Do I need special cutters for sawing and routing bamboo?

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Q:

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.

A:

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.

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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 (18 " 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].

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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.