DIY BAMBOO FIBRES
Documentation of a design research on processing of bamboo and its fibres
DIY BAMBOO FIBRES
Documentation of a design research on processing of bamboo and its fibres
INDEX 7 10 13 13 14 17 18 19 20 22 27 33 39 40 42 44 47 48 50 52 55
Introduction Ispirazione A special fiber
growth production In search of the fiber crushing peeling splitting dissolving An unexpected color Urban mining Free experimentation felting forming weaving DIY Projects paintbrush cleaning broom plant pot DIY Cookbook
A building under construction in Hong Kong
If there is one material that has always fascinated me the most it is bamboo. More than fascinated, every time I see it it leaves me embarrassed. It leaves me embarrassed because it is able to take on so many forms and so many physical characteristics that each time I am amazed to see it used in that or that other way. The bamboo plant, which I fairly quickly discover is not a tree but a grass, grows vertically in the form of a strong and sturdy cylinder. I am stunned by its use in Chinese and Japanese building construction. Hundreds of thousands of bamboo poles are tied together in scaffolding that looks ancient but is used to build modern skyscrapers.
At this point I was convinced that bamboo is a very rigid material, like wood, characterized by a small section but an exaggerated length. However, the second time I see it in a craft, I have to reconsider. In the traditional Japanese green tea-making tool, it seems to take on the characteristics of harmonic steel. And yet a third time in the classic Chinese steamer, bamboo takes on three different forms in a single object, from the slats for the support grid, to the curved laminate, and finally to the lace that sews the components together. It is this intrinsic mutability of bamboo that intrigues me to investigate further.
Bamboo Matcha Green Tea Whisk
classical Asian bamboo steamer
It was in Eva Bauer’s materials laboratory that, talking about fiber in general, I figured out what could be the element that makes this material so versatile. That is precisely the way its fiber is formed. The characteristic that differentiates bamboo from other plants or trees is the length of its fiber. In fact, it grows very fast in one direction, at regular breaks, which means that inside its pulp it guards long fibers, all in the same direction, making it strong but at the same time elastic. Looking at the samples in Eva’s study, I began to wonder how I could extract this fiber and give it yet another shape.
Bamboo strips joined together by a canvas on the back
samples of different wicker diameters
thermoformed banana leaf
A SPECIAL FIBER 27.03.22
If I am fascinated by the many different forms the material itself takes, it is safe to say that I will be surprised by its production and processing. For this reason, before experimenting with bamboo and researching alternative production, I investigated what production lines are commonly used today.
growth The adjective that is often associated with this material is: sustainable. Many see bamboo production as a sustainable industry due to the speed at which the plant grows. There are three methods of growing bamboo: from seed, from a shoot, or in the laboratory. Under human care, a bamboo plant is ready to be cut after 5 years.
Representation of the three main seeding methods
panel production scheme
With some internet research, I was able to find video documentation of the different production processes. The most common one involves turning a bamboo tube into a planks. This is done by cutting it into smaller sections, which after a pass through a planer become squared. Finally they are glued and pressed under a heat press.
A process that begins in a similar way is that of making food chopsticks. Here, too, the cylinder is sectioned into smaller parts by inserting one half between an intermittent piston and a blade. The result, after being squared in a planer, is run through a blade that stops at 5/6 of the length so that the pair of chopsticks is not yet separated. The separated ends are finally inserted into a kind of pencil sharpener. Chopsticks production scheme
It is much older tradition when it comes to making bamboo into strips for basket weaving. After slicing the cylinder into strips, these are pulled through blades that reduce the thickness and width to the desired size. This whole process is done manually as well as the weaving. production of weaving ribbons Scheme
Completely different and belonging to modern times is the possibility of turning bamboo into fibers for yarn. A chemical solution consisting of NaOH and H2O is used to attack the woody material. What remains are long cellulose fibers that are processed first into yarn and then into fabrics. yarn production scheme
IN SEARCH OF THE FIBER 23.12.22
bamboo chopsticks for food service
The very first problem I faced in this search was where I could find this bamboo. Certainly, buying bamboo, perhaps even imported, could not only have been expensive but also seemed unrealistic. Hunting for bamboo in some private or public garden also seemed like a difficult task, perhaps possible among Venetian holiday homes, but not here in South Tyrol. The third option that came to my mind immediately made sense to me. Extracting fiber from waste bamboo chopsticks from restaurants is not only within my reach but would add reflections to my project coherent with those of sustainability and circular economy.
chopstick under the hydraulic press
detail after being crushed
The first experiment I want to conduct does not involve any of the methods researched in the previous step. According to my expectations, by crushing or hammering the stick, it would become brittle. Despite my confidence, the result was not satisfying.
