How to split bamboo stems to craft a woven privacy fence

How To Split Bamboo Stems

Bamboo is a versatile material that can be used for construction and all kinds of DIY projects, from garden trellises to outdoor furniture. Not only is it incredibly strong, but it can also be flexible, especially when split into smaller pieces.

While it might seem daunting, it’s easy to split bamboo stems with the right tools and technique. Whether you use a bamboo splitter or blade, splitting bamboo typically involves immobilizing the stem and cutting into the bamboo to get it to split without too much force. The exact tools and technique you use to split bamboo will depend on the size of your bamboo stems and how many you need to split.

Splitting bamboo is a great way to make use of excess bamboo stems and turn them into something new. Here we’ll take a closer look at the different methods and tools for splitting bamboo stems, along with a few ideas for what you can do with split bamboo!

Why should you split bamboo?

There are many reasons why you might want or need to split your bamboo stems. Split bamboo can be used in many construction and crafting projects, from privacy screens to garden trellises. Other creative applications include outdoor furniture, water features, and tomato cages. The possibilities are endless!

Bamboo tea scoop with the text: How to split bamboo stems for crafts

Split bamboo stems are more flexible than whole stems. For this same reason, smaller bamboo species make excellent crafting material once split, while larger species such as Chusquea culeou make for sturdy construction material.

Splitting bamboo does not necessarily need to be for decor or crafting, however. You can also use split bamboo for firewood or bamboo charcoal. While split bamboo burns out faster than regular firewood, it’s a sustainable and economical alternative. It’s very important that you split the bamboo before burning it!

Things to consider before splitting bamboo stems

If you’re staring at a pile of bamboo stems and wondering where to start, there are a few things to consider before you attempt to split your bamboo. How you can best split your bamboo depends on a few factors to ensure you’re happy with the results.

Consider the purpose of the split bamboo stems

If you’re splitting your bamboo for construction purposes, such as building a fence or shed, you’ll need to choose bamboo stems that are not only sturdy but also even in size and width. For crafts and furniture, it’s more important that the bamboo is split precisely, so that the resulting splits are of the same width. To make precise cuts, you can use a tool known as a bamboo splitter, which divides a bamboo stem into even sections.

On the other hand, if you’re planning to use split bamboo for firewood, you don’t need to worry about splitting the stems perfectly down the middle.

The size of the bamboo

The size of the bamboo that you’re planning to split will dictate which tools and methods are best for the job. Surprisingly, length is not as much of a factor as the diameter of the bamboo.

If the diameter of the bamboo is only an inch or two thick, you can work with smaller tools. On the other hand, thicker bamboo species will take a bit more physical effort, as well as bigger tools.

What tools work best for splitting bamboo?

You have your bamboo ready to split; now you need the right tools for the job. There are a few options to create the optimal cut, but ultimately, you need two primary tools, plus basic protective equipment.

A blade or bamboo splitter

The type of blade that works best for splitting bamboo ultimately depends on the size of your bamboo. In the case of smaller bamboo stems, a small blade works best. A knife with a subtly curved blade is more effective at splitting bamboo precisely. For larger, thicker bamboo stems, a hatchet or a machete will effectively create that split.

If you have a lot of bamboo to split, or care about precision, you may want to invest in a bamboo splitter. This tool is designed to split bamboo in half, quarters, sixths, eights, or more! When choosing a bamboo splitter, consider not only how many cuts of bamboo you want, but also the size/diameter of your bamboo stem. Bamboo splitters require less physical effort and are more precise at making multiple splits.

Mallet or hammer

A mallet is important for splitting bamboo, from the initial cut in the stem all the way to splitting the bamboo through the center. We recommend using a mallet instead of a hammer as a hammer might damage the tools or your bamboo. If you don’t have a mallet and cannot access one, you can even use a block of wood, though this may not be as effective.

Protective equipment

Before you split your bamboo stems, make sure that you take basic safety precautions, including wearing safety gloves and goggles. Splitting bamboo may result in splinters flying up in the air, and you don’t want one to get in your eye. You should also consider wearing a long-sleeved shirt and pants to protect your skin from cuts.

How to split bamboo stems: 2 methods

Don’t attempt to split bamboo by hitting it along the stem. This method is not only dangerous, but highly ineffective. Instead, the best way to split bamboo is from the ends of the culm.

