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Tips for Curing Bamboo

Bamboo is used all around the world for so many things that it can boggle a westerner’s mind.  I have read that over one third of the world uses bamboo in some form on a regular basis, and this number is likely to increase as the popularity of bamboo flooring, blinds, and fabric increases in the US.

Before Bamboo can be used effectively, however, it must be cut and cured. Just like with trimming your hedges, it is best to cut in the fall or winter, when the sap and resins are down. You can cut it anytime, but in the spring and summer the chances of your bamboo cracking are much higher.

To cut I generally use a heavy duty tree trimmer that is very sharp. These can crush the bamboo if not careful but generally works fine if you cut right near a joint (this is where the bamboo is strongest) the cleanest way is to use a hack-saw.

I haven’t tried every method for curing but I have read what others do and will provide a quick run-down

  1. The quickest way is to use a small propane torch and heat the bamboo until the resin rises to the surface. You can then wipe of the sticky sap with a cloth. I have also held the bamboo over a large woodstove with the same results. In either case the key is to heat the bamboo...not so much that it blackens or catches on fire though. If you want to use the method of Japanese craftsmen you can build a charcoal fire-pit to cure your bamboo with this heating strategy.
  2. Soaking is another method that can work but will take much longer. This method is sometimes used for logs but works for bamboo also. You will need a body of water for this so it might not be easily accessible to everyone. The general premise is that you soak the bamboo for 90 days or so then set it to dry in a sunny area for a few weeks. The soaking period makes the bamboo dry much slower than it would otherwise, which reduces cracking and splitting.
  3. I have also air dried bamboo but just cutting the bamboo and leaving the branches and leaves attached. Stand the bamboo upright in the shade and hope for the best. It may take several months and it may crack on you regardless. Just be sure to dry lots more than you expect to use.
  4. I have read that adding a sealant or shellac during the drying process may help with cracking as it reduces the speed at which the bamboo dries.

Once your curing is complete the bamboo will generally change from green to a yellow/tan color. Cured bamboo is very light but extremely strong. This makes it great for a multitude of uses. Google “bamboo craft ideas” and you will get tons of results.