ell you're in the grove having checked out the bamboo. Now is the time to do some cutting. The technique used for harvesting the bamboo depends on the type of flutes you wish to make and the time you have to spend in the grove.
If you only want to get a whole lot of bamboo in the shortest amount of time and not bother about the root section then all you need to do is cut the piece horizontally as close as possible to the ground. You can use any type of saw really as long as it's sharp and fairly fine. There are a lot of saws especially designed to cut bamboo. I would really recommend these type if you can get your hand on one. They are razor sharp with specially cut teeth and do a fantastic job. If you can't get one of these then any good quality type of pruning saw will do.
When cutting the bamboo it's important to avoid splitting the bamboo as much as possible. Whilst bamboo is incredibly strong material it's also very easy to split and any rough treatment is likely to cause splitting which may not be apparent until actually going to make the flute. It's important then to cut gently.
By cutting the bamboo just above the ground as mentioned it's possible to get literally huge amounts of bamboo in a single day. I used to go out to a grove and in a day harvest as much bamboo as I'd need for at least 6 months and perhaps a whole year.
Because you can get at least 2 and mostly 3 flutes from one piece of bamboo, in one day I could get enough bamboo for literally hundreds and hundreds of flutes. Because I make good flutes, at the prices I used to sell them for I made quite a reasonable living selling maybe ten flutes a week. Considering I can easily make 5 reasonable flutes a day this turned out to be quite a good lifestyle when you think about it.
Go out for a day harvesting and get enough raw material to last 6 months. Zero cost for the material. Work 3 days a week or so making the flutes. Go out to a local market for a day and sell some flutes. I also used to carry flutes with me where ever I went. So between the markets and flutes I'd sell here and there I ended up with quite a beautiful lifestyle.
But I digress. Back to the cutting. Well you just go for it. Cut as many pieces as you can as close as possible to the ground. In half a day you can easily fill up a ute with bamboo.
Before loading the pieces I used to cut off the tops just after they started to branch. If you have a look at the species of running bamboo that I use you will notice that at the bottom of the culm there are no branches growing sideways.
For flute making the tops of the bamboo are really not much good. After the bamboo starts to branch the piece loses it's cylindrical shape. And this has an effect on the inside bore shape. You can usually use the piece to a couple of joins after it branches but not much more. That's why I cut the tops off. The tops are no good for flute making anyway. Also means that the load you take home is much smaller. So that's the procedure for a quick cut. Pretty easy really.
ut what if you're going to make some "High Quality" flutes and want to use that prized root section of the bamboo that you see on traditional Shakuhachi flutes. In this case you'll need to somehow dig the whole culm out of the ground. This is another story altogether and takes much longer than just cutting the bamboo at base level just above the ground.
If you're to get that root section out of the ground in one piece intact then you'll have to progressively and carefully cut around the root till the piece is lose enough to lift out. This is a fairly tricky process. If you look at the picture you'll see the culm of bamboo has a large intricate root section at the the bottom which is below the ground when it's growing. To get this root section you have to cut through the roots. The roots are actually very brittle and much care is needed to cut them. If it is not done properly then you'll most likely split the root and all your hard work is for nothing.
To cut through the roots I use a fairly wide ( 2 or 3 inch) heavy wood chisel and a heavy mallet. You'll appreciate that cutting through the roots of the bamboo involves actually cutting through the soil. I've tried many different tools for this. An old wood chisel about 50mm wide does a good job. You drive it into the ground with a heavy mallet thereby actually cutting through the roots underground. The picture at left should give you an idea of how to cut the roots.
Insert the chisel about 10 cm or so from the actual base of the bamboo and angle it slightly towards the middle of the root section. With the mallet drive the chisel into the ground cutting through the roots until it is about 150 cm into the ground. Then remove the chisel and repeat the process making your way all round the base until the whole culm starts to get fairly lose when you try to move the piece sideways.
You need to be fairly sensitive here. If the root is lose but does not want to lift out of the ground easily then do not force it out. Even if you've cut through most of the roots, if you try to force it out then there is still a high likelihood that you'll crack the root section. So take note of any roots that have not been severed and cut through those places with the chisel. The whole culm should fairly effortlessly lift out of the ground with very little or no force.
Once out of the ground the base of the bamboo should look something like in the above picture. After you've lifted it out of the ground at this stage do not try to trim off any excess roots or shake off the soil. The root section is easier to clean up at a later time when it is dry. You can then cut off the top section of the bamboo as described before.
Obviously getting the root section out takes a lot longer than just cutting the bamboo at base level. It is also quite hard work. The roots are very tough and your chisel will blunt very quickly. As a rough estimate you're doing very well if you can get 10 root sections an hour. However after an hour or so of this you'll likely need a good rest because your arms will feel as if they're dropping off. So harvesting root sections is best left to situations where you have plenty of time and are not in a hurry.
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