David Frane

In last week’s story, Strange Tools of the Week, I asked readers if they could identify an unusual item I encountered at the Hida Tool and Hardware Company store in Berkeley, California. The store is a little hole-in-the-wall place that is easy to miss; I’d driven by it for years without knowing it was there. But I made a point to stop in after a guy at a party raved to me about the place. I’m glad I went; Hida Tool is filled with cool Japanese tools, including many I’d not seen before. The tool pictured here is one of the more perplexing ones I saw, and I had to read the label to find out what it is.

I asked readers what they thought the tool might be and here’s what they said:

  • Joe: I would say it was an apple slicer or a log splitter for splitting kindling
  • Christopher: A counter sinking tool?
  • David: Looks like a kindling splitter. Put it on the end of a 2-4 inch diameter branch or log and whack it with a big hammer to get it started, then just push down on the handles.
  • Scott: a pineapple cutter
  • Miguel: Bamboo Splitter. Google it ... plenty of images
  • Kerry said: Bamboo splitter was what I thought, too. It would be used to make long slats from thick stems of the stuff. Although (since I was an industrial construction electrician and conduit jockey for many years) if I had seen it outside of the Japanese context I would have thought it was a conduit cut de-burring tool for large diameter EMT

None of these are completely bad guesses, but only Miguel and Kerry got it right; it’s a bamboo splitter. I looked up “bamboo splitter” on the web and was surprised by the number of photos and videos I found of hand and powered splitters—which made me wonder: What do people do with all that split bamboo?

Turns out they do a lot. In Asia, bamboo is just another material, like wood, steel, or plastic. In that part of the world it is used to make everything from baskets, fencing, and furniture to the bamboo flooring sold in this country. Someone once sent me a photo of construction workers in Hong Kong far up the side of a high-rise on bamboo staging.

So how do you spit bamboo on a more industrial scale? You can see a couple of examples in the videos below. In the first video a woman in Malaysia uses an electric machine to split bamboo for baskets. I have no idea what will be done with the material being split in the second video; I included it because I’ve seen multiple versions of this machine—and each time I see it I cringe at the thought of the crotch-level chain drive and gears. Really, how hard would it be to put a guard on that thing? Or put the drive mechanism on the opposite side of the machine?