Bamboo and wood are two of the most common materials used to make furniture. Both make a strong case for being top-shelf in versatility, style, and durability. And bamboo and wood earn major bonus points for being sustainable building materials.
But which is better? Who wins the furniture showdown of bamboo vs. wood?
There are definitely benefits to both, and it depends on your style. While bamboo is a better option overall, but that answer is subjective and might change based on what you’re looking for in a specific piece of furniture.
The bamboo vs. wood furniture battle hinges on quite a few factors. In order to pinpoint exactly which one is best for you, then keep reading. We’ll discuss the ins and outs of bamboo vs. wood, including the pros and cons of each. If your endgame is to figure out if you should choose bamboo or wood furniture or are just curious about the difference, this article is for you.
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A Little Bit About Each of the Contenders
As we’ve established, bamboo and wood are both worthy opponents in this furniture showdown. Each one has proven itself within the furniture world, being used for centuries. Both wood and bamboo are tried and true building materials when it comes to furniture.
To better understand which one is going to be better for your situation, let’s first dig a little deeper into both wood and bamboo. Knowing the specifics on each can help you make a better decision in the end.
It’s hard to imagine that pandas’ number one food choice is strong enough to be used in building furniture. However, it’s one of the strongest woods available. It grows in areas that endure heavy rains, wind, and other harsh elements, so being made into a chair or table is not a challenge for bamboo. Bamboo is one of the most popular furniture building materials and has been for centuries.
What Does it Look Like
Bamboo poles are very long and straight. They can range from just a few centimeters in diameter to nearly 20 centimeters, or just under eight inches. The poles are also hollow in the center.
Oddly enough, bamboo is actually a type of grass. Clearly, it’s not a grass like the green types we see in lawns and landscaping. But the poles that are so unmistakable in bamboo are actually grass.
Bamboo also grows incredibly fast, at over 20 inches, or around a half meter, each and every day. The rapid growth is one reason why it’s such a great option for furniture.
The poles, or “culms” if you’re getting technical, can reach up to 130 feet or 40 meters in height. There are over 100 different species of bamboo. The culms are either brown or green, although a few kinds produce black poles.
Where Does it Come From
Bamboo is thought to originate in Asia, specifically Malaysia or China. The word for bamboo comes from the national language of Malaysia, Malay. But, the first evidence of bamboo being used is found in Chinese history.
Bamboo is a very easy plant to grow and thrives in just about any climate. Almost every continent is able to grow bamboo, although there is no bamboo that’s native to Antarctica or Europe.
And now, option number two… wood. Wood is another centuries-old building material that’s still being used today to create long-lasting furniture for living spaces and workspaces all across the globe.
What it Looks Like
Wood can take on many different shapes, sizes, and colors. So, we’ll stick to wood in its natural form without any alterations. Of course, any variations depend on the types of trees that the wood comes from.
Before it’s processed, wood features rings and knots, which add to its natural beauty. The contrast between the dark colors of the rings and knots makes up what’s known as the wood grain. Woodgrain gives each piece of wood its own individual fingerprint.
Different types of wood will take on a very different appearances. This largely depends on what kind of tree the wood comes from, unless the wooden material is a composite or plywood variety.
Let’s take a quick moment to get into the variations by the tree. This can be helpful with choosing furniture and knowing what to expect from each kind of wood. However, there are so many different kinds of trees that are used for wood, so we’ll just stick to the most popular ones.
This type of wood is most often found in North America, specifically the Northeastern part. This wood is usually an off-white color or cream and sometimes has an almost red or gold tint. This depends on whether or not the heartwood, or inner wood of the trunk, was used.
Maple wood usually has a straight grain that follows a regular pattern. However, there are variations in this if the tree has been diseased or exposed to some extreme elements. This type of tree trauma can actually produce a really neat pattern in the grain.
Oak is a very common choice for furniture because oak trees are found just about anywhere. This is because there are just so many different kinds of oak trees. In fact, there are over 60 known types of oak trees in just the United States.
