Bamboo Flooring Styles & Construction
Horizontal and Vertical Solid
A bit confusing? Originally all we had was horizontal and vertical bamboo in two distinct colors; natural and carbonized. Some variations of the latter include carbon, caramel, and charcoal. Variations depend on who you're talking to or what name each manufacturer has placed on them.
Pictured on the right we have a 3 ply horizontal natural of standard 5/8" thickness. During construction one inch pieces are laid horizontally then glued together to form the appearance shown. Hence the term horizontal.
With solid 3 ply products, lengths should also be considered. While some manufacturers only offer three foot lengths, others have six foot lengths which are deemed more visually appealing after the floor is installed.
Vertical type solid products are constructed reversely; or the pieces are laid vertical to one another and glued together. Shown on the right is an example of a solid vertical carbonized product.
Often we're asked which is harder or more durable. Folks, unfortunately nobody seems to have the answers. We've talked to many manufacturers and get conflicting answers. Toss a coin, whatever looks more appealing should be chosen. Mentioned numerous times on our site, care and maintenance will always dictate the longevity of any flooring type.
Still another term gets thrown into the equation. Contrary to popular belief, engineered products (below) are not made entirely of bamboo. As of this date September 20, 2014 there are many forms on the market leading many to wonder once again; "what's a quality engineered...and what are its purposes?" The engineered variety offers more stability and will resist cupping. Although solid products are described as moisture resistant, engineered offers a more worry free advantage within areas of questionable moisture conditions.
Plies? What's the difference? 5 ply or 8 ply? The more plies you have the more dimensional stable the product becomes. In other words, expansion and contraction is minimal, but this has brought on some skepticism in recent years.
Three Ply Floating Floors
Three ply floors are generally used for floating floor systems, or what many are accustomed to calling longstrip floors. Most brands run 7 1/2" inches in width and vary from 74 to 87 inches in length.
Micro Bevel or Square Edge?
Most all solid and engineered products are micro beveled to some extent. Click or glued floating floors are for the most part square edged, or having a uniform smooth appearance at the board seams between planks.
There are some companies that provide prefinished stained floors. A few manufacturers include Greenwood Products and DuraDesign, with the latter having more color choices or 50 at last count.
Hand Scraped & Distressed
Hand Scraped products are no different than hand scraped hardwood floors. For the most part, products will be longer in length and constructed in engineered or three ply fashion.
Something we noticed very recently in late 2014 is what we perceive to be an antique distressed product with random widths to boot. Manufactured by Dasso bamboo they describe the product as being a pressed bamboo where the nodes are flattened providing more of an elongated appearance.
The manufacturing process involves using the entire bamboo shoot or pole and flattening it under pressure. This is quite different from standard bamboo flooring where multiple strips are used in the construction. Available in ten different colors, it is also manufactured in a ¾ inch thickness which is rare with bamboo flooring. Unfortunately the lengths are what one would normally see with an engineered hardwood, reaching only 48 inches.
If you're seeking durability, strand woven is the choice! These floors offer the durability in the way they are manufactured. Similar in ways when comparing a wooden bar top finish. For the latter, hardened acrylic is used to protect the surface while becoming dent resistant and keeping the underlying material protected.
Not Just One Appearance
With strand floors the procedure is somewhat different. Instead of a heavy top coating, the resins are mixed with fibers shredded from the tree itself. Shredding can take place with smaller particles or larger ones making the outcome different. One can have a finer appearance or what could be called rustic (shown right and offered by elegant-floors.com).
What Sizes Do They Offer?
In earlier days when strand came into being, the more traditional 3 3/4" wide appearance was only offered. Since, other variations have come into play including wider planks that can be floated, stapled or nailed to proper sub floor bases. In all cases, wider planks will be offered as an engineered type floor and not the solid. One popular manufacturer includes the Teragren Synergy line that measures almost eight inches in width, and is installed by the easier self locking floating floor system. The application is also used widely by Kahrs, one of the premier floating floor manufacturers of today.
If you've ventured into other pages on our site you'll find durability is a tricky one. The overall hardness can play an important role in how durable it really is. Considering strand adds another element to the pie in the type of resin they use in the manufacturing process, hardness numbers can be trusted more. We've done our own unscientific testing and rest assured these products are up to snuff in what they report. The bell weather used in hardness reporting is a standard solid Red Oak. Most strand woven products exceed the Red Oak hardness two fold.
