Bamboo craft revisited: a simple design and building method - Project

Hsiao-Hang and I like very much the fine Japanese bamboo crafts and the minimalism and modulability of Japanese furniture and architecture. So, in the spring of 2018, when we saw that bamboo was growing naturally in the land and the forest surrounding our new house in Taiwan, we were very excited by the idea of harvesting bamboo poles to build our own furniture!

What we love about bamboo are its amazing qualities as a building material. It is very strong while easy to work on, even for woodworking beginners using relatively simple tools. It can grow very quickly, even in poor soils or steep lands, which makes for a wonderful renewable material. And — maybe the most surprising — it grows virtually everywhere, from the tropics to cold mountains under temperatures dropping as low as -30°C (86°F)! This latter asset encouraged us to share our researches and designs, as we know that they could interest and benefit so many people around the planet!

Two key directions of our experiments with bamboo are minimalism and modulability. Minimalism in the style, but also in the number of different types of material used, and in the building process itself: using simple manual tools, minimizing the building steps. Modulability in the sense of making multifunctional objects. By combining different functions in one furniture, or by designing an object composed of independant parts, each of which can be used for other purposes. Minimalism and modulability being, eventually, mimicking nature’s efficiency and elegance.

But these directions are not dogmas. You will also find here furniture in which we combined bamboo with other material, building processes that call for an electrical tool, or monofunctional objects.

So, if you are also a bamboo lover, and if you also want to create your custom renewable and modulable crafts and furniture using simple tools, then keep reading, we gathered some information for you, from designing to building!

Project’s map

Objectives of the project

  • Making our own crafts and furniture, adapted to our needs and modulable,
  • Using a natural material, local and renewable,
  • Using techniques and tools as simple as possible, so that everyone can virtually apply our design to make her own crafts.

Method and timeline

In 2018 and 2019, as we were living in the mountains in Northern Taiwan, we naturally started some explorations and experiments on bamboo harvesting and crafting. In parallel of our first experiments, we got a lot of inspiration from amazing bamboo creations that people share online. If you haven’t yet explored what already exists, we handpicked in the resources section below 6 beautiful and inspiring videos. Observing what people do is a good way to get started in the bamboo craft journey!

Now, we are leaving in Taipei, a huge city. We do not have anymore access to wild bamboo just in front of our door, but, fortunately, we brought with us a few sections of bamboo poles during the moving! Thus, we are still experimenting and creating a few new crafts and furniture. And, of course, we have time to summarize our work to share it here for anyone who would like to give it a try!

In the future, we may share new designs and techniaues. One potential research direction that we might like to explore is the combination of bamboo and mycelium for building small objects and crafts. But this is still at the idea level!

Results so far

A 6-step design method

Designing your own craft or furniture can require a little bit of organisation to make sure the final product stands up and meets your needs!

For very simple crafts, designing can be quite quick and may require only a few sketches. For more complex projects, however, taking some time to list your needs and making more precise sketches can really save time during the building process and make a big difference on the final product.

Thus for complex crafts we use this 6-step design method: (1) making a list of needs, (2) drawing a rough sketch, (3) drawing a precise sketch, (4) making a small 3D model, (5) building the full-size furniture and (6) be prepared for small adjustements later.

A selection of simple techniques and tools

We selected a set of simple techniques and tools, necessary and sufficient for beginners to build almost any bamboo object and furniture, with a simple and elegant style. These techniques are: sawing, splitting, drilling, smoothening, and joining. All of them can be implemented by using manual tools only.

We described each of these techniques with a short video review. To make these reviews, we handpicked and summarized 44 online videos showing XXX highly skilled bamboo craftsmen and craftswomen from more than 15 countries in Asia, America and Africa.

Our tutorials of bamboo crafts and furniture

Inspired by craftsmen and craftswomen from around the world, we started to design and build bamboo crafts for our own use. Here we share 4 examples of our designs. Ideas are not lacking, so we are likely to update this list with more creations in the future!

