Bamboo Flooring and Lumber

A bamboo cane is hollow causing confusion as to how they get bamboo “boards” for flooring and other manufactured bamboo products. The most common type of bamboo lumber is made up of narrow strips of bamboo glued together under pressure into a laminated board. Bamboo canes can easily be split in very long lengths by running it through a type of die. The most common board length is about 30 inches to 36 inches. I have seen reference to longer boards, up to 6 feet long but do not have a link. The board below is a sample I received when I looked into installing bamboo flooring.
bamboo-lumberThis board is 32 inches by 4 inches. It is tongue and groove, used for bamboo hardwood flooring. It is about 5/8 inches thick and appears to be pre-finished with a natural color. Bamboo usually comes in two basic colors, natural or darker, usually flame treated.

Just to look at this lumber it appears to be a piece of hardwood flooring. Up close you can see board is made of three layers of bamboo. The bamboo layers are made of strips about 3/4 inch wide, glued side to side.The way the layers are offset the seams are not aligned, giving the lumber more strength. You can see the tongue and groove clearly. The lowers side, with shallow grooves, is the back side. The other side has a hard, glossy finish.

Bamboo is not “wood” because bamboo is not a tree, but a grass. However, it has many of the characteristics of bamboo including a grain. The grain is very regular, long fibers that run straight up the cane. You can see the “bundles” of fibers in this picture of a small cane that has been cut off at the base. The blade slightly burned the bamboo but this allows you to see the ends of the bamboo fibers. The reason the blade “burned” the cane is due to both the hardness of bamboo wood and the presence of silica in the canes. As individual canes age they take up more silica from the soil each year.

To make bamboo flooring a cane a large cane is split into multiple pieces that are machined straight and smooth and become the strips that are laminated into boards. The piece of bamboo lumber above was being used as a cup shelf in a cabinet. Although designed for flooring the lumber is ideal for cabinet and furniture work. Today’s super strong glues combine with bamboo to make a material that is beautiful, strong, and different.
As an experiment I split out a piece of Moso that was about 1 inch wide and 1/2 inch thick. I ran it through a planer and edger to make it smooth and square. I planned to use it for the rib of a boat.
When looking for bamboo lumber for a project be aware that some bamboo flooring is made up of a composite board with a thin bamboo veneer glued on top. This type of lumber is used for a floating” floor and installs by snapping together. It can look decent but the boards have poor structural strength.