How Strong is Bamboo?

How we still overlook bamboo, especially for construction and common woodworking applications, is a mystery. It’s readily available in many regions, dirt-cheap, and more durable than most wood species. 

We believe it’s because most woodworkers don’t understand just how strong bamboo wood is. So, today, we want to help you appreciate the strength of bamboo floors and furniture.

How Strong is Bamboo Wood?

Bamboo is extremely strong, with a compressive strength of 14,000 PSI. For reference, concrete has a compressive strength of 2,500 PSI. Also, bamboo’s estimated Janka hardness rating of 1300 lbf to 1600 lbf makes it harder than most hardwoods, including oak, and more comparable to hard maple. Interestingly, strand-woven bamboo is 2x stronger!

What is Bamboo?

Bamboo, from the subfamily Bambusoideae, is a tree-like grass with a hard, hollow, woody stem. It’s one of the most sustainable materials. 

Bamboo grows in tropical forests but is also found in temperate regions. The heaviest concentration of bamboo plants is found in East and Southeast Asia. You’ll also find large bamboo forests in the islands of the Indian and Pacific oceans. 

Bamboo wood properties

Bamboos are fast-growing perennial evergreens. Indeed, some bamboo species grow by a foot (30 cm) per day, making them the fastest-growing plant.

The woody ringed stems grow to 15 cm while the heights reach a staggering 40 meters in some areas. Bamboo also self-regenerates.

The main plant sends out underground stems, known as rhizomes, which produce shoots that grow into new plants. Therefore, it’s extremely eco-friendly and one of the most sustainable building materials.

However, most species produce flowers and seeds at least once in a lifetime, typically at 12-40 years. 

Is Bamboo Strong?

Yes, bamboo is very strong. Indeed, it’s one of the strongest woods in the world, beating the likes of oak and maple. 

The high silica content makes bamboo fiber extremely strong and durable. Moreover, bamboo has a unique lignin structure that increases its strength.

Also read: Types of Wood Suitable for Cooking Sticks.

How Strong is Bamboo?

There are two main ways to measure the strength of wood and similar materials – compressive strength and Janka rating. You can also consider the tensile strength to be sure.

Let’s see how bamboo performs in each of the three tests.

Bamboo Janka Rating – 1300 lbf to 1600 lbf

The Janka hardness test was first developed in 1922 as an industry standard for testing the strength of wood. It’s named after Gabriel Janka, who did most of the research.

The test involves determining the force required to embed a 0.444-inch steel ball halfway into the wood. The force used is typically measured in kilo Newtons but often converted to pounds for easier understanding.

In other words, it’s a sales technique used to measure the dent resistance of wood.

Unsurprisingly, bamboo scores very highly on the Janka scale. The original bamboo species commonly used in flooring appears in the middle of the scale with a Janka rating of 1300 lbf to 1600 lbf. 

This makes it harder than Mahogany (1400 Janka), red oak (1260 Janka), and sweet cherry (950 Janka). 

However, many homeowners now prefer woven bamboo for parquet floors. You may be interested to know that strand-woven bamboo floors are stronger than common hardwoods, including Hickory and acacia wood.

At about 2,800 lbf on the Janka scale, it rivals threatened species such as the Brazilian cherry (2820). 

Compressive strength: 19.96 MPa to 23.80 Mpa

If you’re not a fan of the Janka rating, compressive strength is a more acceptable strength measurement in the construction industry. It tells you how much load a wood species can withstand parallel to the grain. In other words, how much weight can the wood take parallel to the stem before it buckles?

Again, bamboo scores very highly. One study finds that the maximum compressive strength of untreated 3-4-year-old bamboo culms is 19.96 Mpa at the bottom.

This is equivalent to 13,500 pounds per square inch (PSI) and is 2-3 times the compressive strength of most hardwoods. The strength increases to 23.80 at the top of the bamboo pole. 

