Sorting and preparing Calcutta bamboo for ski poles

Sorted Calcutta bamboo paired and lined up along a stone wall.

Good things come to those who wait! I just received a refill of my bamboo stock. Around Christmas last year I ordered a refill of Calcutta bamboo from my supplier in India. There are no middlemen, as I order straight from the source. An order actually starts from scratch. First, I reserve the number of canes I will need, even before they are harvested. Then, after harvest in May, the artisans in India cut, sort and prepare the canes for export.

Bamboo by birth is crooked, as my supplier and friend Dipankar of DS Export International says. Therefore, the artisans working with the canes carefully check all the sticks and straighten if they need to. In order to straighten the bamboo, they first move the canes over open fire, to soften them. Then, while the bamboo is soft, they straighten the canes with the help of a trunk. See photo below! This also completely removes any germs on the outer silica surface. So, smoking is a mandatory step.

Natural caramel tone or dainty dark tan

I use natural-colored Calcutta bamboo canes, or Dendrocalamus strictus as the scientific name is. They have a light “caramel” tone. But some ski pole manufacturers use “dark tan” bamboo. To get the dark tan color, the artisans have to do “hard smoking” at very high temperatures. Hard smoking the bamboo must be done with care. If there is a high moisture or sugar content inside, there is a risk of the bamboo bursting at these high temperatures. For natural caramel color the fire temperature is very low. It’s just for straightening. The dark tan color is of course also natural. No artificial color or chemical application is used.

I split this bamboo shipment with my friend Bart of the ski brand Kustomaid. He ordered dark tan while I ordered the caramel tone. But for fun we switched one bag each with each other. So, I can now offer a limited edition of dark tanned ski poles.

Sorting, pairing and matching the perfect ski pole “couple”

It takes two to tango, also when making ski poles. Pairing canes is a crucial step in making ski poles. I don’t randomly pick two canes to make a pair of poles. To make the perfect pair of poles I strive to give both poles the same properties. If they are equal in weight, diameter, and internodal spacing, they will perform equally. And subsequently they will feel the same in both of your hands. Some canes are thicker, some are thinner. Some have a short internodal spacing and others have a long. So, pairing and matching is very important.

When I open a new gunny bag of bamboo, I always line them up along a wall. Then I start to pair them up, two by two. It takes a while. I measure the diameter and check the internodal spacing, and I try to find a friend. I aim for equal thickness of the cell walls as well. Back when I used Tonkin canes, this was awkward. It took ages, and I still wasn’t happy in the end. Now, with the Calcutta canes, the process is much quicker and easier, particularly on sunny days. Why? Well, because the Calcutta bamboo is so accurately selected and sorted by the skilled artisans in India.

/Fabian Rimfors

The bamboo artisans in action

An artisan is heating the Calcutta canes over embers to soften the canes, so that they can be straightened.
An artisan is heating the Calcutta canes over embers to soften the canes. After that they can be straightened using the jack in the trunk beside.
An artisans is straightening a Calcutta bamboo cane using a jack in a trunk.
The skilled artisans are very good at straightening Calcutta canes that are not totally straight.
An artisan is roasting Calcutta canes over open fire to get dark tanned bamboo.
You need high temperatures and vigilance to get the desired dark tan of the Calcutta bamboo.
A natural Calcutta bamboo cane above compared to a dark tan cane below.
A natural caramel colored cane compared to a dark tanned one.
Gunnybag with dark tanned Calcutta bamboo.
Each gunny bag contains 50 canes and they are always very well selected. This is a bag with dark tan Calcutta canes.
Sorted Calcutta bamboo paired and lined up along a stone wall.
Every time I open a gunny bag with Calcutta bamboo, I sort and pair all the 50 canes, matching thickness, weight, and internodal distance.
Calcutta bamboo with thick cell walls to the left and with thinner to the right.
Calcutta bamboo from the thin end. It is important to pair the bamboo correctly, so that the cell walls in each par match each other. The left pair is perfect for taking a beating in the glades, while the right pair is lighter and ideal for ski touring.
Bamboo canes with different internodal distances.
Here you clearly see how I have paired bamboo canes after their internodal distances. Long, intermediate and short.
Rimfors Calcutta bamboo stock, where the gunny bags with Calcutta bamboo are stored, above the ski pole workshop.
Now the bamboo stock in the attic above my workshop is refilled.

My first pair with dark tan bamboo

Dark tan bamboo ski poles with reindeer grip extensions.
My first pair of poles using dark tan bamboo. Stunning! As the leather ages it will darken like a Chesterfield chair.
Dark tanned bamboo ski poles with grip extension of reindeer leather.
The dark tan bamboo is a beautiful alternative that I can offer in a limited edition.
Rock ptarmigan engraved on dark bamboo ski poles.
The custom engraving may not be as visible on the dark bamboo. But this rock ptarmigan came out wonderfully anyway.