How do I cut bamboo?
I'd like to build some small projects from bamboo, but I've heard it's difficult to work with. Do I need special cutters for sawing and routing bamboo?
—Andy Gomez, Norcross, Ga.
You can use your regular blades and bits, Andy, provided they have sharp carbide tips. Although technically a grass, dried bamboo cuts much like a dense hardwood. There are a few things to be aware of, though, before working with the stuff.
First, because of its long, stringy grain, bamboo splinters easily, especially when cutting or routing across the grain [opening photo] or when routing edge profiles [Photo above]. To minimize this, rout with sharp, clean bits in shallow increments (1⁄8 " or less). When crosscutting, use blades with 80 or more teeth and back up the exit point with a miter-gauge extension to prevent grain tear-out [Photo below].
Also, similar to dense-grain hardwoods, bamboo burns easily from friction, so maintain steady, almost brisk, feed rates. Finally, fresh-cut edges on bamboo can be razor sharp: Ease them with 180-grit sandpaper to avoid cutting yourself.