Using Bamboo Plywood for Furniture and Cabinetry
By Joe Dusel
plywood (laminated bamboo) is getting to be very popular these days,
and for good reasons. It’s environmentally friendly, sustainably
harder than Maple, and it mills and looks like solid wood. Plus it comes in
easily processed 4’ x 8' sheets. This by the way is information based
on our own experiences working with bamboo plywood. We don't
sell bamboo plywood, just products made from it.
We have used the PlyBoo brand bamboo plywood from Smith and Fong , some of the thick bamboo countertop material from Totally Bamboo and some generic bamboo sheets from a local dealer. We are currently looking for some new sources for the bamboo since some of our local sources have dried up.
For 3/4" x 48" x 96" bamboo plywood the prices range from about $120 (generic) to about $220 from Smith and Fong. The more expensive stuff usually comes wrapped in thick plastic and is a bit higher quality from my experience.
There are about 6 different varieties of ¾” thick 4’ x 8’ sheet material, plus various other thicknesses(1/4”, ½”, 7/8”), veneers and edge banding.
Mosa bamboo that the plywood is made from grows incredibly fast and to a
height of 40 feet with a diameter exceeding 6 inches and matures in 4
years. When you harvest it a new plant comes up in its place. It is grown
in hand-harvested managed forests in China that minimizes the
environmental impact. The bamboo farmers maximize their yield while
maintaining healthy forests.
The glue is also emissions free for many of the brands, so you don’t have to worry about nasty formaldehyde, especially if you are using it for products such as cutting boards.
plywood is made of laminated bamboo strips made from the wall of the
stalk. The wall at the base can be more than an inch thick and will taper
over the length of the stalk. The strips are milled flat and then boiled
in a bath of boric acid and lime solution. The bath extracts the starch
that attracts termites or powder post beetles. Boric acid and lime are a
natural non-toxic repellent, used to insure that the plywood is pest free
and will remain that way.
The strips are kiln dried, sanded smooth and then laminated edge to edge to create a single-ply panel. These panels are then laminated again to each other to create a multi-ply bamboo plywood emissions free, so you don’t have to worry about nasty formaldehyde, especially if you are using it for products such as cutting boards.
Amber Bamboo Plywood
3 ply flat grain surface
Bamboo plywood comes in two main flavors - amber and natural. The natural has a color similar to Maple, but with some yellow tones. The amber color is derived from a heat treatment process that darkens the bamboo, giving it a warm tea-stained, amber tone. This amber color goes all the way through the material.
The amber bamboo finishes up to a caramel color something like Cherry with an acrylic finish. Not only does it have a caramel color, if you spray it with a water based finish you also get the caramel aroma do to the sugar in the material. The bamboo is laminated to produce either an edge or flat surface grain. The edge grain appears as 1/4" strips and the flat grain appears as 3/4" strips. The surface is finish-sanded to 180 grit.
3-Ply Bamboo Plywood
Vertical Solid Amber Bamboo
Bamboo plywood cuts, shapes and sands fairly well. It does tend to splinter a bit if you are not careful, and I recommend sawing it using a scoring blade for both rips and crosscuts. Gluing it together works well, but I personally have had mixed results with screws and nails. It splits pretty easily if you have a screw or nail too close to an edge. If you use pocket screws to make a faceframe you will be really unhappy if you split the end. I’ve also had some problems with dowels with the glue causing the material to fail behind it, so go lightly on gluing dowels or use the pre-glued variety. The excess glue tries to migrate out the end grain from the dowel holes. The bamboo seems to take most finishes very well. I have read that it takes stains well, buy I have tried black aniline dye on it and was not personally impressed by the look.
The vertical solid ¾ inch 4’ x 8’ bamboo plywood is one of my favorites to use because it resembles solid wood. It is a lamination of strips of ¼” x ¾” bamboo laid out 8 foot length-wise and 4 foot across. I generally use this variety to make things like rails and stiles for doors or any other items on which I don’t want to use an edge banding. Since it comes in 4’ x 8’ sheets it’s perfect for CNC applications. The one caveat to this is that sometimes this material has an inconsistent thickness from side to side. I am assuming that the thickness problems are due to setup problems with the sanders used on the material. I have friends who "fly-cut" the bamboo sheets on a CNC before processing, but when I had this done myself it ended up where we needed to do a ton of sanding.
The bamboo countertop shown here was made using the 3/4"
vertical solid bamboo doubled up on the edges. I made this before I came
across the thick bamboo countertop material from Totally Bamboo.
If I do any more bamboo countertops they will be made from the 1 1/2"
thick material like the samples shown here. I especially like the
varieties that contain layers of both the amber and natural bamboo.
Here is a blog post that we wrote about the bamboo countertop stock.
I used the vertical solid bamboo plywood for display cabinets that one of my clients uses for trade shows. The design called for 3” x4” legs which I made by gluing up four 4” strips of bamboo in a Plano press. The bamboo plywood also takes edge details, like chamfers or round-overs, fairly well. I’ve even seen raised panels made from bamboo, but I personally thought it looked a bit funky. You can get a bit of tear out, but usually it’s minimal.
I’ve also used the bamboo plywood for drawer fronts, doors and drawer boxes. It can also be run through a planer if you need a special thickness – like 5/8” for drawer boxes.
We have made entertainment centers using the bamboo and we have a number of friends who have done bamboo kitchen cabinets. The cabinets shown here are by Kent Knitter.
There are a number of manufactures now like Decorative Specialties that are also producing bamboo doors and drawer boxes. As a cabinet maker I prefer to outsource doors and drawer boxes when I can.
If you are a wood turner it also turns very nicely. I have given some of my scraps to wood turning friends who loved it. Lately I have been turning pens, letter openers, wine bottle stoppers and pepper mills using bamboo plywood. For the pepper mills I laminated four pieces of 3/4" thick x 3" wide x 36" long bamboo plywood to make a 3" x 3" blank.
Our Woodistry Etsy store page show below usually features some of our latest creations using bamboo.
Amber Bamboo Drawer Front