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How is Bamboo Flooring Made

Bamboo flooring can be a great choice for environmentally conscious consumers. When handled properly, the flooring is sustainable and environmentally friendly. The processing of bamboo leaves little waste while creating an attractive wood floor. While there are some concerns for the chemicals used in treating some plants, choosing high quality flooring from reputable manufacturers is the best way to ensure the flooring has been made in a way that is as good for the environment as it is for the consumer.

What is Bamboo?

While technically a grass, bamboo is quickly becoming an industry favorite for environmentally friendly wood flooring. Bamboo is a sustainable plant that grows quite quickly, up to four feet per day, and is able to grow well in soil of poor quality. Some of the largest varieties of bamboo can grow to have a diameter of 13 inches and a height of 120 feet within three years. The most common form of bamboo found in Asia is self-propagating and does not need to be treated with herbicides or pesticides to flourish.

While bamboo is usually found in Asia, it is becoming a more common crop throughout the world. With about 1,000 different species thriving in a variety of soils and climates, bamboo has a presence in many areas. As the popularity and demand for this versatile crop increases, the areas where it can be found will also likely increase.

Harvesting Bamboo

harvesting bamboo

Photo Credit: Augupfel

Unlike most hardwood, trees that take decades to be harvestable, bamboo can be harvested in as little as three years, but ideally in four to six years. Harvesting the bamboo does not damage the grass; rather it remains healthy and continues to produce an abundant crop for future harvests. Ideally, bamboo harvests begin in the fall or winter, as this is when the moisture level is lower. Summer harvests can cause the bamboo to fracture during the curing process.

After the Harvest

Bamboo after Harvesting

Photo Credit: Ben Burkland/Carolyn Cook

Once harvested, the difficult work of transforming the bamboo from grass to flooring begins. The green outer hull of the bamboo is removed and the stalk is cut into long strips called fillets. At this point, the bamboo strips retain the natural curve of the plant. Milling the bamboo along the outer sides creates a flat strip more suitable for future flooring. The strips are then dried and boiled to remove moisture as well as natural sugars and starches. There are two benefits of boiling the bamboo. The first is that it makes the finished product less desirable to insects such as termites that often infest other wooden products. This termite resistance makes bamboo flooring even more desirable in areas with high termite populations. Secondly, boiling the bamboo makes it less likely to suffer expansion and contraction than hardwood floors in humid climates.

After the boiling and drying are completed it is then possible to darken the bamboo through a process of carbonization, if a color more similar to hardwood flooring is required. Carbonization relies on steam and pressure to darken the bamboo. Colors range from a deep coffee to a light amber. Increasingly, however, consumers are choosing bamboo flooring that has the natural coloring, either stained to retain its natural color or stained to the color of their choice.

Once the initial refinements are completed, the bamboo is then inspected. Inspectors grade the bamboo as either A or B.

Strand-Woven Bamboo Flooring

Strand-Woven Bamboo, Natural

Strand-Woven Bamboo, Natural

During the milling stage of the bamboo processing, the strands that remain are trimmed from the long bamboo fillets. The use of a byproduct of processing, or what would be considered a waste product from another type of wood, is part of what makes bamboo flooring so environmentally friendly. Intricate patterns are created by weaving the thin strands together and compressing them with a resin to create beautiful flooring. The strand-woven flooring is strong, durable, scratch resistant, UV resistant, moisture resistant, and is about twice as hard as other forms of bamboo flooring.

Vertical and Horizontal Bamboo Flooring

The bamboo fillets are what make up the greatest portion of bamboo flooring. After the boiling process, the strips are again dried in a kiln and then glued together into an either vertical grain or horizontal grain.

Vertical Bamboo Flooring, Natural

Vertical Bamboo Flooring, Natural

The narrow edges of several strips of bamboo are glued together to create the vertical bamboo flooring. These strips are combined and have a thin layer of lamination between them. The finished product has a smooth uniform look, much like traditional hardwood flooring.

 

 

 

Horizontal Bamboo Flooring, Natural

Horizontal Bamboo Flooring, Natural

By gluing the wider surfaces together, facing up, horizontal bamboo flooring is created. This style of flooring also uses lamination. The laminating process makes the thickness of the flooring uniform throughout. The finished horizontal flooring randomly displays the knuckles, or growth rings, of the stalk.