bamboo shavings and cotton thread
While looking for something that could simulate that handcrafted planer, I thought that a tool that most likely everyone has in their kitchen is the potato peeler. If I start peeling from the center of the chopstick, the slices are too thin and uneven. On the other hand, if I start at one end I can jam the blade into the desired thickness, but after a few passes the stick becomes too small to be worked comfortably. Unfortunately, this method is also to be discarded.
divisione esponenziale del bastoncino di bambù
If I consider instead the other method of splitting bamboo into smaller and smaller strips, with a knife or blade I can initially cut the fibers and then continue to snap along that line. As I continue to split the half into halves and the halves into other halves, I will end up with many small strips of bamboo. In my first experiment I split the stick into strips that must have been a millimeter in diameter. Trying to do something with them, I realized that they were still too thick. In the second experiment, by increasing the number of divisions, I reached with difficulty an interesting thickness. In conclusion I think there is potential in this method even if it is really time consuming.
attempt to weave with fibers > 1mm
attempt to weave with fibers < 1mm
I was impressed by a video on the Internet where an anonymous amateur dissolved a piece of bamboo in caustic soda. The result after one day was similar to hair. I had to try it. At the same time I also tried with water, vinegar, and coke.
outline of the experiment
bottled solutions before
bottled solutions after
Water the effect is almost invisible
cocacola the stick was flexible
vinegar the effect was strangely the worst
2 tablespoons of caustic soda fibers are completely separated*
5 tablespoons of caustic soda the result is the same*
*I still didn’t realize that I had to crush and not bend the chopstick.
I found an efficient method to turn a Chinese chopstick into a handful of cellulose fibers.  I start with the chopstick after its use, which should be first washed and then soaked in a solution of water and caustic soda for a day.  After a day I can run it through a press like the one in the pasta machine that squeezes and loosens the fibers from each other.  The last step is to wash and comb the fibers to have a consistent product. 
Diagram of the four steps from stick to fiber
images of the squeezing process
while documenting the process
AN UNEXPECTED COLOR 20.04.22
The group during the workshop in Bankraum
Professor Joachim Unterfrauner
Hosted by our university, Professor Joachim Unterfrauner, a textile printing expert at BURG University in Germany, gave a threeday fiber dyeing course. In this course we learned the main differences between dyes and dyeing processes that vary depending on the nature of the fiber to be dyed. We also covered natural dyes and experimented with the various methods throughout the workshop.
three solutions during dyeing (80°)
my setup for the various experiments
Joachim’s lectures were much more detailed and scientific than expected. During the first day he was able to give us all the basics to get started and a structured method to proceed as well as document the process. The typology I was interested in was cellulose fibers. This type of dye adheres to the fiber through a water, soda, salt bath at a 90-minute heat curve. Since I already had caustic soda residue on the fiber I decided not to add it.
The natural fiber on the left and the dyed fibers on the right
The results of the three days of dyeing were definitely astonishing. The first sample (red) was dyed according to the standard method, with soda ash and salt. In the following dyes I excluded soda from the recipe and the result was the same. To test the stability of the dye, I subjected the samples to a washing with acid and boiling water. After washing, the color was slightly lighter but did not shade or fade.
conducted on the second day of dyeing
Experiments conducted on the third day of dyeing
friends in a Thai restaurant
URBAN MINING 23.04.22
It has been a couple of months and the number of experiments I have been able to conduct so far has been directly proportional to the number of Asian dinners I have had. I had to find a solution to this and scale up the production.
I started asking Asian restaurants in town if I could pick up used chopsticks that would otherwise have to be thrown in the dry. At first glance, I noticed two things: the first is that restaurant employees are terrified of making decisions without their boss’s supervision; the second, more heartening, is that many of the Asian restaurants in town use melamine chopsticks that can be reused for 1/2 years. However, I managed and found two restaurants willing to handover this raw material to me.
the moment of the pick up at one of the restaurants
washing chopsticks in the shower
After four days the two boxes were full and I am pretty sure they filled them in the first two days. Funny enough, in the boxes I found everything in addition to food remains, mold and whole shrimp, I also found more skewers and a serving knife. After a deep wash, I admired the proceeds of the binder, 7 liters of chopsticks.