When splitting bamboo stems, the objective is to first produce a crack, ideally in the middle of the bamboo stem. Then, you can split the fibers by applying force downwards with your blade or bamboo splitter. Depending on the size of your bamboo, this can range from quite easy to more challenging, but with the right tools it can be done to any bamboo stem.

How to split bamboo with a blade and mallet

  1. Press the end of your bamboo against a wall so the bottom (thicker) end of the bamboo is on the ground and up against the wall, with the other (thinner) end at a diagonal in your hand.
  2. Position your blade (whether a hatchet, machete, or knife) at the center of the bamboo stem where you want to create the split.
  3. Strike the back of the blade with your mallet.
  4. Once your blade has cut into the bamboo, continue to tap the mallet until the bamboo splits past 2-3 nodes.
  5. Once you get to this point, if you continue to split, your split will slowly veer “off-center.”
  6. To prevent this, you can step on the part of the bamboo stem that has not yet been split.
  7. Keep the smaller half of the bamboo stem facing down, and pull the larger half of the split bamboo upwards toward you. This should correct that slight veer from the center.
  8. Continue the process slowly until your split reaches the other end and the bamboo breaks apart. You may have to rotate the bamboo a few times to keep your split as even down the middle as possible. Make sure while you rotate that the smaller half faces down.
  9. Don’t rush, particularly if you plan to use the split bamboo as crafting material afterwards.
  10. Repeat this process if you want to make additional splits, such as quarters or eighths.

How to split bamboo with a bamboo splitter

If you have opted to use a bamboo splitter to split your bamboo, the process is quite similar:

  1. Place the bottom (thicker) end of your bamboo stem up against a solid surface, such as up against a wall, with the other (thinner) end at a diagonal in your hand. If the bamboo is short enough to reach, you can also just place the thicker end on the ground.
  2. Plant the bamboo splitter in the middle of the bamboo. You want the center of the splitter properly.
  3. You can either hit the bamboo with the splitter (push it down) or line it up and use a mallet until the splitter has cut into the bamboo by at least an inch or two. The latter is more precise.
  4. Use the wall or ground as leverage to push the bamboo splitter down the stem. You may need to rock it back and forth for extra momentum.
  5. When you reach a node, there will be more resistance, but with a little extra force, you can split through the nodes with the bamboo splitter.
  6. The bamboo splitter is heavy enough to do the work for you once you reach about the half mark. You can hold onto the split side (above the splitter) and tab the whole stem onto the ground and the splitter will work its way down. This may not work with bigger stems.

Bamboo splits aren’t always perfect

Bamboo is a versatile material, but don’t forget that bamboo culms aren’t always straight. It’s okay if your splits aren’t perfect. If you need evenly sized pieces for your project, simply select the best ones, and put the others aside.

Additionally, bamboo has an outer and inner side. Even though split pieces of bamboo appear flatter, they’re still going to retain some of that curve. Keep this in mind as you start your projects.

FAQ about splitting bamboo stems

Does bamboo split easily?

Bamboo can split quite easily once you have the technique down. Sometimes bamboo will even split on its own during the drying process. The trick is to ensure that your bamboo is splitting where you want it to rather than splitting in other places.

Can you split green bamboo/bamboo that hasn’t been dried?

You can split bamboo that’s been dried or bamboo that’s still considered green. In either case, the process is the same.

In some ways, green bamboo is softer and therefore easier to split. However, green bamboo is also more prone to warping as it dries out. If you want your bamboo splits to retain their shape, you’ll want to dry the bamboo before splitting it.

Check out our complete guide on drying bamboo poles here!

How long does split bamboo last?

Even when split, bamboo is sturdy and can be a good material for furniture or fencing. However, bamboo can be sensitive to the elements and will need treatment and protection to ensure it lasts longer. Untreated bamboo may only last two years, but if treated effectively and given protection from elements like rain, you can get decades out of your split bamboo.

Learn how to treat bamboo for outdoor use here!

Have you tried splitting your own bamboo before? How did you use your split bamboo? Share your experience below!
Woman (Natalie) and man (James) in front of bamboo
About the Author: James Zimmerman

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