 

 

 

Final Stages

With all three types of bamboo flooring, vertical grain, horizontal grain, and strand-woven grain, the final stage involves milling the boards to refine the flooring. The popular tongue and groove system traditionally used in wood flooring is used with bamboo as well. This ensures a smooth surface and snug fit, and creates a product that is comparable in style with hardwood flooring. Several coats of finish with aluminum oxide are applied to the flooring to make the durable material even more resistant to damage from daily use.

Quality Stages

While the best quality of bamboo flooring is made with environmentally friendly practices, some companies do use methods that are less than ideal. These companies may use premature bamboo, which is less than four years old, and use high levels of additives like formaldehyde in the gluing process. While these practices do result in lower prices, they may also reduce the quality and negatively impact the environment.

When deciding on which type of bamboo flooring to purchase, pay attention to the construction of the materials, the ends of the board to ensure there are no gaps in the layers of bamboo and that no fillers have been added to shore up gaps. The finish on the flooring should be coated evenly with a smooth and uniform texture.

Learning about the process that is used to make the various forms of bamboo flooring makes it easier to understand how a grass is transformed into a durable and attractive option for flooring. Bamboo flooring is a wonderful alternative to the more traditional hardwood flooring options.

(12) Comments

  1. Hello, I am interested in your Bamboo floor variety! however I would like to know if you can provide
    1) stranded quality in equal length pieces – say 2 feet! reason: I want to pose the floor in a “herring bone” configuration
    2) if you confirm the first question in the positive, what surface treatment do you offer?
    3) what would be your price for 900 sqf ?
    With warm regards, Leif Modeweg

  2. Hello,
    I am wondering how I will know if my bamboo flooring is treated with harmful chemicals and if you know of any of the more cost effective places that sell “safe” bamboo? Thank you.

  3. I am also interested in how the process works for printing designs on the bamboo. I plan to use bamboo in my dining room and I am bit worried that the constant movement of the chairs will scratch the floor. How scratch resistant are they? And is there a way to fix the floor if a scratch appears?

    thanks

  4. kabango Bernadette - Reply

    I am interested in making bamboo products – making bamboo into ordinary looking wood. How do I acquire the technology? How expensive is the machinery that would do it? How much training would that take me? Is there any recommended place to do the training? (Finding enough amount of mature bamboo would not be a problem)

  5. Can you describe the process for printing designs on bamboo flooring and provide some idea of how this process might impact durability?

  6. I have beenreading your articals on bamboo flooring and don’t understand the differences in the horizontal, vertical, and stranded version of bamboo. They all look pretty much the same from the pictures you show. Do you have any vedio on the making of bamboo flooring or know where I might obtain any of it. Thank You.

    • Hi Ron,

      Thank you for the inquiry.

      Horizontal/vertical flooring is referring to the way that the Bamboo has been cut, laid and put together. In regards to horizontal flooring, the strips of Bamboo are laid flat so that the top surface shows the Bamboo’s natural growth rings or “knuckles”. When product a vertical floor, the strips of Bamboo are turned on their sides and molded together in long, slender rows creating a different appearance.

      When manufacturing Bamboo by using these techniques, 60% of the actual Bamboo goes to waste. Instead of discarding this excess material, all these cut pieces are put to good use truly making Bamboo a Eco Friendly product.

      Strand-woven flooring is made from the off cuts and strips of Bamboo being placed into a large vat, where they are mixed with resin, and exposed to extreme heat and pressure where they are slowly compressed. The result is a timber like product which is over twice as hard as regular Bamboo flooring and harder then Brazilian Cherry.

      Hope this information is useful.

      Thanks,

      Julian

  7. Hi Rodney:
    By readibg your article, Am fired up for the bamboo material. Do have a tape showing how the bamboo is processed?.
    Thank you in advance
    Sam Hamilton

    • Hi Stacy,

      Generally speaking, depending on the style, it is usually 7-10 coats of Polly Urethane with Aluminum-Oxide finish.

      Rodney

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