Photo: Holland Bamboo, St. Elizabeth (South Coast Jamaica)
Is Bamboo a good material for furniture? We seem to think so here in Jamaica. The plant is commonly grown in every parish on the island and you’ll see many stalls, sheds and outdoor seats that are built from bamboo on your visit.
John Hamilton, the managing director of the Original Bamboo factory in Caymanas, St. Catherine, along with his team, has been using Bamboo to make furniture for over 30 years. He recently invited us to his factory to see this being done first hand! You can watch that video here:
How Strong is Bamboo?
You might be wondering “Is bamboo safe to make my furniture?” And the answer is yes, absolutely. As a matter of fact, bamboo is stronger than steel in regards to tensile strength. While steel has a pretty good tensile strength of 23,000 pounds per square inch, bamboo comfortably surpasses that with an impressive 28,000 per square inch.
Also, the fibres in bamboo run latitudinally as opposed to laterally (like in wood) which makes it harder to break in the middle.
How is the Bamboo Prepared for making the furniture?
If you know anything about bamboo, you’ll know it is the favourite of the powder post beetle or as we call them in Jamaica, chichi. Because of this, the bamboo has to be treated to prevent the pests from damaging the furniture.
Mr Hamilton and his team got to great lengths to ensure the bamboo is not eaten by pests after it leaves the factory, This starts with the selection of the bamboo, which must be no less than three years old when cutting. (You can tell how old the bamboo is by how tall it is)
The moon plays a very important role when the bamboo is cut. Jamaicans rely on the moon to decide when to plant or in this case harvest plants. Bamboo is harvested three days before the new moon. It is then left in the bushes, right where it is cut to be dried.
The drying process does not stop there, it is then brought to the factory and clump-cured. The bamboo is left base up in the sun to dry. This causes the water in the bamboo to drain and it lowers the scratch content in the bamboo that makes it such a tasty treat for the pests. The drying process takes a few weeks.
When the bamboo is finally dry, it is bright into the factory and the nodes (joints) are punctured. This is to ensure that when the bamboo is placed in the chemical solution, it is able to get in (and out) of the bamboo easily and the curing process can be completed properly. After it is dipped in the chemical solution, it is then left again to dry. After it dries, you can put it up for storage or you can start the process of making furniture.
When the bamboo is selected to make furniture, the skin (the glossy outside layer), is scrapped completely and placed in the chemical dip yet again, after they have been cut to the desired length needed to make the piece.
It is left to dry again and then finally, they can begin making the furniture.
The surface of the bamboo is scraped because it often prevents the chemicals from adhering to the bamboo as it should. It also might give an uneven finish to the furniture when it is varnished.
A mixture of the shavings from the bamboo and glue is used as a seal for the gaps in the joints of the furniture. The furniture are made from 100% bamboo. Bamboo dowels are used instead of nails to keep the furniture together.
What was the inspiration behind The Original Bamboo Factory?
Mr Hamilton has always had a penchant for travelling the world and so he spent a lot of his younger years finding different countries to visit. On a trip to Thailand, he came across bamboo huts on the beach. Being a Jamaican, he thought furniture from bamboo would be a good idea since we had the plant in abundance on the island and felt we could be doing a lot more with the resource.
While it sparked his interest, it wasn’t until he attended the wedding of a family friend and saw some chairs made from bamboo on the verandah. The chairs were built in the Dominican Republic, brought to Los Angeles, where they were bought and then finally made it to Jamaica. After speaking with a few friends and family about it, he decided to research the business of making furniture from bamboo.
FAQs About Bamboo
How long does bamboo furniture last?
Furniture made from bamboo can last a lifetime. Mr Hamilton has had furniture since he started the company over 30 years ago that are still in perfect condition today. As long as the bamboo is treated and dried properly then the furniture can be used for many years.
Is Bamboo a good material for furniture? Yes, it's light, flexible and strong. It does take a certain knowledge and skill-specific to bamboo and not just wood in general. But it can be done.
Which bamboo is best for furniture? There are different varieties of bamboo that can be used for different pieces of furniture. One of the best for construction though is Guadua Angustifolia. For smaller builds, the best option is to use iron bamboo or Dendrocalamus Giganteus.
What is rattan and how is it different from bamboo?
Rattan is a vine and bamboo is grass. Rattan grows in a very particular climate that isn’t the climate of Jamaica’s rainforest. It isn’t widely used in Jamaica furniture wicker will most likely be used.
Is rattan stronger than bamboo? No. Bamboo is stronger but rattan is quite durable. Rattan is actually in making bamboo furniture at times to bind the joints together for added strength.
Can bamboo furniture be left in the rain? Like many other natural products the bamboo furniture will suffer if left in the rain.
For bamboo furniture made for outdoor areas like verandahs and patios, a specific ultraviolet varnish that are showing good results.
How can you tell if bamboo furniture is real? Faux bamboo is usually perfect. Naturally, every bamboo will have its own unique characteristics, every piece will not be uniformed.
Clients of Bamboo Jamaica
Mr Hamilton and his team have worked with many persons over the years. They have been commissioned to make pieces for Round Hill Hotel, Couples resorts and various guest houses and private villas across the island. They also have worked with Ralph Lauren, and famous writer Chris Blackwell for his GoldenEye home in Jamaica. Reggae stars Luciano and Junior Reid have also gotten furniture made by Bamboo Jamaica.
If you are interested in bamboo furniture too you can visit their Instagram page or website at: https://bamboofurniturestore.com/. They can also be contacted at 8767469906.
What makes Jamaica Special?
The diversity of the people, its a good mixture of backgrounds. Jamaica has spoiled us with unlimited access to the beach, not every country has that. The closeness of everything in Jamaica is good. And the people have a good sense of humour. - John Hamilton
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