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Bamboo Fences
(Content adapted from Gardeners Supply Company)

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Bamboo fences are both durable and aesthetically pleasing to look at.  Bamboo is a fast-growing, renewable building material which offers unparalleled strength and a graceful form, not only for supporting plants but also for creating decorative structures.  This article goes through the various methods of building bamboo fences for your garden - picking up the age old traditional methods as used by the Japanese who utilize bamboo extensively in their garden design.  As these methods for making bamboo fences is traditional, it has the added advantage of utilizing very few power tools and with a little practice in knot-tying, you will be able to customize fence and trellis designs to suit your own garden.

Bamboo fences - the Yotsume style

This is a very basic bamboo fence design and is the most popular form in Japanese landscape architecture and has been used since ancient times. Its simple, open lines blend well with any landscape.

bamboo fence - yotsume style

The bamboo fence illustrated here is constructed for maximum durability using naturally rot-resistant wood posts (such as cedar) into which bamboo crosspieces are inserted and vertical canes are then tied on.

To Build the Yotsume Bamboo Fence:

1. Use a spade or post-hole digger to dig holes at least one foot deep. In the illustration the posts are 3 feet tall above the ground and 4 feet apart. Use a taut string and level between the tops of each post to ensure that they are of the same height. Fill in the post holes and tamp down well.

2. Mark the inside of each post at points 1 and 2 feet down from the top of the post. Choose the straightest 1 1/2" dia. bamboo canes (No. 8 Bamboo) to use as cross pieces and cut them to the inside dimension of your bamboo fence panel plus one inch to allow them to be inserted 1/2" into each of the posts. Determine the position of each crosspiece and drill a hole in each post at least 1/2" deep.

3. Insert the bamboo crosspieces into each post and rotate each one if necessary so it looks as straight as possible. Drill a pilot hole at an angle on the back side of each bamboo crosspiece about 1/2" from the fence post, and nail each bamboo crosspiece to the post (see illustration). Use a drill bit slightly larger than the nail and make sure the nail is long enough to go into the post. Be careful not to strike the bamboo with the nail because it may crack.

4. Now that the bamboo crosspieces are in place, simply tie on the vertical bamboo canes, using 3/4" dia. bamboo (No. 4 or No. 6). To get a uniform height, use a taut, level string between the posts to line up the vertical canes. Trim the bamboo canes facing upwards to the nearest joint end.

5. A vertical bamboo cane can be added to each post end, but is not structurally necessary. Tie a knot around the post and bamboo crosspiece as shown for a more finished appearance.

Yotsume bamboo fence design variations

  • Tie vertical canes all on one side or alternating front and back of the crosspieces.
  • Build a taller, stockade-type fence using this design.
  • Pair 3/4" dia. vertical canesto create a more elegant appearance.
  • Tie the bamboo crosspieces to 1 1/2" dia. bamboo posts instead of hardwood posts. Such posts should last two or three years.

Bamboo fences - the Yarai style

This low bamboo fence design is popular in the Kansei region of Japan where it is often used as a property border fence, and is sometimes mounted on an existing stone wall as a finishing touch.

bamboo fence - yarai style

The illustration above shows a 3-foot-high bamboo fence panel that can be easily varied in height, length or in the number of canes used. Here the bamboo fence is 4 feet long between posts allowing for the 'X' at the center of the trellis to fall exactly at the midpoint of the panel.

To Build the Yarai Bamboo Fence:

1. Use a spade or post-hole digger to dig holes at least one foot deep. Use a level and a taut string to ensure that posts are straight and the same height. Backfill post holes and tamp down.

2. Each bamboo crosspiece of this bamboo fence is attached to the back of the posts using a pilot hole and nail. Measure in 1/2" from each end of the cut bamboo crosspieces with a bamboo saw and drill holes straight through the cane. Nail one end in place and, using a level to ensure correct placement, nail the other end into the other post.

3. Now choose the straightest possible bamboo canes for the center of your trellis fence pattern. Measure and mark the two bamboo canes which will form the center X carefully and cut them diagonally to lie flush against the inside edge of each fence post as shown. Drill a pilot hole perpendicular to the post 1/2" from the end of each diagonal and nail the top and bottom to the inside of each fence post.

4. Measure, cut and add trellis pieces as shown in the illustration. Trim the upper end of each diagonal at the nearest joint. Use a taut, level string tied between each post to help align the top ends of the diagonals.

5. Tie the bamboo together where the diagonals cross the back crosspiece. Tying three sections of cane together tautly can be difficult, so use wire twisted tightly with a pair of pliers for extra strength. Try loosely attaching all of the bamboo with wire. Then check the measurements and angle and adjust if necessary, before tightening the wire. Now trim the wire wire, and cover it with black lashing cord, using the traditional knots.

Bamboo Fences - the all essential Ibo knot

This knot is a variation on a standard looped square knot. While any tight knot will hold most bamboo joints, this style of knot gives a neat, finished appearance and is the standard in most Japanese bamboo fence construction.  Use black lashing cord for authenticity.

bamboo fences - step 1 of Ibo knot

bamboo fences - step 2 of Ibo knot

bamboo fences - step 3 of Ibo knot

 

Bamboo Fences - Additional Construction Hints

  • Never nail directly into bamboo. Use a drill to create pilot holes slightly larger than the nail and a nail driver to avoid crushing the cane with your hammer.
  • Use a bamboo saw or a fine hacksaw for cutting.  Wide tooth saws will cause the bamboo to splinter.
  • Always wear gloves (except when tying!) to avoid splinters.  I should know, I tried once without using gloves and cut my hand really badly on the bamboo end pieces.  If you want your bamboo fence building experience to be one to remember for all the good reasons, wear gloves!
  • Bamboo will rot after 2 or 3 years of continuous contact with the soil. Therefore, use hardwood posts for ground-contact supports. Apply natural preservatives like hemp oil or tung oil to bamboo. Petroleum-based preservatives may also be used.  With care, your bamboo fence will last for years, without care, they will age and split with constant weathering.
  • Expect bamboo to turn a light weathered gray as it ages. Bamboo canes will crack through expansion and contraction but that will not diminish their strength.
  • Cut the top of any bamboo cane using a bamboo saw to be used vertically or diagonally above the nearest joint. The interior membrane at the joint will help keep water from collecting in the hollow cane. Use rot-resistant wood such as cedar or pressure treated lumber no bigger than 4" x 4" for fence posts. Round fence posts seem to blend more harmoniously than square ones - and that's natural - bamboo is has a round cross section and will therefore blend better with round fence posts.
  • Apply a dark wood stain if you want to simulate the scorched appearance of traditional Japanese designs.
  • It is traditional to use dark twine known as 'shuro nawa' to hold the smaller bamboo pieces together - see black lashing cord.
  • Bamboo canes vary in their color, straightness, cracking and position of joints. Take this into account when building your bamboo fence.

Read more about bamboo fences and bamboo

Building Bamboo Fences by Isao Yoshida, Tokyo: Graphic-sha Publishing Co., Ltd., 1999.

The World of Bamboo by Shinji Takama and Tsutomu Minakami. San Francisco: Heian International, Inc., 1983.

Space and Illusion in the Japanese Garden by Teiji Itoh, New York: John Weatherhill, Inc., 1988.

Building with Bamboo : A Handbook by Jules J.A. and Dr. Janssen, Portland

The Book of Bamboo by David Farrelly, San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1984.>

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