Because there are so many different species of oak trees, there are also many different colors that oak wood can take on. It can range from light beige to very dark wood, and some even have a red undertone.
The grain is oak is usually straight with a regular pattern. However, some types of oak produce a grain that appears to be like a dotted line. Other variations in oak wood grain come in the form of rays that are lines next to the grain itself.
Mahogany is known for its smooth texture, with very few, if any, imperfections or knots. It’s found in the southern part of the United States, particularly Florida, as well as parts of the Caribbean and South America. Some species of mahogany are found in West Africa, as well.
Because mahogany comes from damp climates, it’s a wood that’s developed a resistance to warping, which is a great quality to have in furniture. Mahogany also doesn’t shrink or swell, as many other kinds of wood do if it gets wet.
Mahogany has warm, red undertones. Many describe the wood as having an almost pink appearance. The grain of mahogany is medium texture, although there is sometimes a curly or wavy appearance. These variations make mahogany even more beautiful.
Another tree of the Northeastern parts of North America, ash, is a type of wood that’s been a traditional choice in furniture for a very long time. Although there are over 40 kinds of ash trees, most of the furniture made comes from the White Ash variety.
Ash is a lighter-colored wood, usually off-white or beige. Some species of ash trees produce a darker tan-colored wood. But ash wood does darken over time. There isn’t a huge contrast with the grain in ash wood trees. Ash is often chosen for its ability to take stain well.
Although ash trees were once considered invasive because they could grow quickly and just about anywhere, they’re now at risk of becoming endangered, thanks to a nasty little pest known as the Emerald Ash Borer.
Hickory is known for its strength and is really tough. It’s often used in furniture for high-traffic areas and things that get used frequently. It’s also an inexpensive option in comparison to other natural wood selections. This is because it’s an abundant kind of tree, with lots growing throughout North America, particularly the United States.
Both the heartwood and sapwood parts of the tree trunk are used to make wood from hickory trees. The heartwood produces a light brown to medium brown wood, sometimes with a reddish tint. Sapwood is usually pretty pale, with a more yellow undertone.
Hickory is a medium texture wood with a straight grain pattern. It’s coarse, which makes it hard to work with. But, when it comes to strength and durability, hickory is one of the top choices.
These trees are native across the globe and can be found in Europe, Asia, and North America. Beechwood is very dense. Therefore, it’s also very heavy. This makes it an ideal choice for making furniture that needs to withstand frequent use.
While beech wood is very strong and durable, it’s also fairly flexible, which is another reason it’s often chosen to make furniture. It’s also a very affordable option.
Beechwood is also used a lot in flooring, because it can bear a lot of weight but is also shock absorbent. This is important in creating sturdy furniture, as well. Beech is light in color, although it can be stained very easily.
Depending on the part of the tree being used, walnut has quite the range as far as color. Sapwood is a very light-colored wood, almost white. But the heartwood is a very deep brown. However, as it ages, walnut wood does change in color. But this change actually makes it even more attractive and creates more contrast within the grain.
Walnut is known for being hard and dense, which is why it lends itself to furniture making. Desks, tabletops, and bed frames are just a few common pieces of furniture frequently crafted from walnut.
Last but certainly not least is cherry wood, and it, of course, comes from cherry trees. Not the kind of cherries we eat, though. These cherries are literally for the birds… and only the birds. Most cherry trees used in furniture crafting are grown on the United States east coast.
Most cherry woods are a slightly pinkish brown, with rich contrast from the wavy grain pattern. It’s also a flexible wood, so it’s often used in furniture that needs to have curved elements.
Cherry has been a long-time favorite for furniture making because of its versatility and durability. However, cherry is also used in cutting boards and other wooden kitchen utensils.
This is also known as composite wood or plywood. It’s made out of wood that comes from all different varieties of trees. But we’ll get into how it’s made in just a bit. It can take on just about any size, shape, or color imaginable.
