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Bamboo Countertops

Durable, Green & Unique

Bamboo is a pretty remarkable material and bamboo countertops are just one example of this material's versatility. If you've been trying to find an alternative countertop material that looks unique but still offers good functionality, bamboo might be a good choice.

The key to success with bamboo countertops however is understanding that they're not made from a homogeneous slab of bamboo but rather, an "assembly" of sorts of pieces of bamboo, much like plywood is a fusion of several layers of wood. It's also important to know that bamboo material has different characteristics based on how it's constructed.

There are other points to consider about bamboo like matching the right finish to the intended purpose and making sure it's installed properly.

Bamboo has a lot of great attributes and while it makes for a good countertop choice, it's not just an 'install-and-forget' kind of material.

Take a few moments to become familiar with bamboo and how it's used to make countertops. That will help you make an informed decision about whether it's the right choice in the first place and which type and style suits you best.

Read on to learn more and see if it's a good match for your taste and needs.

What You Should Know About Bamboo Countertops

To understand whether bamboo is good choice for a countertop material you first need to first understand something about the material itself. It's versatile, strong and beautiful but it also has some unique characteristics that govern how it's "put together" into a countertop surface.

Important Facts About Bamboo's Construction

Bamboo material, particularly in the form that's used for countertops, looks, feels and responds like wood. To be technically correct however, it's not wood but a form of grass.

The key point to understand about most things made from bamboo is that as a building material, bamboo is an "engineered" product. It's an 'assembly' of sorts of many pieces of bamboo that are glued together to form boards and panels, similar to how plywood is made.

bamboo countertopPhoto Courtesy Of Teragren LLC

The reason for this is because the bamboo plant's "trunk" (actually known as the "culm") is hollow. There's no way to extract wide or thick boards of bamboo like you can with large trees. Instead, the walls of the culm are sliced into strips and then glued together in various configurations to make the boards and panels used for things like countertops, cabinets and flooring.

Bamboo material, and as a result, bamboo countertops, are made using four different configurations of bamboo construction:

  • Vertical Grain - strips of bamboo are glued together in a vertical orientation.

  • bamboo vertical grainPhoto Courtesy Of Totally Bamboo

  • Horizontal ("Flat" or "Face") Grain - the bamboo strips are laid together with their side edges touching each other and the wider "face" on the visible surface.

  • bamboo flat grainPhoto Courtesy Of Totally Bamboo

  • End Grain - the ends of the bamboo strips are cut off and positioned so that the ends are face-up/down much like an end-grain butcherblock.

  • bamboo end grainPhoto Courtesy Of Totally Bamboo

  • Strand Woven - this construction method uses strands of bamboo (rather than cut strips) combined with adhesive that are pressed together under high pressure.

  • strand woven bambooPhoto Courtesy Of Teragren LLC

The significance of grain orientation is that it affects the overall look and hardness of the resultant product. Vertical grain, end grain and strand bamboo are usually the hardest forms. Horizontal grain bamboo shows the "knuckle" or node that is typical of a bamboo stalk. When you shop for bamboo countertops you'll see that they're offered in one of these grain orientations or perhaps a combination.

If you like the look of butcherblock countertops then choosing an end grain bamboo will be your best option. If you prefer the look of wood grain and all the natural but irregular characteristics that come along with it, choose horizontal grain bamboo or strand bamboo.

For the record, strand bamboo looks more like the grain of real wood whereas horizontal (or face/flat) grain bamboo shows off the characteristic linear grain that's periodically interrupted by the nodes.

Bamboo Countertop Finishes And Sealers

You have the option of using several different types of sealers as a finish on the bamboo. Tung oil is a good choice as it provides a good barrier to water when applied in sufficient coats. The down-side is that it's derived from nuts and may cause adverse reactions in persons with nut allergies who are exposed to a countertop treated with it.

Other sealers include mineral oil or a combination of mineral oil and beeswax. This is usually recommended when using your countertop as a cutting/food-prep surface. You could also opt for plant-based sealers, like AFM's Safecoat® products. Traditional finishes for wood like polyurethane and varnishes can also be used but you want to be sure that any material you choose will be safe for contact with food. Most makers of bamboo countertops will offer one or several types of sealer finishes or recommend sealers that they believe to be beneficial for the product.

Bamboo Makes For Green (Eco-Friendly) Countertops

Bamboo is a green, environmentally conscious material because when managed responsibly, it is a fast, sustainable source of raw material for a wide variety of uses.

