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How to build with bamboo?  RSS feed

 
Susan Wakeman
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Location: Lake Geneva, Switzerland, Europe
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We have been offered a local bamboo whose poles are about 7cm diameter at the base and, say, up to 10 m high. It is quite rigid until the diameter gets below 4cm or so, which is also where the leaf nodes start.

What can you use this for?

How do you build with it? I know how to split bamboo from my kite-building days. How to attach them?

We may be building a chicken tractors for 6 chickens or so, 1,2m by 3m or thereabouts. Could we use bamboo for that?

Any help appreciated!
 
Greg Coffey
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Location: Rhode Island
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I'll preface this by stating that what I'm saying is merely speculation, as I've not yet gotten into bamboo construction.

The best place to probably start would be by looking at how bamboo is used in the areas that it is indigenous to. This site has several examples:
http://www.inspirationgreen.com/bamboo-buildings.html

Here's a site that gives some of the techniques used in more serious construction:
http://www.guaduabamboo.com/working-with-bamboo/joining-bamboo

So the basics are to not do any joinery that will split the culm, and you want to make use of the nodes as structural elements at all junctions.

Hope this helps!
 
Alder Burns
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I have been to some bamboo workshops and used quite a bit myself for various things back in Georgia (where it grows big!) If you want to split the bamboo, do it green, with a machete (takes practice) or a special splitter. If you want it whole and don't want it to crack as it cures (and this is a good thing to do with splits, too, for durability), it is good to leach it by sinking the entire thing in water, preferably running water but stagnant will do, for a month. This will take tying the bamboos together into bundles and then into a raft, which you then sink below the surface by piling rocks, etc. onto it. The water gets into the vascular system and leaches out the sugars and starches so bugs, mold, etc. aren't as attracted to it. Then haul it out and let dry slowly in the shade for several weeks at least, if you want them stiff, as for poles, or work with it immediately if to be bent, as for woven split pieces (I made a lot of fence panels this way).
Bamboo whether whole or split likes to split when joined with any kind of penetrating fastener, like a nail or screw, even if pre-drilled. It is much better to join it from the exterior, with wire or twine. There are some very good designs for making ties with looped, tightened wire.
For rough garden uses bamboo can be worked with green as harvested, just tie it together and don't try to nail or screw it. Even without the curing treatment outlined above, and even in contact with the ground, bamboo sticks and poles will outlast all but the more durable woods.
 
Susan Wakeman
Posts: 38
Location: Lake Geneva, Switzerland, Europe
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Thank you for the ideas. Could you give me some pointers/links to the "ties with looped, tightened wire" you mention? I am aware of the knots scouts use to make roundwood construction, is it simply that or are there other tricks?
 
Alder Burns
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It's a bit hard to describe, but I'll try. If I could post a video I would, perhaps I'll get my partner to help me. You want a piece of wire a little over 4 times the length necessary to wrap around the joint. Fold this in half (or you can use 2 pieces of wire of half this length. Curve this in half again and make a loop in the center, and twist the loop once to hold it in place. The loop should be large enough to put a stout nail or small screwdriver through. Now lay this onto your joint and wrap the ends around the whole thing...crosswise if the joint is at right angles, and bring them back around and wrap the ends half a turn or so around the base of the loop, in the same direction as the loop itself is twisted. Now take your nail or whatever, stick the end through the loop and start to twist, "catching" the loose ends as you go. As you now continue to twist, all four strands of wire will tighten together. The tricky part is to know when to stop. The pile of twisted wire with your implement in it will start to lay over on its side, and this is the moment to stop....any more and you will break it.
Since learning this trick I have used it just about everywhere and saved untold amounts of money, particularly for hose clamps....since this kind of wire tie makes a great hose clamp, the only drawback being you can only use it once, you can't loosen and re-tighten it. If one wire tie won't tighten enough, just add another. The right size wire can be important, too, especially for things like bamboo....too fat and stiff and you can crush the bamboo, too fine and it will break before the joint is tight. Galvanized electric fence wire works great, also stiff copper wire stripped from old house wiring works pretty good too. I've used this for all kinds of odd joinery, such as round wood to flat plywood, by drilling two holes through the plywood and running the wire through them.
 
Susan Wakeman
Posts: 38
Location: Lake Geneva, Switzerland, Europe
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That's great! I get the idea, this will be so useful! If you could just post a photo of a finished joint, that would be great. Thanks!
 
Kirsten Simmons
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Location: Atlanta, GA
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I just finished a chicken coop using bamboo, and I wish I'd known that wire trick! We drilled holes and used 5 inch bolts, and the structure also has hardware cloth/chicken wire/pasture wire stapled to the bamboo. It's a bit of a pain to work with, but since it grows in my back yard, you can't beat the price!
 
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