When I built a new office addition to my shakuhachi workshop, the obvious choice for a finished floor was bamboo. I had recently attended an annual meeting of the American Bamboo Society and got to see samples of this amazing new product. A search on the Internet led me to Mr. Charles McKern, a pioneer in the field who helped develop state-of-the-art technology in fabrication and production of bamboo flooring. Charles and I had lots to talk about on the subject of bamboo. We had both been to China exploring the resource, albeit with different ends in mind. A long conversation led to my ordering flooring for my new office.
Living on a rural homestead for over 30 years, during which time I built my home, shop and several other buildings, I had plenty of experience working with a variety of construction materials. The first rule of thumb in planning building a project is to double the estimated cost and amount of time you figure it will take to complete the job. A tan oak floor I installed in my home years ago, prepared me for the worst. Cutting, nailing, straightening warp boards was followed by the ordeal of endless filling of cracks, sanding and finishing. Not to mention the dust, fumes and lengthy drying time. Plus, I had to camp out in my front yard will all this work was in progress. What a surprise I was in store for working with the bamboo flooring Charles had sent me.
Here are some of the advantages of bamboo flooring based on my research and personal experience working with it:
1. First and foremost, this resource is environmentally friendly and truly renewable. Bamboo is a grass, not a tree. It is the fastest living plant on earth. A grove of bamboo restores itself each Spring by sending up new shoot that grow to their full height and development in one season. This is true for all species of the plant, including the giant timber bamboos harvested for flooring that grow over 100 ft. tall. This bamboo has a growth rated measured at over 4 ft. in one day! You can actually see it growing, like the minute hand of a very large clock.
My experience harvesting bamboo for shakuhachi flutes has taught me that, unlike trees, a given culm of bamboo has a relatively short life span. In less than 10 years, it will die a natural death and return to the soil. In Japan, a grove of bamboo is heavily thinned every four years to promote the health and growth of the stock. These harvested poles have a wide variety of uses. What better use of bamboo is there than to replace tropical hardwoods that are being depleted and ruining the rain forest and the ecological balance of the Earth?
2. How does bamboo flooring compare to other hardwoods?
A hardness scale prepared by the National Wood Flooring Association ranks bamboo very high on the scale of available wood products. It is harder than northern red oaks ash or beech. (See chart)
Even more impressive is the fact that bamboo flooring tops the list of common wood species for dimensional stability prepared by the USDA. Once a wood floor is installed, it will swell and shrink based on the changes in relative humidity. This movement can result in buckling or gaps between the boards and is a big issue with wood floor installation. (See chart)
3. Unlike other wood products, bamboo flooring require no finish work at all. All boards are prefinished on all six sides with a hi-tech UV resistant varnish which means no sanding, filling or painting. No dust or toxic fumes to breath in. No lengthy drying time. Installation time is drastically reduced. Once the floor is down, the job is complete. It can be installed on a wood subfloor or concrete using nails or glue and is suitable for application over a radiant-heated surface.
4. The dimensional stability of bamboo flooring is enhanced by the fact that it is laminated in three layers. Unlike hardwood floor boards, each piece is milled to perfection and is perfectly straight and consistent. There is no warpage or cupping due to grain stress which makes installation much easier.
Planks are 36 inches long, 3 5/8 inches wide, and 5/8 inches thick for easy installation and reduced waste. Each plank is tongue-and-groove on the sides and ends to ensure a long-lasting, tight installation.
The versatility of of bamboo is quite remarkable. In my office, I not only used it as a finished floor, but as my desktop, window trim, kick boards and fascia for drawers and cabinets. I ran it through a table saw, router and finish sander to make molding and laminated pieces using carpenters glue to build table tops.
5. The aesthetic of bamboo has evolved for generations in Asia and the Orient. It is elegant, organic and in harmony with nature. Bamboo flooring offers a choice of colors, finishes and laminations. Natural bamboo can be combined with carbonized flooring that is coffee colored. Finishes come in natural matte, semi-gloss, high-gloss or unfinished. Horizontal or vertical laminations are available.
6. Cost. Factoring in all the costs involved in purchasing and installing a finished floor, bamboo is competitive with any of the hardwood varieties available. By choosing bamboo flooring you also help sustain nonpolluting jobs in developing countries.
Please note, quite busy as a full time flute maker, I am not a distributor of bamboo flooring. If interested in acquiring some,I would advise you to shop around as there is a lot bamboo flooring imported from China right now. Be sure, however, to look over the options carefully as quality varies considerably. Good luck with your project.
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Hardness Chart - Stability Chart