood store.
Bamboo lumber is said to be cheaper than hardwood. Hardwood takes at least 3x longer than bamboo to grow to a size that’s usable for lumber. With more time and care needed, hardwood naturally would be more expensive.
However, with the high demand for bamboo, we’ve also seen that it’s been more expensive in some cases. But the cost truly depends on who you’re buying from.
Bamboo Lumber Pros
Bamboo is a trendy and popular lumber option for many reasons. From its incredible strength and flexibility, bamboo is also very durable. It can withstand lots of pressure and take on any shape or form.
Bamboo is a versatile material that can be used outdoors in fencing and decking and indoors for flooring, shelving, or whatever you can imagine.
Unlike wood, bamboo is a sustainable option because it grows fast, uses little to no chemicals, and requires 33% less water than trees.
Not to mention its natural light caramel color is beautiful, stylish, and calming in any home in whatever way you choose to use it.
Bamboo Lumber Cons
Bamboo lumber is not as easily accessible as hardwood plywood, or lumber is, and finding a reputable manufacturer or seller can be challenging too.
Like hardwood lumber, bamboo lumber is water resistant to some degree but not immune to water damage. Bamboo can warp with prolonged exposure to moisture or excessive humidity.
What to Consider When Buying Bamboo Lumber
Where Do You Live?
If you’re using bamboo lumber for outdoor space, consider where you live. If you live in an area with lots of rain, snow, or intensely hot summers, bamboo can warp and crack if not properly maintained.
Can It Be Done With Wood That You Already Have?
If you have access to refurbish hardwood, try using that first because that’s the most sustainable option.
But if you’re set on bamboo, who am I to stop you?
The next best step is to check if the place you want to shop from is reputable in handling and growing bamboo.
Bamboo lumber certifications
When shopping for bamboo, it’s easy to come across cheap bamboo that looks great but is not made ethically, which is one of the biggest reasons why people shop for bamboo.
To prevent shopping from the wrong stores, check their certifications first.
One certification to look out for is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Those with FSC certification have been certified by a third-party company to uphold standards and policies on sustainable forestry.
4 of the Best FSC certified Bamboo Plywood sellers
FSC-certified Cali Bamboo has products ranging from bamboo flooring, decking, and fencing. If you are a DIY-er, they also have bamboo plywood in different stain colors and thicknesses, so you have plenty of options.
Ambient BP is one of our favorite recommendations because they know their stuff. Along with the LEED & BREEAM and FSC certifications, they have many great resources to learn about bamboo plywood. But it doesn’t stop there, they also sell bamboo floor cleaner, so it’s truly a one-stop shop.
Plyboo is also an FSC-certified company for bamboo. They sell a variety of lumber in more dimensions and colors than anyone else on this list. They also create decorative and acoustical walls as well as ceilings. If you’re looking to elevate your space, Plyboo can help you bring it to life, whether working with designers and architects or providing you with plywood to DIY.
Moso Bamboo is not just FSC-certified. They are certified in LEED & Breeam, a leading green building certification program. Moso Bamboo also holds fire safety ratings for wall, ceiling, flooring and decking, and siding boards for wildland zones.
The amount of bamboo products Moso Bamboo has is endless. While they don’t sell lumber, they can make anything from bamboo lumber for you.
Want to check out more FSC-certified companies? Use FSC’s tool to search for the nearest seller in your country.
Care and Maintenance of Bamboo Lumber
When it comes to bamboo lumber, planks, or plywood, keep it away from moisture as much as possible. Water can seep in and cause mold, mildew, and other unwanted friends you don’t want to grow.
While bamboo is not the best in water, it can also get damaged with excessive exposure to the sun. The sun causes the bamboo to dry out, causing it to splinter and crack.
If your bamboo lumber gets dirty, the first thing to do is to dust it off first. Sometimes a good pat can remove the dirt quickly.
If the dirt is stuck on there, grab a moist towel and try to rub it off. If all else fails, some detergent and water should do the trick. Then pat dry with a clean towel to remove any excess moisture before allowing it to fully air dry.
Getting rid of the excessive moisture upfront will reduce the chances of water seeping deep into the wood.
When you’ve completed your bamboo project, consider sealing it with linseed oil to prevent drying or cracking.
Bamboo plywood, planks, or any type of bamboo is a great building block for any project you choose. With a little care, it’ll last you a long time.