I Like The Look But Not The Color. Any Options?
The last we noticed Dura-Design had over 20 color options with their strand product line, including near white floors to some darker tones in what they call Leather, Arabica, and Lava. Shown on the right is their Stormy White color. If Dura Design cannot satisfy your color desires, any strand product can be installed unfinished and custom colored on site by knowledgeable professionals.
While we realize options in bamboo today can be overwhelming. Those lured to the mystique that don't live in the most careful household, strand woven products may be a viable option due to their inherent construction makeup.
As with all flooring products, increased durability is not an anecdote to not maintaining and caring for the floor. All products will damage and scratch given the right conditions.
Finding matching bamboo stair treads with the flooring you’ve purchased may not be the simplest task. Reasons being manufacturers tend to have different shades in their respective lines. However if the staircase is away from the bulk of the flooring installation it may not become an issue. Some, but not all manufacturers offer complimenting treads and risers.
For the most part treads will arrive in an overall thickness of ¾ inch. There are sources offering thicker treads or ones that can be used as part of an open sourced staircase or more structural and decorative. In this case a two inch thickness would suffice, but will depend on local building codes.
Regarding length, the most common item will be 48 inch. Unlike natural wood stair treads we have not encountered too many offering what is more of a natural dimension with most homes being built today. 36 inches is considered standard.
I know what you may be asking yourself. “If they’re four feet long and my stairs are three feet…” Unfortunately there can be a large waste factor when it comes to stair building, particularly treads. Some companies do sell six foot lengths that would seem to work perfect with standard stairs. What is often unknown are the actual dimensions and the cuts made to make them fit.
For example, let’s say we have 12 steps to cover. The existing stair measurements can range from under 36 inches wide to over 36. I’ve seen them vary by ¼ to ¾ inch. In this case buying one tread for two steps may not work.
How Are These Floors Made?
Bamboo flooring originates from the bamboo stalk itself. After harvest, which takes approximately six years for more mature products, logs are sliced into individual long strips and ready for further processing. Following the slicing process, strips are cut near the approximate width of what we see in the stacked horizontal appearance.
In most cases the next step is the darkening process that brings out the carbonized color. Strips are often steamed under pressure (shown right). Natural colored bamboo keeps it's original appearance after being boiled to eliminate sugars and insects.
The carbonization process reduces the overall hardness; one reason why we don't advocate the darker products in high traffic areas. They will show more damage given the right amount of punishment or use.
In most cases? Yea, we know it's a broad generalization. Unfortunately with bamboo there are no governing organizations such as what we have in the states with hardwood flooring. This is one reason we see very cheap priced products being sold. Whether or not they follow practices to insure a quality product is in doubt. It's a real wild card when appealing low priced floors look attractive.
Following the purifying process inspection takes place to grade bamboo. There's always a market for good or marginal product. Grades A or B are sorted. B grades are often sold to discounters who inevitably use it for their two dollar lines.
At this point, strips are often kiln dried to assure an acceptable moisture content. Final milling of strips take place. The final phase before finishing is gluing. During the production process, glued strips are assembled face up for horizontal flooring and side by side for the vertical construction. This is followed by hot pressing, where heat and pressure of up to 1,200 tons PSI binds the strips together.
Lower grade products often use more formaldehyde resins in the gluing process. How much is not known, as once again, there are no governing organizations in China overseeing production. More quality, better known brands sold in the USA exceed indoor air quality requirements for formaldehyde emission.
Final Milling & Finishing
Once blanks (strips glued into boards) are completed milling takes place. Flooring is constructed the same as ordinary hardwood flooring with a tongue and groove system. However, common thickness can be found at 5/8" for solid 3 ply and vertical. Unlike traditional solid hardwood flooring that comprises one full piece of wood, each common 3 5/8" bamboo board consists of 15 strips for horizontal construction and 19 for vertical.
Finish quality will vary with all bamboo flooring. The same can be said with lower priced hardwood flooring, but we've run across several products that lack anything resembling quality. To sum it up, it's like anything being bought or sold today; you get what you pay for. Our suggestion; choose proven brands or brand lines that are sold in retail showrooms.