Bamboo continues to evolve and has proven itself as a strong, durable floor type option that can withstand significant impact.
Bamboo has continued to evolve throughout the years, with the flooring industry taking significant advantage of its several unique offerings, especially in today’s eco-conscious market where sustainability is key.
To appreciate its value today, one needs to turn back the clock ever so slightly to a time when it made its initial appearance and became noticed for its functionality as a viable floor type. However, as a natural resource in general, bamboo has a history that dates more than 5 000 years. The ancient Chinese used this versatile grass (it is commonly referred to as a hardwood but, technically, bamboo is a grass), for many projects.
There are hundreds of species of bamboo and, like trees, each has its own unique characteristics. Moso bamboo is the species most commonly used for flooring due to its durability. Another intriguing bamboo fact is that it can be harvested without replanting as its root system is left intact when it’s harvested.
The initial use of bamboo in floors was in the form of bamboo stalks cut into endless little strips, which were a naturally straw colour but could also be steamed to yield a caramel colour. These bamboo strips were then laminated together into either of two formats:
A vertical-grain format This yielded a very linear look from the numerous face-glued 0.3mm thick strips, which were 0.6cm wide and yielded flooring 1.6cm thick.
A horizontal-grain format This is as a result of edge-gluing the 0.3mm inch thick by 0.6cm wide strips together to make up the flooring width and then laminating three layers of these edge-glued strips together face to face to make up the flooring’s 0.6cm overall thickness. This horizontal-grain bamboo flooring fully revealed the cross-width “knuckles” that are unique to bamboo.
This type was offered either in its natural cream or carbonised caramel colour with a clear finish on top and could be stained according to individual choice. This original bamboo flooring format is known as Traditional Bamboo.
2003/4 saw the introduction of strand-woven bamboo flooring. In this format, 0,3mm by 0,6mm sawn strips of bamboo were cut from the bamboo stalk and were now partially shredded to open up and expose the stringy bamboo fibre. Thereafter, phenolic resins were added prior to pressing the shredded bamboo under tremendous pressure, yielding a densified bamboo/resin composite product that effectively tripled the hardness of the product.
This product offered clear topcoats in a natural straw colour, the caramelised caramel shade or a mixture of both. For additional colours, the strand-woven bamboo flooring’s surface was stained to the consumer’s colour choice prior to topcoating it. This method took a while to perfect for both installers and manufacturers and to catch up to the proper methodologies to use when installing this product. This is of particular importance as strand-woven bamboo, due to its resin content, does not “breathe” in the same manner as wood flooring and requires a curve to install it properly in various conditions.
In the strand-woven category, recent innovations include:
• Dyeing the shredded bamboo fibres and then adding tints to the phenolic resins prior to pressing them together. This is called “fusing” the colour into the product itself as opposed to just adding a stain on top of the flooring to try to increase the colour options available.
• The “densified” category has expanded beyond just bamboo to include various natural fibres such as wood (including poplar and eucalyptus) from post-industrial recycled veneer sources, mulberry wood recycled from silkworm farms, and coconut recycled from plantations.
The third-phase bamboo flooring is now known as unfurled bamboo and was introduced between 2011 and 2012.
This takes the bamboo stalk and runs a single slit up the length of the stalk. The round stalk is carefully unfurled and flattened into a sheet with a width equal to the circumference of the round stalk (approximately 15-20cm) by the length of the stalk and its wall averaging 0,3cm in thickness.
For the first time ever, bamboo has a wide, single-piece face, with the knuckle running across its full width, taking full advantage of bamboo’s unique cellular and fibre structure. The outer skin is the hardest and most impact-resistant part of the bamboo stalk. In fact, initial ball drop tests on the unfurled bamboo have shown less denting than even on the densified strand-woven format. This sheet can be used as is or as a wearlayer, or three pieces can be laminated together for extra thickness prior to running it into the flooring.
Bamboo is especially unique in that it offers the ability to leave its skin on, with this skin being used as the flooring’s natural finish without the need for a man-made top coating. Alternatively, the skin can be partially removed, and then a tint or topcoat without traditional UV finishes can be used.
Given bamboo’s unfurled newness, it will be exciting to continue witnessing its performance in the industry to see how it matches up to strand-woven bamboo when it was initially introduced into the sector.
Benefits of Bamboo Flooring:
• Ecologically Friendly: Bamboo is natural vegetation and is a highly renewable resource that is able to grow to maturity in as little as three to five years.
• Easy Maintenance: Bamboo is relatively easy to maintain, requiring regular sweeping or vacuuming to remove small-particle debris. An occasional damp mop can be used, or it can be cleaned with a non-wax, non-alkaline hardwood or bamboo floor cleanser.
• Natural Material: The use of natural materials is an important trend in the construction industry and, as such, there is a demand for products that reflect these values. Materials and designs that focus on natural evolution are also being sought.
• Durability: There are certain types of bamboo that are extremely strong, hard and durable. Natural, uncarbonised bamboo that was properly harvested and manufactured can be as strong as red oak.
• Style: Bamboo is a trendy flooring material that can elevate the elegance of a space almost instantly. It has an appearance and feel that is similar to hardwood and yet is still distinct and different. This can add a unique quality to any space.
• Refinishing: Over time bamboo floors may become discoloured, scratched or marred. However, the surface of this material can be refinished by sanding it down and then reapplying finishing coats to give it a fresh new look. The amount of sanding possible would obviously be determined by the thickness of the planks used.
Acknowledgement and thanks are given to William Jopling, CEO of TW Flooring Group and http://flooring.about.com for the information contained within this article.