Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bamboo Tools

Bamboo Joy

I had the great fortune ( at least I think so now)  to live in the Far East for over 9 years. Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Viet Nam ( not so great). I even spent some quality military type time in Laos, China and a few civilian trips into Burma. One thing all those countries has in common is Bamboo. Lots of it. And -the native people make good use of it. You can find just about everything and anything made out of bamboo in the Orient.

My first experience at actually making and using tools and utensils out of bamboo was while attending Jungle Survival training in the Philippines. There I was taught to make steam cookers, vessels to carry water and eat and drink from,  carve simple spoons and knives and to make shelters. To my surprise, although giant bamboo is very hard, it’s very easy to work with - if you have the proper tools. You’d be hard pressed to cut down a single stick of bamboo with just a pocket knife, although it can be done. Machetes and parangs are the preferred blades of the locals and they yield them with precision and authority.

Lately I’ve sort of re-discovered the craft. My wife and I managed to get dibs on a large stand of giant bamboo a few weeks ago and took down six or so large plants that ranged from 2 inches in diameter to a couple that were over 6 inches. We cut these into 8 foot lengths so they would fit in the back of my pick-up and hauled them home. Our first thought was to use them to build an arbor in the back yard but after some thought, and considering the difficulty required for that arbor,  I ended up just throwing the pile of overgrown sticks in the garage.

Anyway, to make a long story short, remembering some of the things I’d seen made out of bamboo while overseas, I decided to whip out something useful – like - utensils and tools. I started with a couple of simple bowls. These are very quick and easy to make and with that little spark of interest and success I just continued cutting and carving. Next I made a spoon, then I got really ambitious and next thing I knew – wham-o, I’d made a soup ladle.

After taking stock of what I’d completed in just a short afternoon my wife described a water bottle, or canteen, that the men folk in her village carried water in when they went to the rice fields or on hunting trips. In very short order I had one of those made. Maybe not exactly as she’d drawn out, but it certainly turned out very functional and practical. As a matter of fact, I like this thing so much that I’ll be carrying it next time I’m in the bush. In my humble and sometimes convoluted opinion - it just looks totally abo. So as to not modernize my new prize I even went so far as to twine a carrying strap from cat tail leaves. No Para-cord or leather straps for this baby – aboriginal all the way.

My next project is to make a couple of musical instruments. I’m thinking maybe a bamboo flute is first in order. Native Americans used river cane of course, and I’ll probably have to go that route myself. The bamboo I have on hand is a little to large for a flute. What I do have is some two inch inside diameter bamboo that I’m considering using to make a Didgeridoo. For those of you that have never heard one of these played you are missing one of the truly great aboriginal sounds. Type in Didgeridoo on YouTube and have a listen.

I’m quite sure I can make a Didgeridoo easily enough. The actually construction using bamboo is about as simple as it can get. Playing one is another matter. I tried blowing a tune on one a few weeks ago at the Earth Skills Rendezvous and although I did manage to get some sounds out of it – it was way short of sounding anything like the Didge masters can play. Frankly – I love the sound. It’s as primitive and primal as a wolf’s howl.

So folks, round yourself up a couple of sticks of bamboo, muster up some ambition, stir up your creative juices and see what you can come up with.  I’m thinking with Christmas not that far away I may start cranking out these things by the dozens for use as gifts. I’ll tell everyone it’s not because I’m a tightwad, it’s in the spirit of going green.

1 comment:

  1. I, too, hope you find a way to be with us for the entire 25th year Rivercane Rendezvous. we expect many instructors who helped establish us. As a cofounder, I can tell you: Rendezvous would not still be with us if not for the expertise, hard work and sacrifice of those original instructors.
    When next you come, let's get together over bamboo - it's my latest passion in this field! That's a pun intended.