Bamboo furniture is a versatile look for contemporary or traditional décor, indoors or out. Just like all of your furniture, bamboo requires care on a regular basis. It can be harmed by the dry heat of indoors or by mother nature outside. Keeping up with preventative measures, however, is much easier than having to do a total overall repair job.
I found a beautiful bamboo rocker at an antique auction. As you can see from the below photo, the chair was in rough shape. But underneath all of the dust and dirt was a gem just waiting to shine. I wanted to use the rocker on my screened-in porch. There was a large crack in the top, varnish missing from some of the rungs, and I had to have the rockers sanded a bit to reshape. This project took me a weekend due to the dry times needed in between coats of varnish.
The instructions that follow will guide you through every step of a total restoration, including repairs of cracks. At the very end of this article is a list of things you can do to prevent having to do a total renovation for bamboo furniture.
The bamboo rocker waiting to be repaired.
How to Clean the Bamboo
Here are the materials you'll need for cleaning:
- Toothbrush (or bristled brush)
- Small pail with hot water
- Shop vac/vacuum
Remove any dirt or debris with a sponge dipped in hot water. Make sure you wring to sponge out enough that it will not soak the bamboo.
Note: If there is no varnish or finish of any kind on the chair, be careful when doing this step. Water will begin to warp the bamboo if it is left for too long. If this does happen, just bring the chair into a dry area, wipe down with an old towel, and place a fan in front of it.
You can use an old toothbrush or any kind of soft bristled brush to remove the dirt and dust from the crevasses, and then vacuum with a small shop vac that has a brush attachment.
How to Prep the Chair
For the preparation process, you'll need these materials:
- Medium grit sandpaper
- Fine sandpaper
- Steel wool
- Tack cloth
Begin to prep the chair by using medium grit sandpaper. Sanding will remove the finish and some of the light scratches that may be in the bamboo. If there are heavy scrapes or gouges in the bamboo, you may want to consider replacing the whole piece. I personally like the look of worn bamboo, so I did not replace any of the poles. I just made sure they were well sanded, had no rough spots, and felt smooth to the touch.
Follow up this sanding with one more overall sanding with fine sandpaper. Finish off by using a tack cloth to remove loose particles from the chair that may make your first coat of varnish feel and look bumpy.
A crack in need of repair.
How to Repair the Chair
For the repair process, you'll need these materials:
- Wax paper
- Tie wraps (multi-sized)
- Wood putty
- Needle nose pliers
- Wood screws (if chair has them)
- Damp rag
Depending on how the chair is built, it can be easy to slide the bamboo poles out of place and replace them completely with a new piece. In the case of this rocking chair, it was not as easy as it looked. I chose to repair the bamboo poles as needed.
To do this, I used strong wood glue, toothpicks, waxed paper, and tie wraps of assorted sizes. Where a pole was cracked, I loosely set on two or three tie wraps onto the pole. Then using a toothpick, I applied the glue to the crack, wiped off any excess glue, and then placed a piece of waxed paper around the pole. I then slid the tie wrap into place and tightened it enough to close the crack, but not hard enough to leave an indent in the bamboo pole.
I had bamboo pegs that were holding the chair together instead of screws or nails. I made sure they were all tightly in place. If the pegs were loose, I removed the peg using small needle nose pliers, placed glue into the peg hole, and then gently tapped the peg back in place with a small tack hammer. I then wiped off any excess glue from the peg hole with a damp rag.
If your chair has screws or nails, tighten up the screws and check that the nails are well set into the bamboo poles. If the screws will not grab, replace them with the next size up screw (width not length). You need to be able to have the screw grab on to the bamboo without splitting the pole or going all the way through to the opposite side. If the nails will not set in well, you can place a bit of glue into the nail hole, tap in the nail, wipe off excess glue, and use a tie wrap to hold the pole while the glue is setting.
How to Finish the Chair
Once fully repaired and all touch-up sanding has been done, I protected the exposed bamboo with varnish. I chose to use Helmsman boat varnish due to its water-protecting properties. I applied three coats of varnish with a light steel wool sanding in between. The varnish takes at least six hours to set before you can sand and varnish again. Do not rush this step. This is what will protect the bamboo from the elements.
I also applied a coat of furniture paste wax as an additional layer of protection. But you have to make sure that the varnish has completely cured before applying the wax. If the varnish has not hardened, you will need to sand all over again and begin the sealing process as explained above.
How to Avoid a Total Makeover: Preservation and Cleaning
- Dust your bamboo furniture regularly with a dusting cloth. Make sure to get into all of the nooks and crannies. This will help to prevent dust and dirt settling into the arms, legs, or any of the joins in the furniture.
- Fill a cleaning bucket with warm water. Soak a rag in the mild, soapy water. Completely wring out the rag so that the rag is just damp and not wet. Clean the bamboo. Then use a different rag dipped in warm water to rinse off the bamboo. Allow the furniture to air dry.
- Apply a furniture wax that is made for bamboo on a monthly basis. Linseed oil can be used if you can not find a furniture wax for bamboo. This will keep the bamboo protected from drying due to heat, prevent cracking, and keep the flexibility in the bamboo.
- Do not sit on wet bamboo furniture. This will bend, warp, and even crack the bamboo.
© 2015 Susan McLeish
Dennis on May 25, 2020:
I have the exact chair you have.Found mine in a burn pile. Are they worth anything?
Preston and Kate from the Midwest on May 02, 2015:
Thanks for sharing some useful information! I've never refinished bamboo before.
Claudia Mitchell on May 02, 2015:
Really nice article. I don't have any bamboo furniture, but this was interesting all the same. Makes me want to go out and find some!
Susan McLeish (author) from Rindge, NH on March 31, 2015:
Gradn old lady,
I used glue as a last resort in repairing this vintage rocker. I did some research on using this method and found that if the chair was not going to be used daily, it can work. I put the rocker away nightly to keep it out of the weather and condition it often to make sure no further splitting will occur. Glad you enjoyed the article.
Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on March 29, 2015:
Very helpful article. Never knew that holes in bamboo could be filled with strong wood glue.
Susan McLeish (author) from Rindge, NH on March 29, 2015:
Thanks janderson99 for that tip. I am always up for different ideas on refinishing great furniture. I choose marine varnish due to the weather in the northeast. This chair will be by the ocean at times. The salt air does damage to everything.
Dr. John Anderson from Australia on Planet Water on March 29, 2015:
Great article. I have repaired a bamboo lounge using similar methods. I chose to use high quality furniture oil as a finish rather than vanish as the oil penetrates into the bamboo and keeps it subtle. This means that you can oil it once again if it dries out. Just a suggestion worth considering. Cheers and Thanks!