Overall, these designs can be made with manual tools only, but sometimes an electric driller can make things much easier. Most of the time they call for bamboo as the sole building material, but at times we also use strings or small metal pieces. And, if our preferred joining method is using bamboo dowels, strings can be more adapted in some cases.

We ordered these 4 examples by inscreasing difficulty, although all of them can be made by bamboo and woodworking beginners.

Rustic bamboo trivet for hot pots

We use this insulation pad for hot pans almost every day!

It is a good way to start with bamboo craft. You can make it entirely with manual tools while learning all the necessary techniques used for the larger crafts we propose.

The picture also shows a smaller version of 6.5 x 6.5 cm (2.5 x 2.5 in) from a previous experiment.

  • Level: easy
  • Building time: a few hours to half a day
  • Size: 14 x 14 cm (about 5.5 x 5.5 in)

Elegant bamboo underwear dryer

This multifunction bamboo dryer can be used for hanging small clothes, socks and underwears.

It has 16 clamps, but we usually put much more on it, by attaching some clothes directly on the bamboo sticks.

For just a few hours of work to build, we have already used it several times a week for two years!

  • Level: fairly easy
  • Building time: a few hours to half a day
  • Size: 50 x 50 cm (about 20 x 20 in)

Quadripod bamboo speaker for smartphone

This acoustic bamboo speaker is quite quick to make.

Compared to other homemade bamboo speakers, this one stands out for its four pods creating an aerial and minimalist style.

  • Level: fairly easy
  • Building time: a few hours
  • Size: 14 x 14 cm (about 5.5 x 5.5 in)

Large bushy bamboo shelf

We designed and built this large bamboo furniture to serve as our main shelf for underwears, clothes, linen and many other small objects hanging on the sticks and branches.

Despite its size, it is quite light and can be hold by one person with only a few muscles. And, as suprising as it may sound, it does not require other techniques than what you need for the bamboo trivet: sawing, splitting, drilling, joining!

Here the difficulty comes from the complexity of the structure, the size of the bamboo pieces to manipulate and the building time.

  • Level: difficult
  • Building time: 2-3 days
  • Size: base: 30 x 50 cm (12 x 20 in), total height: 250 cm (98 in)

More ideas at the stage of prototype

Among the many ideas of bamboo craft that I have every week, only very few of them eventually exist! Most of them remain ideas, and a few reach the stage of prototypes.

Here are some open source prototypes that I am happy to share, in case you would find them inspiring, fun, or if you would like to improve them and make them yours!

Read our eBook for all the details

A 6-step design method, 5 elementary techniques explained, 4 bamboo craft tutorials. 50 commented photos and sketches, 5 hours of reading (15000 words).

A visual eBook for the lovers of bamboo, manual crafting and simple living <3

This eBook contains the full description of the 6-step design method, detailed explainations of the set of techniques we selected, and the complete instructions for building our 4 example crafts.

We included a lot of commented pictures and sketches to make our explanations as clear as possible!

Download here

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Resources

Here are some of the most informative and inspiring videos we found online.

Five countries, a lot of creativity, high skills and beautiful gestures. From small objects to very big houses:

  • Bamboo spoon (Japan). Series of 6 videos, total 31 min. fushimiurushikobo, 2008, Curry spoon, bamboo
  • Chasen, matcha whisk (Japan). 4 min. Mista Matcha, 2017, How It’s Made - Bamboo Matcha Whisk (Chasen)
  • Bamboo stool (China). Series of 6 videos, total 57 min. shengfenchien, 2009, bamboo chair
  • Woven bamboo basket (India). 33 min. Dinamos Media B M, 2017, How to Make Bamboo Kula-Indian Bamboo Art
  • Woven bamboo houses (Ethiopia). 35 min. Institute of Nomadic Architecture, 2017, Amazing Woven Bamboo House - Ehtiopia
  • Modern style bamboo houses (Indonesia, Bali). 10 min. Elora Hardy, 2015, Magical houses made of bamboo, TED2015

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