Here's a colleague's learned and poetic disertation:
Rules of the Sukkah, Rabbi Art Gould
After years of Sukah ("booth") designing and building, using
two-by-fours, four-by-fours, plywood, available scrap, and PVC
tubing (for a geodesic dome), I have discovered a material that
stands beyond all the rest: bamboo. I have long admired this
grand grass for its smooth elegance and its potential. A stalk
of bamboo, more properly a "culm," seems to suggest uses, as if
already half processed into, say, a flute, a container, a fishing
pole. I had begun thinking of it as Sukah element when the local
university library found me a copy of a 52 page reprint by the
Peace Corps of a 1953 USDA document: "BAMBOO AS A BUILDING
MATERIAL." A real architect, my brother-in-law, liked the idea
and sent me a few suggestive and inspirational sketches. Now,
with a couple of years of hands on experience, I recommend,
without reservation this new way to build an old structure: the
eight day shelter.
Nothing approaches bamboo for being lightweight and yet
strong and rigid at lengths up to 30 feet and more; easy to cut,
drill, shape; a smooth, hard, splinter free, surface, requiring
no paint, and all natural, readily available, and cheap! I would
use it on a balcony, but for a large, public booth, only bamboo
goes up (and comes down) with such ease in the hands of
The following 16 by 20 foot model has worked for two years
and its components are resting in storage for assembly after Yom
Kipur breakfast. It fits nicely on a cement patio behind our
synagogue in Monroe, LA, but would stand as elegantly on grass or
gravel. We wall ours with rolls of bamboo curtain (that cost
more than all the rest of the material) but industrial rolls of
burlap served well with the old, much more painful, wooden
structure. For schach ("cover branches") we prefer a load of
fresh cut young bamboo but tree and bush prunings will do as
well. Local needs determine the measurements -- we crowd tables
and chairs for 30 diners into ours.
The following bamboo pieces will make a 16' X 20' sukah:
number description diameter length
4 Corner posts 4"-5" 9'
3 Door posts 4" 9'
2 Beam braces 3"-4" 7'
2 Beam members 3" 22'
2 Beam members 3" 18'
20 Rafter members 1"-2" 17'
(For the walls, of whatever flexible 7' wide material:
37' and 24' lengths. Seven 2' lengths of iron pipe, 5"
inside diameter, for permanant installation. Lots of
We found bamboo available locally for little more than the
cutting but a source in New Orleans was prepared to sell us the
pieces already cut to order for about $100. (One of our members
provided the shipping on his truck that was headed back from
N.O.) An ad in the local paper requesting bamboo brought us
A few minutes on the Internet will yield sources for bamboo
The culms should be precut to length. A handheld saber saw
makes short work of the U shaped slots at the top of the corner
and door posts and the J shape of the beam braces. We had a
professional drill the concrete and set two foot lengths of five
inch iron pipe for the corners and door posts (with iron disks to
cover the holes the rest of the year). A post hole digger would
do the job on dirt. Mark out a 20' by 16' rectangle and drill in
each corner. We set door posts for front and back doors, 4'
wide, to make it easy to carry tables in and out of the Sukah.
Your location will determine whether the doors should be in the
longer or shorter side.
Gravity holds the whole thing together, aided by a simple
trick: heavy rubber bands cut from an inner tube. With a pair of
large, sharp scissors, cut into one-inch wide loops an automobile
inner tube, with maybe a couple of bicycle tubes for good
measure. Once this is none, you need no tools for construction,
year after year. Even dressed for Yom Kippur, a few Jews of all
ages (at least one tall) will have a good time doing the mitsvah
in an hour or so.
1) Set corner posts and door posts into their holes.
2) Set 22' beam members into slots in corner posts.
3) Set 18' beam members at juncture of 22' beams and corner
posts, passing through slots in door posts.
4) Secure beams to posts with rubber bands.
5) Lay rafter members across 22' beams at 1 foot intervals.
Attach with rubber bands -- loop around rafter inward
of beam, stretch around beam, loop around
outward of beam.
6) Take photographs.
7) Hang wall using wire, string, depending on material.
Schach on top, more bamboo, if it's plentiful, otherwise any cut
Hiddur haMitsvah: decorate
Party for 8 days!