Treated bamboo has even higher compressive strength. Standard species measure 36.60 MPa at the top, reducing to about 31.74 MPa at the bottom. The strongest species can reach 44 MPa. For reference, the North American red oak has a compressive strength of 8.60 MPa. 

Tensile strength: 142 MPa to 265 Mpa 

Tensile strength is where bamboo truly excels because this metric examines the strength of individual tree fibers. It’s the force required to pull or stress a single fiber of wood before it breaks.

Three factors determine tensile strength – yield strength, breaking strength, and ultimate strength. Yield strength is the amount of stress the object can bear without deforming permanently.

Meanwhile, breaking strength is the strength needed to break the object. Finally, ultimate strength is the maximum force the object can withstand. 

Bamboo has a yield strength of 142 MPa and an ultimate strength of 265 MPa, though a few species have an ultimate strength of 500MPa. Meanwhile, the tensile strength often ranges from 21,500 PSI to 55,700 PSI or 142 MPa to 256 MPa. 

For reference, most softwoods have a tensile strength in the range of 300-500 PSI, while most hardwoods have tensile strengths in the range of 1,500 to 2800 PSI. 

The high tensile strength tells you that bamboo is unlikely to break under normal use and may even withstand extreme forces in building and construction. Indeed, bamboo is an excellent alternative to steel in construction as it has a higher tensile strength. 

How Strong is Bamboo Compared to Wood?

Rated in the same range as carbon fiber, bamboo is 2-3 times stronger than most woods. At a Janka rating of 1300 to 1600, it’s stronger than nearly all softwoods.

Moreover, it’s stronger than common hardwoods, including oak. The fibers are even stronger. Bamboo fibers are up to 6x stronger than ordinary wood fibers. 

As a result, bamboo easily replaces wood in most woodworking and construction projects. For instance, bamboo flooring is a popular alternative to hardwood flooring. The material provides strong, durable, and low-maintenance floors. 

Similarly, bamboo is a great choice for indoor and outdoor furniture. It makes beautiful furniture that readily withstands external elements, including UV and extreme temperatures. 

Is bamboo the strongest wood? 

No, bamboo isn’t the strongest wood in the world. That honor goes to the Australian Buloke, rated 5060 lbf on the Janka scale. Buloke is an ironwood species native to Australia.

Other hardwoods stronger than bamboo include the Brazilian Olivewood (3,700 lbf), the Brazilian ebony (3692 lbf) and the Brazilian walnut (3684 lbf). 

That said, bamboo is among the hardest woods in the world. For instance, some bamboo species are harder than sugar maple – the industry standard for hardwoods.

Whereas sugar maples rarely exceed 1450 lbf on the Janka scale, some bamboo types reach 1600 lbf. It’s also stronger than black walnut, black cherry, and red oak, the most popular hardwood flooring material. 

Is Bamboo Stronger than Pine Wood?

Yes, bamboo is harder than pine wood. In fact, it’s up to four times harder than some pinewood species.

The following is a short comparison of bamboo and common pinewood species;

  • Bamboo vs sugar pine: Bamboo (1300-1600 lbf) is up to four times stronger than sugar pine (380 lbf). 
  • Bamboo vs white pine: Bamboo (1600 lbf) is up to four times stronger than white pine (380 lbf). 
  • Bamboo vs yellow pine: 1600 lbf bamboo species are almost twice as strong as yellow pine species (870 lbf). 

Is Bamboo stronger than Oak?

Yes, the hardest bamboo species are stronger than oak wood. The following is a comparison of bamboo to the two common oak species.

  • Bamboo vs red oak: Bamboo wood (1300 to 1600 lbf) is slightly stronger than red oak (1290 lbf). 
  • Bamboo vs white oak: Some bamboo species (rated 1400 lbf or below) are as strong as white oak (1360 lbf). However, harder bamboo species are slightly stronger than white oak. 

Read also: Is oak wood good for cutting boards?

