Bamboo has been used throughout Asia for centuries as a strong and renewable natural source of building materials for both indoor and outdoor construction. Its strength and resilience have seen it used to construct bridges and scaffolding, as well as dwellings for village communities. One of its most favorable attributes is that it is fast growing, making it one of the most renewable building materials in the world and has been made popular by companies like Plyboo.

Bamboo forests sequester double the carbon compared to timber forests, while at the same time yield twice the tonnage per acre of growth. The ribosome root structure of bamboo enables it to grow within densely-packed forests (utilizing space more efficiently), and as the plant regenerates from the same root every cycle, this reduces soil erosion. Bamboo requires little or no watering throughout its growth cycle and no pesticides need to be applied, resulting in a green and renewable building material.

One of the first companies to import bamboo from China to the United States was Plyboo. Since establishing themselves in the early-90s, they have grown to manage their own forest and manufacturing facilities, with an admirable approach to sustainability. So what is Plyboo, who’s behind it and what makes it such a stand-out product?

What is Plyboo?

Plyboo is the brand of bamboo-based building materials owned by San Francisco-based company Smith & Fong Co. who began importing bamboo from China for construction purposes more than 20 years ago. Today their products are used not only for flooring, but also wall paneling, cabinetry, furniture construction, countertops and other millwork applications. It is available unfinished or pre-finished, with an aesthetic grain, and can be milled with standard woodworking tools.

Not only are they utilizing a renewable building material resource such as bamboo, but they have made every effort to make their operation as sustainable and ethical as possible. All of Plyboo’s bamboo forests are FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified – an international non-profit organization that assists in the responsible management of the world’s forests. This includes the audit of labor practices to ensure they are fair for the local workers involved and their community.

While their bamboo has to be shipped from China (and a regional source of bamboo would be favorable), they have opted for ocean freight as the most ethical alternative available to them. This has been calculated to use less diesel fuel per mile than an 18-wheeler would transporting the material across the United States.

The company was awarded the first non-wood Forest Stewardship Council certification in 2008 for its bamboo resource in China. This recognized the company’s sustainability and provided third-party validation to help boost its market potential. Its PlybooPure range uses urea formaldehyde-free adhesives and was selected as a “Top-10 Green Building Product” by leading sustainable building and design publisher BuildingGreen.

The story behind the brand

Smith & Fong was initially founded by Dan Smith and James Fong in 1989, building a reputation based on the design and manufacture of bamboo art pieces and home wares such as tea canisters and puzzle boxes. But it was in the early 1990s that they purchased a Chinese tea-processing plant to produce bamboo flooring, and became the first company to import Chinese bamboo to the United States.

They started out with an amber flat-grain flooring, before adding a natural-colored one, then introduced architectural-grade bamboo plywood to the line. Since that time they have added bamboo strand flooring to the Plyboo range, as well as coconut palm plywood and flooring under their Durapalm brand.

Today the company produces more than 50 different types of bamboo plywood and around 25 types of bamboo flooring, together with a range of tambour paneling and bamboo veneers. Most of these products earn the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Credit MRc6 for Rapidly Renewable Materials.

How is Plyboo different from regular bamboo building materials?

Plyboo is incredibly strong and versatile, as well as being easy to fabricate, with thick veneers that make it simple to join pieces together. Plyboo harvests their bamboo on a five-year cycle (rather than four years like many other companies), allowing the bamboo to harden further and creating a stronger and higher quality final product.

When harvested, the bamboo is cut using machetes and its outer layer sliced into long, thin strips, which are then dried and planed. This essentially straightens them out, before being placed on a plywood presser and applied with a soy-based binder. This is free from not only urea-formaldehyde, but numerous other carcinogens and VOCs (Volatile Organic Compound) adhesives that are tested by standards groups to assess indoor air quality. This results in a safer product for human use, in addition to its environmental qualities.

Plyboo’s product range

Plyboo’s current range includes bamboo plywood and veneer sheets in three different styles, as well as three exclusive, architecturally-inspired lines which offer unique qualities in a range of textures and colors. All sheets are 4’x8′ X 3/4″ thick and available pre-finished or finished.

This is a series of carved and textured bamboo panels which exhibit an aesthetically-pleasing interplay between a face layer and inner core. Its bi-directional construction ensures strength and stability and it’s available in eight different patterns and colors.

PlybooSound is a sound-dampening panel that helps to reduce ambient noise, making it ideal for restaurants and large open work spaces.

Linear Line
Made entirely of carved Plyboo bamboo panels, the Linear Line features a vertically-fluted face layer, beneath with is a graphic inner core. It was inspired by the natural movement and qualities of woven textiles and suitable for numerous interior features.

Plywood & Veneer
Plyboo’s plywood and veneer range comes in Edge Grain, Flat Grain and Strand, each of which has its own unique qualities. Flat Grain offers a classic bamboo plywood look, while Edge Grain can be cut, sanded, glued and fastened in the same manner as wooden products. Strand differs from other bamboo materials in that it is thrashed and pressed into dense logs, rather than being cut into strips and laminated. The result is a harder and denser material, with a completely different aesthetic.