Bamboo grows very rapidly and reaches harvestable maturation in 4 to 7 years. Compare that to a hardwood or even an evergreen tree which takes much longer to reach the point where it can provide a useful amount of material. When harvested, the roots of the bamboo plant are also preserved and the same plant will regenerate usable product within another 5 years.

bamboo countertopPhoto Courtesy Of Teragren LLC

If you want to use green materials in your kitchen, bamboo countertops are a great way to make that happen along with composite and recycled countertops. To take the green concept one step further, you can look for bamboo countertop products and manufacturers that have Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. This means that the bamboo is sourced from plantations that are operated in a responsible and environmentally sustainable way.

The Cost Of Bamboo Countertops

How much your new bamboo countertops will cost obviously depends on how large an area you need cover, the specific bamboo product you choose and who will install it (you or a paid contractor). In general, bamboo's cost-per-square-foot is typically very competitive compared to other types of countertop materials like stone, quartz and solid surface. You won't find it as inexpensive as laminate countertops but depending on the product and maker, it can be a good mid-point between the low-cost and more premium countertop materials.

Publisher's Comments

Pricing obviously changes year over year based on demand and other economic forces. Rather than quote specific numbers here where they might quickly become outdated, I think a better alternative is to let you know how you can easily get some ball-park numbers on bamboo countertop costs yourself.

A lot of bamboo countertops are sold in either pre-fabricated form or in raw-stock form (sheets of bamboo material). There are a number of manufacturers that list the cost of bamboo material on their website. They'll either specify the cost per square foot or a total cost in the case of pre-made countertops. For the latter, just divide the total cost by amount of square feet to get the square-foot cost.

You can see who makes bamboo countertops in the 'sources' section below.

Bamboo Color Choices

While bamboo looks and acts a lot like wood countertops it doesn't share all of wood's characteristics. Bamboo's natural color is a light blond but it can be darkened through a process called "carbonization" which tends to give it a more brownish hue. However with bamboo you don't have the wide range of grain or color options like you do with wood.

Staining bamboo countertops is at best said to be "application-specific". Some sources will tell you not to do it because of the lack of uniformity that results. Others will say that it can be done. Check with your bamboo countertop supplier if you're interested in this option. Better yet, if you're really interested in staining your bamboo the best option would be to try it on some test pieces first to see if you like the results.

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Bamboo Counter Tops Pros & Cons

Bamboo countertops might not be considered the most common form of kitchen work top material but that's not the result of any gross deficiencies with bamboo. Bamboo countertops have a lot of great features but like any material there are highs and not-so-highs that you should think about. Here's a list of pros and cons to consider:

bamboo countertopPhoto Courtesy Of Totally Bamboo

The Pros . . .

  • A Green, Eco-Friendly Material
    Bamboo is a renewable, sustainable natural resource that regenerates quickly. If you're looking for some green options for your kitchen upgrade, bamboo ranks up there as one of the top choices.
  • Hard & Durable
    The right type of bamboo (typically "Moso") that's harvested at the right time is a very hard material. In some cases, it's harder than oak and maple. That makes for a good countertop choice because with countertops, the more durable the better.
  • Moderate Price Point
    Bamboo won't be the cheapest countertop you can buy but certain styles and brands can be very competitive or flat-out beat the cost of stone, quartz or solid surface tops.
  • It's A Renewable Surface
    Bamboo, like wood, is renewable. That means if it gets scratched it can be sanded and re-sealed. Try that with quartz or laminate countertops.
  • Unique & Attractive Appearance
    Obviously everyone's tastes are different but it's hard to deny the fact that bamboo has a unique and attractive appearance and one that's not really replicated in any other type of countertop material. It's available in several different styles (grain orientations) to suit your style and usability needs.

bamboo countertopPhoto Courtesy Of Totally Bamboo

. . . and the Cons

  • Yes It's Hard But Not Indestructible
    OK, so bamboo is hard -- that doesn't mean your bamboo countertops will never dent, scratch or chip. Think about what the edge of a heavy can of soup would do if accidentally dropped on the countertop. You also can't put hot pans on the surface because the heat can damage the finish, the bamboo surface, the glues holding it together or all three.
  • Takes More Care Particularly In Wet Areas
    Bamboo is a lot like wood in that it needs sufficient protection from water. If you install bamboo around wet areas like a sink you'll need to ensure it's well protected/sealed.
  • It's A Glued Structure
    The fact that a bamboo countertop is a glued structure isn't bad in and of itself. However we are talking about a countertop surface (as opposed to a floor) so you'll want to make sure that the glues that are used are both food-safe and formaldehyde-free. Manufacturers of bamboo countertops and plywood should have this information readily available.
  • Limited Number Of Styles & Shades
    Compared to other countertop surfaces bamboo has a limited range of "looks". The grain orientations provide a few style options and you can get a carbonized bamboo that's darker than the typical blond color of bamboo. You run out of options beyond that however. Staining bamboo might be a possibility but be aware that results may be variable as explained in the 'color choices' section above.