Composite wood that’s been formed into furniture doesn’t look all that lovely on its own. One way to finish it is to cover it with actual wood or a veneer. The inside of the piece will usually be the yellowish-brown color of composite or plywood, but the outside of the finished product will take on the appearance of whatever wood the veneer is made of.
Furniture and flooring are often given this finish, as an inexpensive way to add durability and longevity. The laminate covering is applied on top of composite wood design and often gives off a shiny appearance.
A laminate finish can be done in any color. But, oftentimes, especially in the case of furniture design, the finish is made to look like wood. Of course, the desired effect is dictated by what kind of wood the laminate is made to look like.
Like furniture with a wood veneer, the inside of something with a laminate finish will look just like the composite wood from which it was made. If you look closely at the unlaminated parts, you’ll be able to actually see the smaller pieces of wood that make up the manufactured wood.
Where it Comes From
We touched on where each type of tree can be found in their short bios above. Since we already broached that subject, and it depends on the tree species used for wood, let’s get into where the wood actually comes from within the tree. Or, in some cases, within the factory.
The outer layer of a tree, the part that we can actually see, is the bark, and then another layer called inner bark. Just behind the bark is known as the cambium. This is where cork is actually found. Next comes the sapwood, and then the heartwood.
The sapwood is harvested in most trees and is often a lighter shade of brown. The heartwood is the innermost part of the trunk, which is why it’s mostly a darker shade of brown.
Composite wood, or plywood, is made from sawdust, as well as other pieces of wood from a variety of trees. It’s usually made from scraps, and even sawdust, from mills where other wood is processed.
The leftover wood is then mixed with adhesives and glued together. It can then be pressed into whatever shape it needs to be and finished with a laminate or veneer finish.
Pros and Cons of Bamboo Furniture
We know all about bamboo now, so what makes it great as a building material for furniture? And what makes it not so great? We’ve got those answers, right here.
Positives first… Bamboo has been a standard in furniture building for a long time. Here are a few reasons why bamboo is one of the most frequently used materials for furniture-making.
It’s Built to Last
As we’ve mentioned, bamboo has been used in furniture construction for literally centuries. Also, in areas where bamboo growth is prevalent, but there’s little access to outside supplies, bamboo is even used to make buildings and bridges.
Knowing that bamboo is able to withstand some of the harshest weather conditions, including extreme cold and lots of rainfall, it just seems natural that it would lend itself to being used in furniture as well.
It’s Quick to Grow Back
Adding to the sustainability factor is the rapid growth of bamboo. While some species don’t grow as fast as others, all bamboo grows faster than most other plants. Not to mention, cutting it back and harvesting the wood actually promotes healthier bamboo growth.
It’s Environmentally Friendly
Yes, bamboo is sustainable and grows very, very quickly. But, using bamboo in furniture making provides an alternative to wood. Trees take much longer than bamboo to grow. Some trees can take hundreds and hundreds of years. In the meantime, bamboo is readily available within weeks.
Making furniture from bamboo instead of wood allows those trees to stay in the ground and keep growing, and providing us with much-needed clean air. We know how important trees are, so using bamboo is a great way to protect them.
Now for the minuses. We know why bamboo is the material of choice for many, but what are the drawbacks? It can’t be 100% perfect, right? Here are some of those reasons.
It’s Another Bug Magnet
Just like some natural woods, bamboo can attract bugs. Some species of bamboo are more so affected by bugs than others. There are some worms that particularly love bamboo. And once the bugs infiltrate the bamboo, they can be really hard to remove, and sometimes the furniture can’t be salvaged.
It’s Not Always Moisture Resistant
There are some bamboo products that are made for use in moist climates, or rooms with higher humidity, like bathrooms. But, unless you know for a fact that the bamboo furniture you’re choosing is resistant to moisture, there’s a good chance that it’s not. These types of bamboo can easily be damaged by water.
