DIY Bamboo Projects and Crafts: How to Make Bamboo Cups and Containers
The Bad News – I’ll give you the bad news first: you can really only do this project if you have bamboo that is larger than 2 inches in diameter. Ideally, you have access to bamboo that is 4 or more inches in diameter. But 3 inches, or even 2 1/2 inches, in diameter will work. You’ll just have small cups. (If your bamboo is smaller than 3 inches in diameter, you can still use it to make things like toothbrush holders, pencil holders and windchimes, but it won’t be great cup material.)
The Good News – The good news is it is quite easy to make some awesome cups if you have the above-mentioned sized bamboo. Mother Nature already did the work, really. We are just putting it to use. And if you don’t have the right size bamboo or you decide this isn’t worth all the trouble and you would rather just buy these cool cups, I have some for sale in my etsy shop HERE.
This is not a hardcore primitive craft because we are using modern tools such as a metal saw and manufactured sandpaper. I imagine there is a way to harvest and smooth down bamboo edges with primitive tools (there is always a primitive way, right?), but I don’t know how to do that yet. So, moving along…
You Will Need:
- bamboo that is 3 or more inches in diameter.
- a fine-toothed saw, like the one pictured below. Here is where I got mine.
- coarse sandpaper. I like to use 60 grit (pictured below).
- A wooden board to saw over like the one pictured below.
- some kind of edible oil like coconut or olive oil. Rendered fat (hog, bear, deer, etc.) might even work and be a more sustainable option, but I haven’t tried it yet, so I can’t say for sure.
- beeswax (optional)
- bug repelling infused or essential oils, such as lavender, lemongrass, etc (optional)
*A Quick Note About Heat: Some folks like to use heat when making bamboo crafts. I will not be using that technique in this tutorial. I’ve tried heat treating bamboo several times and find it tricky and unnecessary. I don’t always like the look of heat treated bamboo and I’ve had it explode on me before. Having said that, to each her own. Do what you like :)
STEP 1: HARVEST – Harvest the bamboo. To keep from getting my saw pinched by the bamboo, I first cut a notch out of one side and then sawed the rest of the cut from the opposite side.
STEP 2: CUT – Position your bamboo over your board and cut into desired cup shapes. You can use excess non-node bamboo pieces split up for kindling or as a sleeve to protect baby trees after you plant them.
STEP 3: WASH – I like to wash the cups at this point, scrubbing away all the dirt and grime.
STEP 4: SAND – After allowing the cups to dry, I use cut up pieces of coarse sandpaper to smooth the edge at the top of the cup.
STEP 5: SEASON – I put a beeswax/oil mixture on the cups to detract bugs and keep the wood from drying out too quickly and splitting. I just use leftover herbal salve, but a plain beeswax and oil mixture should work just fine. You can make this using a 1 to 3 mixture of beeswax and oil. Adding a few drops of lavender essential oil (or something similar) to this mixture will help repel insects. Just keep in mind your cup will take on this scent at first, so you should pick a scent that doesn’t repel you, too. To make a beeswax/oil mixture, melt the beeswax over low heat, add oil and essential oils, then let it cool and apply. You don’t *have* to do this step, but its very sad when you go to all this trouble and your bamboo splits because it dried out quickly or you get a little hole in your cup from a bug that chews its way through :( It is wise to apply this mixture over the inside and bottom of the cup, but be especially sure to apply to the top and bottom edges, where the grain is exposed and moisture is more likely to escape quickly.
Caring For Your Bamboo Cups
Bamboo, like all natural things, is a mystery to behold. Different pieces of it do different things, even if they are from the same grove. Even if they are from the same plant! Below are 4 recommendations you can keep in mind that might help you take better care of your bamboo cups:
- KEEP THEM DRY – since bamboo is an organic material, if left wet over a long period of time, your cups will begin to grow unwanted things, especially if there is trapped moisture. Once I left a cup with water in it on a table for a few weeks. When I finally threw out the water, I saw that there was mold and mildew all over the bottom of the cup. (See the picture below.)
- REGULARLY SEASON – Your bamboo items will last longer if you regularly season them with oil, like you would a cutting board or cast iron. To do this simply apply an edible oil or more of the beeswax/oil mixture to your piece from time to time. Coconut oil has the added bonus of being antifungal and antibacterial, so if nothing else, be sure to lather the bottoms of your cups with that.
- STORE SIDEWAYS – Because the bottoms of bamboo cups have the tendency to trap moisture, I started storing the cups sideways. In an ideal world, the cups are bone dry when you put them away, and it is not an issue. But if you choose to store them upright, don’t get mad at me if they get mildew-y.
- KEEP AWAY FROM EXTREME HEAT AND PROLONGED SUN EXPOSURE– This can cause the wood to expand, warp and split and will shorten the life of your vessel.
Yes, your bamboo cups will be higher maintenance than something like plastic or ceramic cups, but they are lightweight, natural materials that can hold beverages, are biodegradeable, eco-friendly, something you can make yourself, and are quite attractive to boot!
Obligatory Confession: I don’t really know exactly what I’m doing. I’m just winging it and learning as I go. Hopefully this is a helpful and fun project for folks to learn about and try. Have you worked with bamboo before? I’d love to hear about your experiences with it in the comments below!
Again, if after reading this you decide you would rather just buy some bamboo cups, you can find some decent ones for sale HERE.