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Bamboo as Mast and Spars

The publisher’s low-down on bamboo and how to make it into spars
Ed Maurer, Dunedin, Florida

Bamboo can be used on rigging of any size.

After going through all the work of building my sharpie, the last thing I was in the mood for was building the mast and spars. From the beginning of the project, I had it in mind to use only materials historically available in Florida, since I wanted to emulate a vessel that may have been built here. It may seem like a silly notion, but there you have it.
I had the same issue when I built my canoe sailing rig—I just didn’t want to go through making my own spars. What I found then was cured timber that had been cut by the power company when clearing lines. I found a piece that would make a good mast and two more as spars for my lateen, though they had some intriguing “personality” of their own by way of knots and gentle bends in several directions. However, all three worked like champs and required only a little woodworking and varnish. Hard to beat the look of grown spars!

Then I “discovered” bamboo. I knew from the beginning it would be good to use, but at the time I didn’t have the patience to learn more about it and find a source. I’ve overcome all that now.

Bamboo has a number of benefits and, for canoe sailing purposes, only a few drawbacks. First—the drawbacks: It isn’t universally available, but you’ll see many types generally are, and it can’t be worked into a double taper like solid wood and it probably shouldn’t be drilled through, unless reinforced.

Reinforce load-bearing ends with hardwood inserts and pad abrasion areas with leather.

Now, benefits…I’ll keep this short as well…Bamboo is cheap, it’s already round, it’s already tapered, it is very light and very strong, it has natural flotation chambers, it’s easy to work, it flexes and almost never snaps, and (maybe the most important attribute) it makes great looking spars.

Now, not all bamboo is created equal. While many are useful for our purposes, some are too weak and should be avoided.   I believe the most important consideration you must have when choosing what species to use is to either know specifically what you want, or deal with bamboo dealers who understand your needs. From what I’ve found, most dealers have an intimate knowledge of their product and should be able to help you, though dealing with fellow sailors helps!

Read more in Vol 1, No. 1

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