Bamboo, a Beautiful and Versatile Material
Bamboo is among the fastest growing and most adaptable materials on the planet. It can grow up to 5 cm per hour and matures in about five years, providing a constant and never-ending supply to the marketplace without endangerment to countless species.
Compare that to hardwoods such as oak, which can grow about 30 cm per year and takes up to 120 years to mature.
Another possible cause for the dominating positive buzz for bamboo products is the fact that it is so versatile and can be used and made into almost anything, from flooring and paper to clothing and building materials. It’s soft and durable when woven, is extremely durable when made into clothes and boasts anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Since it also has a tensile strength stronger than steel, bamboo is popular in building materials. Essentially, you can build your house, your office, your décor and your wardrobe entirely from bamboo.
For these reasons, bamboo is the most valuable non-timber forest product and of important support for the economy of Vietnam. In the last 30 years, bamboo has become the main raw material for industrial manufacturing of furniture and houses for domestic and international markets. Bamboo culms are also widely exported for fuel pellets and charcoal products. In Việt Nam, bamboo is available for a reasonable price. As a result, it is used for many purposes ranging from the traditional utilization in rural areas up to industrial productions. Until now, the processing and utilization of bamboo still rely on traditional practices, mainly for housing and constructions, pulp for paper, bamboo shoots, furniture making and interior decoration, agriculture implements as supporting sticks for crops planting and components for transport like simple rafts and boats.
Việt Nam has an enviable position as one of the world’s leading centres for bamboo handicrafts and furniture. This industry is one of the country’s key export revenue earners, generating at least $300 million every year.
Not far from Đông Hồ is the village of Xuân Lai in Bắc Ninh province, it is the smallest province of Việt Nam and is situated to the east of the nation’s capital, Hà Nội, specialised in making “smoked” bamboo furniture, with a natural colour ranging from light brown to a shiny black. This village has been through some very lean times after economic liberalisation and the arrival of industrial products, such as “karaoke furniture” (the little, square armchairs and modular sofas upholstered with imitation leather, ill-suited to the Vietnamese heat and humidity, that one finds in the lobbies of budget mini-hotels – or karaoke bars…).
Although the history of the craft seems to have been forgotten, this activity has apparently existed for several generations and probably for at least a hundred and fifty years. Originally crafted for villagers, Xuân Lai furniture is of simple construction, made in just the same way as all the other items of bamboo furniture in the Delta, except for this eye-catching finish in dark colours that gives them their unique look.
This village is easily identifiable thanks to its large pools of water in front of each house where the still-green bamboo is soaked over a period of several months to drown the parasites in it and to render it more flexible. Nearly all the action takes place in the heart of the village, near the soaking ponds. Several companies here are specialised in cleaning, drying, and then scorching the bamboo. It must be cleaned, have the knots removed, be dried and then scorched.
The bamboo used here comes from the mountainous regions of Lạng Sơn or Cao Bằng, up on the Chinese border. Where once people only made baskets for rice, beds, benches and tables, they now produce all kinds of furniture imaginable, as well as lamps, trays, screens, swings and decorative photo frames.
The villagers use straw mixing clay to smoke bamboo. The kiln is covered tightly and has only smoke without fire. Once the straw is alight, the bamboo is left sealed inside the kiln – for several days. After being smoked/ fumigated out for four consecutive days, bamboo becomes lighter, tougher, and resistant to termite and wood eater.
Depending on the product, the time of smoking is shorter or longer to create maroon colour or shiny black, then switching to product works.
In 2016 Xuân Lai was recognised as a traditional craft village by the Vietnamese Ministry of Culture and Tourism. With its recognition from the Government, it affirms the traditional value of the craft village, avoids abuses of the local brand and prevents counterfeit products.
Did you know that bamboo has the potential as a super sustainable alternative to wood or plastic? Cultures worldwide have been relying on bamboo for thousands of years, and with modern technology, bamboo can be made into a wide range of products including fabric, toilets paper. Make the change today, go for eco-friendly and a more sustainable choice to help the environment, switch to the earth-loving bamboo products if you can! We can all make a difference and create a positive future for our planet.