Why Bamboo Poles Are the Ultimate Natural Building Material

Bamboo poles being used as a building structure support

Back in the 90s, I was an ‘ok’ rock climber. Nothing to write home about, but I loved being outdoors. Enjoying the peace of being alone with a climbing problem was a great way to unwind. After a hard day at the crag, we’d often relax in front of the TV. We’d watch professional climbers from around the world, Lynn Hill, Patrick Edlinger, Patrick Berhault, and the like, hoping we’d pick up some tips.

When asked to write an article about bamboo poles, my mind flashed back to an old climbing film. The recording, featuring French climber Isabelle Patissier, is called Bambou.

In the film, Isabelle, aged 20, travels to Hong Kong to ascend a series of building scaffoldings made entirely from bamboo. She climbs without a harness or safety ropes. I remember being impressed by her bravery and the sheer size and strength of these gigantic bamboo frames.

Check out the sections at the beginning, and at minutes 16:50 and 20:25 of the film to see what I mean:

Impressive, huh? But I doubt a climber would even be allowed to try that in 2022.

Hong Kong still uses bamboo in major construction today. But being a bamboo scaffolder is hard, sometimes dangerous work, and the number of skilled craftsmen is in decline.

It might not be the first choice for scaffolding anymore, but there are plenty of other uses for this fast-growing and eco-friendly natural resource.

Want to find out more about why we love bamboo? Check out our Why Bamboo page.

Let’s take a look at bamboo poles in more detail.

In This Article
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    What Are Bamboo Poles?

    As you might imagine, bamboo poles are cut directly from live bamboo plants. Unless the plant is completely cut down and dug out, it will continue to grow and provide lengths of ‘raw’ bamboo for years to come.

    As bamboo comes in all lengths and thicknesses, there’s sure to be a size and type to suit your project.

    What Are Bamboo Poles Used For?

    Decorative and hardwearing, you can use bamboo poles all around the home and garden. The only limit is your imagination.

    Gardening

    Inexpensive, widely available, and super-versatile, bamboo has a multitude of uses in the garden. Easy to work with, bamboo poles can be used to make all sorts of garden accessories.

    Thinner bamboo poles, also known as bamboo stakes or canes, are a gardener’s best friend. Check out my bamboo stakes article to find out more about that.

    As well as being a perfect aid for growing, bamboo poles have a multitude of other uses in the garden. For example, bug hotels attract wild bees and insects into your garden. They pollinate plants and flowers and keep the bad bugs at bay.

    Here’s a video showing us how to make a cute bug hotel for your garden. Place them in a sheltered spot or hang them on a north-facing wall.

    Collecting rainwater is a sustainable way to make sure your plants don’t go thirsty. How about using a half-cut bamboo pole as a gutter?

    Check out this helpful article from Guadua Bamboo: How to Make Bamboo Rain Gutters

    It’s fun to make trellises, pergolas, and other frames from bamboo poles. Often, you don’t even need to use nails. Take a look at this video where Tia explains how to attach bamboo poles together using knots:

    Looking for a more ambitious project to keep you busy through the winter months? How about building a tiki bar to wow your neighbors next summer? Take a look at these ideas from UK Bamboo: Creating a Bamboo Tiki Bar

    Home Decor

    More and more manufacturers are turning to bamboo as a sustainable resource for their homewares. It seems as though bamboo home decor products are springing up everywhere. From lamps to wind chimes and from seating to screening. There are literally hundreds of ways to decorate your home with bamboo.

    If you enjoy crafting or DIY, why not make your own home accessories from bamboo poles?

    How about using small bamboo poles to make a simple bamboo collage as a picture frame or mirror surround? Or using a large pole as a standing lamp?

    Take a look at these cool examples for some ideas:

    Musical Bamboo

    Being hollow, bamboo is perfect for making simple musical instruments too. Pan pipes, whistles, and basic percussion instruments are all quick and simple to make.

    Take a look at what Andrew made whilst waiting for his pizza to cook:

    Have we inspired you to think about your next bamboo project? Great! Let’s look at some helpful tips to get you started.

    How to Prepare Bamboo Poles

    Here’s how to prepare your bamboo poles for your next project…

    Cutting

    Cutting your bamboo poles to the correct length is a simple task. Choose your tool depending on the thickness of the bamboo:

    • For thin sticks or canes (less than 2 cm diameter) make a clean cut using a sharp pruner or pair of secateurs.
    • For thicker bamboo, use a sharp handsaw or hacksaw
    • For big jobs, you might want to use a reciprocating saw or table saw

    Here are a couple of tips for successful bamboo cutting:

    • When practical, cut your bamboo right above a node
    • Make sure it’s not too cold or bamboo could split (work at room temperature where possible)
    • Tape around the area to be cut using masking tape to avoid splintering
    • And if you’re not masking the joint, use some mineral oil to lubricate the bamboo before you cut it

    Drying

    When you’ve cut your bamboo poles, air needs to circulate through them so that they can dry. Push a long thin object through the bamboo to knock out the nodes in the center of the pole.

    Air drying (or curing) is practical for large quantities of bamboo and in non-humid environments. This generally takes between 6 and 12 weeks.

    But where the air is moist, this method may not be quick enough to avoid mold forming on the poles.

    Check out Angie from Mystic Mountain Homestead showing us a natural way to heat cure bamboo:

    Other Helpful Stuff

    Bought your bamboo poles ready-dried but want to make sure they’ll last? Give them a quick coat of linseed oil before starting your project.

    Using your bamboo poles outside and want to stop water from getting inside? Cap the ends with beeswax – it makes an effective natural seal.

    That said, let’s summarise the pros and cons of using bamboo poles…

    Bamboo Poles Pros

    • Versatile
    • Lots of sizes to choose from
    • Inexpensive
    • Natural material
    • Quick growing
    • Easy to work with
    • Readily available

    Bamboo Poles Cons

    • Won’t last if not prepared correctly
    • Will age over time
    • Needs regular maintenance

    Alternatives to Bamboo Poles

    Due to its unique structure, there’s no other material that can completely substitute for bamboo for every use we’ve mentioned above. But for your building projects, you could also consider…

    Plastic

    OK, so plastic is used for most guttering. And it’s obvious why — it lasts a long time and it’s waterproof. But for the other applications we’ve mentioned, there are lots more eco-friendly solutions (including bamboo). If you are going to use plastic, make sure it’s recycled and recyclable.

    Wood

    Wood is natural too and has a lot of the same great properties as bamboo. But to work with wood you’ll often need more tools and more know-how. For example, hollowing out wood can be tricky.

    Metal

    Metal can be a lot more costly even though it will eventually start to show its age when exposed to the elements. Metal can be great for heavy-duty projects. But for smaller projects, you’ll often need specialized skills and tools.

    Care and Maintenance

    Bamboo that’s kept away from moisture can last for years. But when your bamboo is outside or in wet conditions, you’ll need to maintain it. So how do we do that?

    • Regularly inspect your bamboo for signs of mold.
    • If you spot any, remove spores as soon as possible with a soft brush or damp cloth.
    • Treat the area with a solution of vinegar and water to kill any residual mold spores.
    • When bamboo is dry and mold-free, apply 2-3 coats of linseed or other mineral oil.

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