05/01/2014

Inside the Bamboo Biz

When it comes to making bamboo flooring, there’s a cheap way to do it, and then there’s the right way to do it.

 

When it comes to making bamboo flooring, there’s a cheap way to do it, and then there’s the right way to do it. Unfortunately, the cheaply manufactured product often looks identical on the shelf, and it’s only after the flooring is installed that end-users will start to notice the difference in performance.

We sat down with David Keegan, COO of Bamboo Hardwoods, to learn the ins and outs of the manufacturing process, and identify those critical, invisible decisions manufacturers must make every step of the way to ensure bamboo flooring products will stand the test of time once they’re installed. Here’s what you need to know—and what you need to ask the manufacturer—to specify bamboo without getting bamboozled.

Process Good Manufacturer Bad Manufacturer

sourcing

Bamboo sourced at harvest maturity of 5 or 6 years is the densest and hardest, and maintains the health of the grove overall.

Bamboo sourced from the more temperate climate zones in China’s northern provinces are more dimensionally stable, with densely packed cells that won’t move as much after the manufacturing process (installed).
 

Bamboo sourced too young is not strong enough, and over-harvesting weakens the root system of the grove. Bamboo sourced too late begins to decay and get brittle, leading to weaker product performance.

Bamboo sourced from the tropical south shoots quicker, which leads to elongating cells that are less dimensionally stable.
 

drying

Specially-trained workers operate high-tech kiln rooms designed for optimal air circulation, and rely on computer-controlled monitoring points to ensure the bamboo is evenly dried to a specific moisture content level. The finished product expands and contracts uniformly with changing temperatures and humidity levels in the built environment, so flooring remains even and level year-round.

 

Unskilled laborers keep open-flame fires burning in concrete bunkers, and rely on uneven natural air flows and fan ventilation to dry the bamboo. Moisture content is not measured and bamboo dries depending on its proximity to the flames—causing the finished product to move, crack, check, warp, or buckle as it reacts unevenly to changing temperatures and humidity levels in the built environment.

Adhesion

Bamboo is glued using specially-formulated adhesives designed for bamboo-to-bamboo bonds. These are most commonly specified from European manufacturers, where on-hand chemists provide technical support, full product warranties, and disclosures.

Roller machines apply adhesives at even levels—measured down to grams per square meter—to ensure the finished product performs consistently.
 

Bamboo is glued using generic adhesives from one of hundreds of pop-up domestic Chinese manufacturers.

Price is the only determining factor, and products come with no warranty, performance description, or disclosure of contents.

Adhesives applied in uneven quantities create inconsistencies in the finished product’s performance.
 

Pressing

Particularly important with strand woven bamboo flooring, large-scale presses exert 100,000 metric tons of pressure evenly across the entire press bed, so that the finished product has a uniform density and greater dimensional stability.

 

Weak presses exert inadequate and uneven amounts of pressure, so the finished product is denser in some areas than others, and more prone to shifting and damage.

Milling

Finished planks made with high-quality machinery are square and perpendicular, so all parts interlock perfectly, leaving a smooth and evenly finished flooring surface.
 

Inconsistencies in finished planks may lead to rough or uneven edges that can cause splintering or stubbed toes.
 

Finishing

Similar to adhesives, proper finishes are heavily researched and scientifically formulated to meet the unique requirements of bamboo. Quality control teams from the bamboo manufacturer and the European finish manufacturer do on-site factory checks to ensure the proper materials are being used and machines are calibrated according to specification.
 
Generic finishes selected with cost-savings in mind may not hold up to wear and tear in the built environment. Inappropriate materials may warp or bubble on the surface, or wear away and need to be replaced shortly after initial installation.
 

Installation

Reliable manufacturers see their product through to final installation, offering guidance for the unique circumstances each project presents. In particular, they can serve as a helpful liaison between the installer and the adhesive manufacturers to find the best possible solution for the surrounding materials in the space. Ideally, they will present all recommendations in writing, with a performance guarantee. Questionable manufacturers consider the sales relationship closed at the moment of purchase. Any questions that may arise in the installation process will be for the designers and contractors to resolve.
 

 
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