How Strong Is Bamboo & Is It A Wood?

There are over 1600 species of bamboo, and one of them is the fastest-growing plant in the world, pushing itself up approximately 1 meter per day.  Although tree-like, bamboo is actually grass.  It is strong and durable, and because it grows so fast, it has become a very popular and sustainable building material.

How strong, you ask? Is it stronger than steel?   Bamboo fiber is 2 – 3 times stronger than timber.  Its tensile strength is stronger than steel.  That tensile strength comparison is 28,000 per square inch to 23,000 per square inch.  If you find this hard to believe, try to break a large bamboo cane in two.

Bamboo plants spread by sending out rhizomes, or underground stems, and shoots arise from the rhizomes.  Roots grow downward from the rhizomes to seek water, and more rhizomes spread.  Some species of bamboo toss shoots that are strong enough to push through macadam.  Some bamboo can also be heard when it grows. 

It is a very sustainable crop.  It requires no fertilizers and self-regenerates from its own rhizomes.  Thus, it does not need to be replanted every year.  Even cutting off the tops presents no problem for the bamboo plant, as new leaves will grow from it and provide energy to the roots and rhizomes beneath the ground, allowing the plant to toss new shoots.

You can understand, then, why bamboo would be good for the environment.  Self-propagating, requiring no fertilizer, fast-growing.  Its speed of growth means more carbon dioxide is absorbed, and bamboo gives off upwards of 30% more oxygen than the equivalent mass of trees.

If you have planted bamboo in your garden, and it is not one of the clumping varieties, your bamboo garden will become a bamboo jungle.  It is highly invasive and will take over any space where it is planted. 

While native to east and southeast Asia, it now grows all over the world and in virtually any climate.  Many varieties of bamboo grow well in cold climates as well as tropical forests

Bamboo flooring has become very popular today.  People choose it as an alternative to other types of woods because it is much cheaper than more traditional hardwood flooring options like oak and maple.  The durability of bamboo flooring makes it an attractive alternative to more conventional woods.

The Strength of Bamboo

The Strength of Bamboo

In tests conducted to measure the compressive strength of bamboo against various woods, bamboo held its weight, so to speak.  In those tests, bamboo measured 38% stronger in compressive strength than Douglas fir and 109% greater than white pine.

Its bendability, too, fared well in comparisons to other woods, in both ways.  Its stiffness was greater than that of white spruce and white pine but a little less than that of Douglas fir and red oak. 

Is Bamboo Stronger than Oak?

Bamboo has a Janka hardness rating of between 1300 to 1400.  The Janka hardness test, created by Gabriel Janka, measures the resistance of a piece of wood to denting and wear.  It involves the force necessary to embed a steel ball into the wood. 

Bamboo’s Janka hardness rating makes it harder than most oak flooring.

Is Bamboo Stronger Than Maple

Maple is one of the densest and hardest woods and is a popular choice in furniture making and hardwood flooring.  Yet, bamboo is harder than maple while also being much lighter and less expensive.

Is Bamboo Stronger Than Concrete?

Distinguishing between tensile strength and compressive strength, bamboo does have a higher compressive strength than many mixtures of concrete.  It’s a high-strength material that is sometimes used as reinforcement for concrete.

However, bamboo does shrink over time, and in some applications, can be victim to fungus and insects if not sufficiently treated.  That shrinkage can be problematic when bamboo is used in concrete. 

A Few Words About Bamboo Flooring

Bamboo Flooring

Bamboo flooring, though, is treated and can be a long-lasting surface that is much less likely to scratch or dent than less-hard woods like maple.

Its cell structure is dense, and bamboo is highly water-resistant.  However, it is not water-proof.  When used as flooring, it is important to wipe spills fairly quickly and not allow them to stand for long. 

You will want to apply a floor sealant once a bamboo floor is installed, and for durability, urethane is a good choice once a year to maintain its appearance and shield it from standing spills that can cause it to warp or discolor.  When properly finished, bamboo flooring is easy to clean with a mop and mild soap. 

There are also bamboo-specific cleaners.  Bam-Brite Bamboo Floor Cleaner Spray is one such product, although other cleaners for hardwood floors not specific to bamboo will also do a good job.   Even Swiffer has a wet-jet specific for cleaning hardwood floors that will work well with bamboo.

We’ve established that bamboo is a grass and not a tree.  So, the answer to the question is no; bamboo is not the strongest wood in the world.  But, it is stronger than most woods.

Bamboo Wood

Bamboo is very much like the old children’s toy, Weebles.  Weebles wobbled, but they didn’t fall down.  When winds blow or snow falls, bamboo will bend all the way to the ground; when the wind stops blowing or the snow melts, it stands upright again, no less for the wear. 

They yield, unlike an oak that will try to stand up to high winds.  You won’t see bamboo uprooted in a storm, but you will see an oak suffer that fate.  Perhaps the lesson in that is to be more willing to yield in life, weather the storm, and stand tall again when it subsides.

Bamboo may be a grass, but you need more than a mower to bring it down.  It makes excellent fencing material and great flooring material that lasts for many years. 

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