There are different processes that are used to turn bamboo grass materials into planks ready for flooring installation. Each manufacturing method produces a product with specific characteristics that may make it more or less desirable in a particular environment. By understanding the options that are available, you can find the type of bamboo which will work best for your project.
Traditional Use of Bamboo in Flooring
In its natural state, bamboo is the world's largest species of grass. A tall, tubular plant, bamboo has a relatively hard outer shell which makes it suitable for some flooring applications, even in its raw state. Traditional flooring in Eastern Asia is made by slicing the stalks into thin sheets and then nailing them to hardwood beams. This is a flooring method that is still used in some rural areas to this day.
In modern flooring, bamboo is used in different ways, although solid bamboo in a modified form still has its place.
Solid Bamboo Flooring
Advantages: Solid bamboo flooring will give you the most natural look possible. The surface of the material will have the richest features and the most interesting patterns.
Refinishing: Over time scratches or dents may appear on the floor. With solid bamboo, you can sand the floordown and refinish the surface periodically in order to make it look like new again.
Drawbacks: While still harder than most hardwood flooring materials, solid bamboo is less durable and resilient than strand-woven or engineered options.
Applications: Bedrooms, living rooms, home offices, dens. Can be used in some kitchens if proper precautions are taken. Should not be used in bathrooms or below grade (basement) installations.
Manufacturing process: While bamboo is fairly hard in its natural state, it is also brittle and uneven, and is not often used raw in modern flooring applications. Rather, the material is processed in such a way that the positive benefits of the bamboo are retained, while also making it more versatile.
The first step in manufacturing solid bamboo floor planks is to slice the stalks of grass down into very thin pieces. The skin is then removed from the material, and it is boiled in boric acid. The acid helps to kill any microorganisms or bacteria that may be lurking in the bamboo, while also removing any lingering starches that may remain.
These individual slices are then coated with a special adhesive and are bonded together into solid pieces using heat and pressure. The way that the individual chips are lined up will determine what the floor ends up looking like.
- Horizontal: The chips are laid flat, one atop the other. This results in a floor with fewer features and a more consistent look. This is also the closest match to the actual appearance of natural bamboo materials.
- Vertical: The individual slats are lined up, straight up and down, and are bonded using pressure pushing them in from either side. While the result is still a natural bamboo look, these floors tend to have more mottled, busy features in their surface. This can be great for hiding dirt or giving a plain room a sense of interest.
Once the adhesive has dried, the solid planks are planed and sanded down to ensure that they have smooth, even surfaces on every side. A UV lacquer is then applied to help the curing process. Finally, it is sanded one more time to complete the finish on the material.
Strand-Woven Bamboo Floors
Advantages: Because the manufacturing process fully integrates the adhesive and the bamboo, and because more adhesive is used by percentage of weight, strand-woven materials tend to be considerably harder and more durable pieces that solid bamboo.
Disadvantages: The adhesive used to make the material may cause the floor to emit harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The manufacturing process also removes some of the natural bamboo features from the floor, making it look slightly less natural and more processed.
Refinishing: When scratches, dents, and other imperfections appear in the surface of the bamboo, it can be refinished, taking it down a layer to make the material look like new. The number of times it can be refinished over the years will depend on the thickness of the planks or tiles. Refinishing is more difficult than with solid wood options.
Applications: Any relatively dry, above-grade, interior installation. Good in living rooms, hallways, and bedrooms. Avoid its use in the bathroom or basement, and use caution with kitchen installations.
Manufacturing strand-woven bamboo: The manufacture of strand-woven bamboo begins when the stalks are sliced into strips and the skin is removed from them. They are then boiled in boric acid to remove the starch and kill any vermin. At that point, the stalks are placed into a shredder and processed down into a thick pulp.
An adhesive substance is then mixed in with the pulp, and the material is injected into a mold. There, heat and pressure are used to force the mixture into a solid bar shape. Once the adhesive is fully dried the bars are then sliced down into individual planks and tiles for flooring.
The final material is planed and sanded multiple times to ensure a flat even surface on every side. A finishing agent or stain may also be applied prior to distribution.
Engineered "Click-Together" Bamboo Floors
While engineered flooring looks like it is made of solid pieces of bamboo, there is actually very little natural bamboo in each piece. Rather, the plant stalk is sliced into very thin sheets and then is adhered to a backing material. A wear layer is installed over the top of the tile or plank to protect the bamboo veneer, while the bottom of the tile also gets a waterproof layer of protection. Sandwiching the actual bamboo between those two surfaces makes it nearly impervious to moisture and stains.
Advantages: Engineered flooring is extremely strong, durable, and easy to maintain. It looks very much like real, natural bamboo, but without any of the hassle and concerns. Often available in click-together tiles, it can be installed even by an amateur, and individual tiles can be removed and replaced if damaged. It can also us a better form of bamboo to use in wet environments, although there is some debate on the wisdom of using of bamboo in any form in any moist environment.
Disadvantages: You cannot refinish an engineered bamboo floor. While the wear layer is quite durable it will degrade over time and once it does, the floor will need to be replaced.
Applications: When properly installed, engineered bamboo can be suitable for nearly any location, both above- and below grade. In high traffic environments, you may need to purchase tiles with a thicker wear layer to slow down degradation.