A 7-liter container filled with bamboo chopsticks
FREE EXPERIMENTATION 17.04.22
first random sample of felted bamboo
Now that I have recovered the raw material and refined my fiber extraction method, all that remains is to experiment with what is possible. The first discovery happened by mistake. I left a handful of fiber unwashed but wet on the kitchen countertop by mistake, the next day it had dried into a solid sheet-like structure. From here I began experimenting and felting the fibers to create bamboo sheets.
sheet of felted bamboo
As I understood it, this felting process occurs thanks to two factors. The first is the fiber which being long allows a very complex structure to be created, the second is the lingnin softened by the little water that once dry solidifies into the new structure, acting as a glue. The process to get this result is quite simple. After soaking a chopsick in the caustic solution for 1/2 day, I pass it between the pasta machine several times, overlapping the fibers and creating a thin layer of felted fibers and “lingnin dust.” If I lay it on a flat surface and soak it just to make it moist, the lingnin will organize into this new structure that will become solid once dry.
felted bamboo cube
attempt at a felted bamboo tablet
styrofoam mold of a hemisphere
The experiments conducted to create sheets have been successful and, more importantly, easily repeatable. What I noticed is that when wet, the fiber is very flexible, like wet cotton, but once dry it stiffens like cardboard, retaining the shape in which it was left to dry. At this point I decided to experiment with molds in which to let the felted bamboo sheets dry. The molds are very simple, of the shape I desire I create two halves, one the negative of the other, and let the material dry pressed between the two. The first molds were provided by FABLAB in Bolzano and were a half-sphere milled from Styrofoam. Then I milled my own molds from black mdf boards, testing how the material behaves in tight corners and gradual curves. Despite the excellent results between
MDF mold serrated section
MDF mold wave section
felting and forming, I want to experiment with only fibers as well, since that was the initial goal. If I wash the fibers deeply from the lingnin, only the cellulose remains, which when wet is as flexible as a hair, while when dry is as stiff as straw. I researched on how the weaving of traditional Japanese baskets is done and tried to apply the same techniques. The first time I created a core of bamboo strips on which I wove the fibers after wetting them. It was very laborious and slow as a process, so I tried the second technique starting with two wisps arranged in +. Working from the center repeated the shape by widening outward and seeking a weave. This was also very laborious and slow as a process.
weaving with core
sticks dipped partly in caustic soda
DIY PROJECTS 3.06.22
With a good library of samples, experiments, and possible processes, it’s time to shape this self-made material at home from waste material.
the tip and tail of the brush
The first idea I had, a very simple one, was to make a paintbrush. I dipped the stick on the thicker side, the opposite side from where you eat, 2 centimeters into the caustic soda solution. In this way the loose fibers are all the same length and even, while on the other end you have a pointed area that can be used by the artist at will. When dry the brush is very stiff but when wet it behaves like a regular brush. When wet it is also useful to give it the shape most appropriate to the intended use with a scissors. The feature that makes this item interesting is that it is entirely composed of a single organic material.
a simple painting
and larch cleaning broom
cleaning broom 04.07.22
brushes for making the broom
The second idea came as a consequence, also having visited Manteco’s headquarters in Prato, where I saw a simple wicker broom. If many bamboo brushes were joined next to each other, would a bamboo fiber broom be created? So, after loosening a handful of sticks, I took a larch block and shaped it into the form I thought most appropriate. With the drill press, I drilled a three-row pattern of regular holes of the same diameter as the sticks. Once set, I cut away the back of the excess chopsticks. The broom works perfectly and once again is a completely organic product.
plant pot 05.06.22
process of forming pots
Throughout the development of this research, I immediately found the method of felting and forming bamboo fiber sheets extremely interesting and full of potential. After several attempts, I found an idea that brought together the production method and the function of the product. These bamboo pots are designed to grow seed sprouts and plants for future transplanting into the ground. By using these pots that are uniquely composed of bamboo fibers, meaning organic, I will be able to plant the sprout along with its pot, which in a very short time will become part of the soil itself. To create these shapes, I used common kitchen objects such as a glass and an ice-making tray.
bamboo fiber pot for sprouting
bamboo fiber nursery for sprouting
DIY COOKBOOK 10.06.22
In conclusion, I am very surprised at what I have been able to and in general is possible to do with simple scrap materials and common home tools. Precisely for this reason, although I am very interested in the potential of my research expanded to a larger scale, I believe that the strength of this project lies in the simplicity and self-production, not only because of the possibility to recycle something, but also to be able to raise one’s awareness about everyday waste and the use of organic and authentic materials. As a conclusion to this project, I present a publication of a few pages where the result of my research is briefly presented and finally contains three recipes of different difficulties for making simple everyday objects from reused bamboo chopsticks.
Free University of Bozen/Bolzano Faculty of Design and Art SS 2022 Project presentation by Marco Ciacci Prof. Van Bezooijen Aart Design and production Master Course in Eco-Social Design
If there is one material that has always fascinated me the most it is bamboo. More than fascinated, every time I see it it leaves me embarrassed. It leaves me embarrassed because it is able to take on so many forms and so many physical characteristics that each time I am amazed to see it used in that or that other way. It is this intrinsic mutability of bamboo that intrigues me to investigate further.