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Points To Consider Before Deciding

Beyond the pros and cons there are a few more facts you should consider relative to bamboo countertops. You might say that they're "neutral", but worthwhile nonetheless to consider before making a final decision.

  • Bamboo Expands & Contracts
    Bamboo, like wood, moves in response to changes in temperature and humidity and can't be restrained too tightly once installed. Some bamboo countertop and plywood manufacturers give detailed instructions for installing bamboo countertops. If you (or your installer) don't pay close attention to them, you might have problems with your countertops down the road.

    This characteristic also plays a role when sealing the bamboo. Your bamboo countertop should be sealed in a "balanced" manner meaning that the top AND bottom of the material should be sealed with the same number of sealer/finish coats. Again, pay close attention (or make sure your installer does) to the installation instructions provided by the source of your bamboo countertop.

  • Do Your Homework
    Good bamboo (durable and high quality) comes from reputable sources that harvest bamboo at the right time and use quality adhesives and finishes. When you investigate various makers of bamboo material check to see what information they provide about these aspects of bamboo sourcing. Is the bamboo harvested around 5 years of age (give or take a bit)? How much information do they offer about the types of glues and/or sealants they use? Are they safe for food-prep and do they contain any formaldehyde?

    The bottom line here is that you don't want to get just any old bamboo from Joe's bamboo shop. Find out how long the maker has been working with bamboo and how well they stand behind their product.

  • Warranties
    Find out what kind of warranty (if any) comes with your bamboo worktop or the plywood you buy to have made into a countertop. What you want to look for here is some form of coverage against delamination and separation since bamboo worktops are a glued-together structure. As with all product warranties, make sure you read the fine print and understand both what is and isn't covered.
  • Sealing & Finishing
    Think about how you plan on using a bamboo countertop, whether as a 'standard' countertop or like a cutting board. These decisions will affect the type of bamboo construction (grain orientation) as well as the kind of sealer you choose. Good sources of bamboo countertops and plywood typically provide information on the types of sealers they provide and/or recommend.

    Also remember that some sealers, like mineral oil, require more maintenance in terms of repeat applications to maintain and protect the bamboo surface. And don't forget that Tung oil, although a good sealer, is derived from nuts and may cause allergic reactions as mentioned above.
  • Larger Countertops May Have Seams
    Because bamboo material used for countertops comes in finite sheet sizes like plywood there are limitations to how much area can be covered without seams. Seams might not be a big deal to you but just keep in mind that if you have a large kitchen island you want to cover that exceeds standard stock sizes, you may end up having one or more seams in your countertop.

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How & Where To Get Them

You could say that bamboo is somewhat less conventional than other countertop materials like solid surface or laminate which have been used for decades. As a result, not every countertop fabricator offers bamboo as one of their specialties. All that means is that you may or may not have a local countertop shop in your area that can fabricate and install a bamboo counter. On the other hand, there are sources that can make and ship the product to you for installation by yourself or a contractor that you hire.

bamboo countertop edge detailBamboo Countertop Edge Detail
Photo Courtesy Of Totally Bamboo

Looking Locally

Your first option is to look for a local remodeler or countertop fabricator in your area that offers bamboo in its inventory of materials. Simply searching on the internet for "bamboo countertops (your city)" will get you started.

If you do find a local shop that can do the work be sure you're confident in their process and how well they back up their product and installation (don't forget the 'considerations' noted above).

The benefits of using a local source include being able to work directly with the fabricator, face to face. That streamlines the communication process. It also relieves you of having to take the measurements of your countertop area since this is something they can do as part of their service.

Using Non-Local Or National Branded Sources

There are a number of makers of bamboo products that make countertops and either ship them to you or they have a network of dealers that offer their products. As an example of the latter, Teragren has a dealer network for their products -- it's just a matter of whether one of them is located near you or not.

Some sources offer pre-fabricated bamboo countertops that you can order to install yourself (or have installed by a contractor). Many of these sources provide detailed installation instructions on how to do this. Custom orders are possible too but this requires that you provide detailed measurements of your countertops that you provide. The countertop is then shipped to you when it's completed.

Finally, there's the DIY route. You can buy pre-made bamboo countertops (usually offered in a few sizes) or buy bamboo plywood and make and install them yourself. There are plenty of sources of both types of products.

As a reference here's an alphabetical sampling of bamboo countertop sources to help get you started:

Bamboo Revolution
Cali Bamboo
Endura Wood
Green Building Supply (they also sell Teragren products)
Smith & Fong (sells Plyboo® bamboo plywood & panels)
Totally Bamboo

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Here's More Related Info That Might Be Helpful...

Choosing Wood Countertops - Wood was the original worktop but today's choices include an abundance of wood species and styles.

Butcherblock Countertops - Butcherblock is a style of countertop all its own that you can use for utility, a unique style or both.

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