Bamboo is the fastest-growing grass in the world. In the proper circumstances, it can grow a foot a day. Asians have used it as a building material for millennia. There are now machines to make chopsticks and joss, or incense, sticks, but most bamboo is cut with simple hand tools. Green bamboo is easier to work with than dry bamboo, and heating the bamboo, especially on cold days, also makes it easier to work with.
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If you are cutting bamboo into strips, a bamboo splitter is essential. It is a tool with a small centre circle that fits inside the bamboo, and several blades radiating out to a circle that is larger than the bamboo's diameter. Pressing down on the tool splits the bamboo smoothly. The operation is somewhat similar to that of the automatic pie cutters used in restaurants.
To cut bamboo, you need a hand saw with straight teeth that cuts when you pull it -- not when you push. This describes all Japanese hand saws, but no Western saws except hacksaws, in which the teeth are straight, but you must attach the blades backward so they cut on the pull instead of on the push.
Japanese Stripping Knives
Japanese stripping knives are small utility knives with curved blades that you can use to trim bamboo without splitting it. The secret is that the knife blade is sharpened on one side only, like a chisel. You can get these knives sharpened on either side so they are easy to use with either the left hand or the right hand. Japanese bamboo workers usually have two knives, sharpened on alternate sides.
A root axe is a thin bladed axe with a heavy handle, especially designed to get the bamboo root easily without damaging it. Cut around the root. You can use a mallet on the handle of the axe, then use the axe as a lever to get the root out. You can use the root to make many famous bamboo objects, such as shakuhachi, or Japanese flutes.
Electric Drill and Masking Tape
The best advice on driving a nail through bamboo is: don't. If you must, drill a hole through the bamboo, then drive the nail through the hole. Drilling a hole requires an electric drill; a hand drill revolves too slowly. Soak the bamboo in water, then wrap the section where you will drill the hole in several layers of masking tape and press it down tight with your thumbnail. Drill the hole, then remove the tape. It is a good idea to drill the hole as the first step in a project. This is the action that is most likely to crack the bamboo, and if it is going to ruin the project, it is best to do it as the first step instead of the last.
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