It Can Release Dangerous Chemicals
Volatile Organize Chemicals, or VOCs, are produced when bamboo is cut, and then put together with adhesives. However, most of the time, these are kept inside the furniture. But, if the furniture becomes damaged, these harmful chemicals can be released into the air that you’re breathing.
Pros and Cons of Wood Furniture
Now, it’s time for wood to get its moment in the limelight. Let’s discuss the pluses and minuses of wood furniture.
Many opt for wood furniture and have for a long time. However, with the growing abundance of big box stores that provide less expensive furniture options has made it more challenging to find things made of actual wood. But, wood is still a great choice for furniture, and here’s why.
It’s Easy to Customize
We know that wood comes in so many different colors and textures, making it a great choice for any style preference. But, wood is also easy to change and adapt to your style as it changes over time.
Whether your style is more traditional, or you prefer modern furniture, there’s a wooden piece out there for you. We’ve gone through some of the most common woods used for furniture, but the list doesn’t end there. Wood comes in such a range of colors and textures; it can fit any style profile.
It’s Budget Friendly
Yes, there are definitely some higher-end wooden furniture pieces that will break the bank. On the other hand, with all of the different kinds of wood products to choose from, there’s going to be something that fits into your budget. Manufactured wood furniture is one of the more affordable options out there.
Not in a physical sense, but in an earth-friendly sense. Wood furniture lasts a long time, meaning it won’t need to be replaced very often. This reduces the amount of waste that will find its way into the landfill. There is also very little waste left when wood is processed since the leftovers can be used to create manufactured wood.
While the idea of cutting down trees is pretty cringeworthy, many of the species used for furniture crafting come from areas where the trees grow quickly, and there are a lot. The trees do need to be cut eventually, to make room for new growth anyway. Why not use those trees for wood?!
It’s Long Lasting
Wood furniture, just like bamboo furniture, is built to last. There’s a misconception that wood is a delicate material that scratches easily and gets warped with even the smallest spills. However, with all of the different options of wood available, there’s a wood that fits any level of durability.
Trees are exposed to harsh conditions in their natural environment. They’re getting rained on, blown around, and critters use them for homes. Being used as a dinner table isn’t going to ruin most woods. But again, if you’re nervous about something being damaged, then choosing a harder wood is always an option.
To help you make a well-rounded decision, we need to go to the dark side and chat about the minuses. We know what makes wood furniture a great material for furniture crafting, but what about why it’s not a good choice?
It’s Sensitive to Light and Water
Wood can withstand many things, but light and water are like kryptonite for some natural woods. For some of the more delicate woods, even a small amount of water can cause damage. Also, UV rays from natural light can alter the color of some woods.
It’s Not Easy to Repair
Unless you’re a skilled woodworker, fixing a broken or damaged piece of wooden furniture can be tricky. It requires tools and specific knowledge of the type of wood you’re working with. For certain woods and furniture, a simple sanding and restaining is all it takes for a small repair. Other repairs, even the smallest fix, can require a professional.
It Can Attract Bugs
Clearly, this is not something you want going on in your home. Most woods are treated to prevent bugs. Manufactured wood is usually safe from bugs unless there’s an outstanding circumstance. And, damage from pests can be hard to see, so it can go unnoticed until it’s too late.
It’s Susceptible to Scratches
Softer woods can easily be scratched. But, even some of the harder, more durable woods aren’t meant to handle heavy items being dropped on them or dragged across. This is a challenge for wood pieces that are going in an area where they’ll be used a lot, such as kitchen tables or desks that are actually used.
Now you know all the things you could possibly want to know about wood vs. bamboo. But, in order to decide which is best for your own furniture, you’ll have to think about just a few more things:
- How much do you want to spend?
- What kind of furniture are you looking for?
- Where will the furniture be used?
- How often will the furniture be used?
- What color of furniture do you need to fit your space?
- What is your overall style?
Once you consider these questions, you’ll be able to determine whether or not you want to go with wood or bamboo. This will help narrow your search options and hopefully save you time and energy while shopping furniture.