Is Bamboo Stronger than Plastic

Yes, bamboo is stronger than all plastics. We’ve already seen that bamboo has a tensile strength of 142 MPa to 256 MPa. So, let’s see how it compares to standard and industrial-grade plastics. 

  • Bamboo vs ABS plastic: ABS plastic is one of the most common plastic materials. It’s used in kitchen utensils, vacuum cleaners, faxes, musical instruments, and plastic toys, to name just a few. Yet, it’s rated 40 MPa. This means some bamboo species are 5x stronger than ABS plastic. 
  • PET plastic: Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) plastic is commonly used in automotive parts, water bottles, industrial strapping, and protective packaging. Yet, you’ll be surprised that it’s only 55 MPa, thus up to 4x softer than bamboo. 
  • High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE): HDPE plastics are strong plastics used for chemical containers, pipe systems, recycling bins, and shampoo bottles. Yet, it’s only 15 MPa, thus more than 20x weaker than bamboo. 

Bamboo is also stronger than polycarbonate (70 MPa). However, it’s in the same range as polyamide-imide (PAI) found in jet engines, internal combustion engines, printed circuit boards, and thrust washers. PAI plastic is rated 21,000 PSI and is the hardest plastic today.

Related article: Is pine stronger than poplar?

Why is Bamboo So Strong?

Bamboo’s exceptional strength properties originate from the natural composite structure of the plant’s fibers.

Bamboo fibers primarily comprise cellulose microfibrils that form a matrix of intertwined hemicellulose and lignin structures known as lignin-carbohydrate complex (LCC). LCC structures give bamboo exceeding strength. 

Uses of Bamboo Wood

  • Cutting boards
  • Siding
  • Pulp
  • Papermaking 
  • Furniture 
  • Biofuel 
  • Roofing
  • Flooring 
  • Woodworking projects

Is Bamboo Good for Furniture Making?

Yes, bamboo is sufficiently strong and durable for furniture making. Its exceptional compressive strength, bending strength and stiffness lend well to indoor and outdoor furniture.

Moreover, bamboo has high dimensional stability, allowing it to withstand weather changes without permanently changing shape. 

Bamboo furniture applications 

You can use bamboo for pretty much any furniture-making project. But it particularly stands out for the following uses;

  • Coffee tables 
  • Shoe racks
  • Folding chairs
  • Nightstands
  • Benches
  • Storage cabinets
  • Bed frames

Bamboo furniture pros and cons

PROS

  • Strong and durable
  • Highly sustainable 
  • Cost-effective 
  • Easy to make 
  • Water-resistant
  • Beautiful

CONS

  • Bamboo is hard to handle
  • It’s relatively expensive 

Is Bamboo Good for Flooring?

Yes, bamboo is one of the best flooring materials. Its high structural integrity makes it resistant to dents and scratches. In addition, it easily withstands foot traffic. 

But most importantly, bamboo is water-resistant and easy to clean. Its high density means there’s little space for water molecules to penetrate. Thus, any spills stay on the floor surface for easy wiping.

Also, it doesn’t stain easily. Nevertheless, you should wipe any spills quickly to prevent soaking. 

We recommend sealing your bamboo floor to increase its durability. A urethane sealer protects the floor from water, spills, discoloration, and warping. It also makes the floor easier to clear.

To give it a more personalized touch, you could also stain your bamboo floor.

Pros and cons of Bamboo floor

The following are a few reasons to consider bamboo floors, plus a few expected challenges to keep in mind;

PROS

  • It’s a sustainable flooring material
  • Strong and durable 
  • Refinishing potential
  • DIY-friendly
  • Easy to maintain 
  • Pest resistant

CONS

  • Limited style options
  • Moisture sensitive 
  • Low-quality bamboo is toxic 

Bamboo flooring vs Hardwood floors

A common question is whether bamboo is a good alternative to hardwood flooring. The following comparison should help you make an informed decision.

