The Bamboo Ukulele Project

May 21, 2015 in Bamboo Flooring

David St. Martin was hired at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year as the “Tinkerer In Residence” at Mark Day School, in Marin County. As part of the early stages of developing a truly hands-on learning environment for the school’s students, he was tasked with building energy for the program among students and teachers, developing lessons, building a tool collection and teaching.

Smith & Fong met David and the school through providing materials for his bamboo ukulele project, just a small part of what the school has already done this year. The school blog,, documents them all, and it’s worth a look. This is a very unique school.

The ukulele project began to take shape as David experimented with Mark Day’s new laser cutter to build some partial instruments for the purposes of teaching music concepts to a fourth grade class.

“It sort of mushroomed from there,” he said. “Each iteration of the project just became more exciting and interesting and students began coming in to the lab to see what I had done, or give me feedback. One student nudged me to add the angled side to make it look cooler. Another one thought I should make the neck thinner. It became a great tool to talk about prototyping and not letting a seeming failure set you back. Each failure leads to the next insight.”

The ukulele generated enough energy to establish a new elective class for seventh- and eighth-graders to design and build their own instruments. One current student is making a small Plyboo bamboo conga drum!

The focus of the ukulele quickly turned to creating the simplest design that both looked good and sounded great, with a minimum number of pieces and a fairly quick assembly, using no special tools. The idea was for a student to be able to assemble it with simple instructions. Right now the uke has only 45 pieces and can be built and finished in two days.

Mark Day School’s entire fifth grade learns to play ukulele, so the goal David is working on now is creating a learning experience around building one, as he continues to work on simplifying the design while keeping it cool enough for the kids. And he believes there has to be a way to make it their own, so he’s working toward allowing enough customization to truly affect both the look and sound of the instrument.

“Using the bamboo has been nice, not only because it is eco-friendly, but also because it has better resonant properties than other multi-ply materials,” St. Martin said.

David will be at Dwell On Design 2015 in Los Angeles to show off these remarkable instruments.

News Flash: Customers actually are willing to pay more for formaldehyde-free and FSC-certified products

April 24, 2015 in Bamboo Flooring, Formaldehyde-free, FSC-Certified, Sustainability

In light of the recent controversy surrounding formaldehyde emissions in laminated flooring products from China, we decided to conduct an internal sales audit to find out how our customers have responded over time to a premium price on formaldehyde-free and FSC-certified products we make.

The results of our audit indicate our customers have been resilient to cost increases for premium soy-based, formaldehyde-free and FSC®-certified finishes. And we were encouraged by the resilience and commitment of this market to the higher environmental standard.

In one of our most popular bamboo flooring looks, edge-grain amber, Smith & Fong discovered that sales were three-to-one, soy-based, over low-emitting/CARB II-compliant. This was phenomenal. In another recent project just completed, a multi-unit, high-end apartment complex in Marin County, CA, the specification was for 40,000 sq. ft. of formaldehyde-free coconut palm flooring. An additional interesting twist to the project was that management and residences, after recent news of excessive levels of formaldehyde in some imported flooring products, requested confirmation that the flooring product met the stated claims of formaldehyde-free. Given the recent circumstances, we were more then happy to oblige.

To us, this is proof that the concepts of green building, environmental sustainability and indoor air quality have gone mainstream in a very real way and end users are seeing the value in thinking long-term about their health and the health of the planet.

Architizer A+ Awards

April 21, 2015 in Bamboo Flooring, Bamboo Plywood, FSC-Certified, How Green is Bamboo?, Sustainability

Now in its third year, The Architizer A+Awards are the definitive global architectural award venue, with 90+ categories and more than 300 judges. It’s an opportunity to be recognized among the best and the brightest in the profession. It covers everything from design projects to finished products.

This year under the Products category, Smith & Fong won the Jury Award in Finishes for our Reveal Collection wall panels, a product line that has gotten a ton of attention in the past 12 months. Reveal was selected by a group of more than 300 architects, cultural leaders, architecture and design media—and people who actually hire architects. It’s a huge honor.

What is Architizer? Launched in 2009, it has grown to become the largest platform for architecture and design online, hosting projects uploaded by the designers themselves.

For designers, it’s a social networking site that enables them to get projects noticed by their peers and potential clients. And for our purposes, it’s a go-to resource for architects and designers looking for products, particularly for interior projects. Interior finishes has grown to be a very noisy category, so earning a Jury Award distinction in the A+ Awards is a very big deal. And it follows in the footsteps of PlybooSound wall panels winning an equally exciting Editors’ Choice award in Architectural Record’s 2015 Record Products.

Noodle Theory

March 3, 2015 in Bamboo Flooring

IMG_4584I had lunch with a friend at one of my favorite noodle houses in Oakland yesterday: Noodle Theory. It is a small place with a small menu that is both well-loved and well-patronized. Owner Louise Kao’s concept is simple: get as many friends and family as you can in one room on any day, offer a reasonably priced, seasonal menu featuring noodle dishes from various Asian cultures, infused with elements of California cuisine—and enjoy some great food. That’s exactly what we did.

Noodle Theory’s tabletops are made of Plyboo flat amber plywood, and for the constant use they receive, they’re holding up remarkably well. If you are in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood sometime, stop in, try the noodles and check out the Plyboo tabletops.

Bamboo driftwood.

February 19, 2015 in Bamboo Flooring, FSC-Certified, Sustainability

photoI remember when we first starting manufacturing and importing bamboo flooring in 1993,
telling a friend that “one day you will see a house for sale
and it will describe an interior with bamboo flooring.” I was convinced that this would happen
then, and it has happened, but in ways both different and larger than I had imagined.

As the green movement in manufacturing began to influence and change the market, Smith & Fong
obtained FSC certification for our bamboo resources and developed a soy-based, formaldehyde-free production program. Most of the rest of the market moved to big box store suppliers and mass production.

The other day I was out walking the beach with my daughter and looking down noticed a small
wedge of bamboo flooring mixed in with the other driftwood and mix of organic and inorganic

Bamboo flooring has come a long way in 20 years and Smith+Fong  as a company
has had many roads to choose from.  I’m glad that we stayed on the road we chose.