Understanding Bamboo Flooring Standards
On our page What is a Bamboo Floor?, Conrad asked:
From my research I’ve learned that classifying bamboo as a hard wood can be a misnomer. The hardness and durability of a bamboo floor depends on when the bamboo was harvested. With lax oversight in China, where most of the bamboo is grown, much is harvested too soon, which makes it a softer “wood” and more prone to scratches and wear damage. I admire that you choose manufacturers who don’t use formaldehyde in manufacturing the finished product, but how do you know if the bamboo was allowed to fully mature before harvested?
That’s a very good question, Conrad.
The categorization of bamboo as a hardwood is more about shopping than science, which is reasonable, even if it isn’t very accurate. It’s done because they are more alike than not when compared with bamboo’s similarities to ceramic, vinyl, laminate, even cork. In a flooring store, customers have usually learned about bamboo because they already knew that they wanted a real hardwood over one of the alternatives.
The hardness of bamboo actually has quite a range, and fortunately for us, the aforementioned inaccuracies have allowed bamboo to be classified on the Janka Scale of wood hardnesses.
Affecting the hardness to a small degree is the particular species of bamboo. How the boards are manufactured has the biggest impact. On the softer end is Carbonized Bamboo. With a Janka rating of around 1180, it comes in on the high end of the softer woods, near teak and heart pine. The carbonizing process takes something out of the structure of the bamboo in exchange for the tone or color given it.
Among the range of hardwoods considered average, Natural Bamboo comes in at 1380, a little above the very middle. Red Oak’s 1290 is considered the benchmark for a hardwood of average hardness. Construction-wise, Natural Bamboo is the same as Carbonized, except for the carbonizing process itself.
Leaping way ahead is Stranded or Woven Bamboo. Averaging a score of 3000, this is very near the top of the hardest of hardwood floors.
Trusting the Hardness
As far as the harvesting question, the answer is difficult to communicate, because it’s not done via some enforced certification, or something nearly universal such as the AC ratings used for laminates, a really nice, reliable system. That means that companies like ours have to be selective about, and then rely upon, our manufacturers. We get our bamboo from a couple of places, both of whom use Moso bamboo. Moso bamboo is considered mature for timber uses at 5 years (while it’s good at 4 when it is to be used for paper). The recommended harvesting period for timber use is at 6-8 years.
If you look on our product page for bamboo, you’ll find the manufacturers' technical specs. So one key phrase to look for is “Six years”, even over “mature”, which could be vague. One says, “Species: Moso6 Premium Mature 6 Year Moso Bamboo.” Another says, “Made from durable Moso6 Premium Mature 6 Year Bamboo.” Six years, that's what matters.
I called our primary bamboo source, to ask how they verify the quality of the bamboo they import. They said that they use the FSC. The F.S.C., or Forest Stewardship Council, is a global, independent organization whose mission is to protect forests. They set their own certification standards for responsible forest management for both forests and companies. Our manufacturers won’t even receive into the country any bamboo that has not been certified by the FSC.
Now, protecting forests for future generations sounds great for the environment, but how does that help you know that your bamboo is any good? I found a document from yet another manufacturer which spells out how these relate. It sounds like their bamboo would be harvested at 5 years, and they explain that in their case, in order to maintain a bamboo forest to certification, one basically has to wait at least 5 years to harvest, taking only 20% of the crop at a time. Now, that’s their explanation, applying to their products, not those of our people who only use 6 year old bamboo, but it illustrates how the certification is an indicator.
I hope this has been helpful, Conrad, and thank you for asking such a great question!
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David has written and made videos about flooring products and installation since 2011 at Floors To Your Home (.com), where he is also the PPC Manager, a Researcher, a Website & Marketing Strategy Team member, Videographer, Social Strategist, Photographer and all around Resource Jito. In my spare time I shoot and edit video, put together a podcast, explore film history, and mix music (as in ‘play with Beatles multi-tracks’). Connect with W. David Lichty
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