  • Durability: Bamboo floors last 10-15 years, depending on the species and added material. Some species can last 30-50 years with good maintenance. Meanwhile, some hardwood floors, such as red oak floors,  last 50+ years with good maintenance. 
  • Moisture resistance: Bamboo floors are highly water resistant but prone to warping. Similarly, most hardwood floors are prone to moisture penetration, except engineered hardwood floors. 
  • Scratch and dent resistance: Bamboo flooring is highly scratch and dent resistant. Contrastingly, many hardwood floors scratch and dent easily unless you seal the floor with highly scratch-resistant finishes. 
  • Cost: Bamboo flooring is more affordable than hardwood flooring. While a bamboo floor costs $2 to $5 per square foot, a hardwood floor costs at least $8 per square foot, with more expensive options costing $30+ per square foot. 
  • Ease of maintenance: Both bamboo and hardwood floors are easy to maintain if the surface is properly sealed. However, bamboo is slightly easier and cheaper to maintain as it’s naturally stronger and more resistant to pests and elements.

Interesting read: Best Wooden Walking Stick.

FAQs

Is bamboo stronger than wood?

Yes, bamboo is 2-3 times stronger than standard wood. It’s harder than all softwoods and several hardwoods, including oak, cedar, and mahogany. Thus, it’s an exceptional choice for construction and general woodworking.  Interestingly, strand-woven bamboo is harder than the likes of hickory and acacia wood. 

Cedar or Douglas fir, which one is stronger: Read on.

How much weight can bamboo hold?

Bamboo, with the compressive strength of a concrete slab, is very strong, almost comparable to mild steel. Therefore, it can hold substantial weight. Typically, a treated bamboo board can take up to 52,000 pounds per square inch. Many tests show that an inch of bamboo holds up to 7.5 tons.

Is bamboo durable?

Yes, bamboo is very durable. But don’t confuse durability with strength. While strength is strictly about weight handling, durability is more concerned with resistance to natural wear and degradation. Fortunately, bamboo is highly resistant to common causes of wear, such as scratches, UV, and dents. 

Is bamboo lighter than wood?

Bamboo, rated 650-980 kgs/m3, is lighter than most hardwoods but heavier than most softwoods. For instance, it’s heavier than pine wood and Douglas fir (400-420 kg/m3 and 530 kg/m3, respectively). It’s also denser than walnut wood (520 kg/m3). However, it’s lighter than American red oak (740 kg/m3) and sugar maple (705 kg/m3). 

Is bamboo actually stronger than steel? 

Bamboo is stronger than some types of steel. For instance, standard steel has a tensile strength of 23,000 PSI, while the strongest bamboo species clock up to 55,000 PSI. However, it’s not harder than all steel types. For instance, stainless steel (621 MPa) is up to 3x stronger than the average bamboo pole. If you’re wondering, bamboo can replace steel in selected applications. 

Is bamboo stronger than concrete? 

Yes, bamboo is stronger than standard concrete slabs. For instance, it has a higher compressive strength. Concrete compressive strength is 2500 PSI, whereas the compressive strength of a bamboo tree is 14,000 PSI. Thus, it’s 3x stronger than pavements and footings. 

Does bamboo last longer than wood?

Yes and no. Yes, because bamboo lasts longer than some softwoods, such as the European silver fir. But not because it’s not as durable as the likes of oak and maple, especially for exterior applications. Whereas bamboo outdoor furniture only lasts 10-20 years, oak patio chairs can last a lifetime with good maintenance. 

Read also: Soft maple vs hard

Summary

Bamboo is one of the best building and construction materials and an excellent wood alternative in many applications, from flooring to furniture. For one, it’s a sustainable building material.

One bamboo plant can be cut and regrown 650 times. But more importantly, it’s beautiful and exceptionally strong. A 1300-1600 lbf Janka rating places it among coveted hardwoods like oak and sugar maple.