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The Charred Beauty of Shou Sugi Ban

Shou sugi ban refers to the end product rather than charring of the wood. Tip: Use it as a noun and not as a verb or adjective. You may have never heard the word, but you may have seen examples of it without knowing what it was. The technology is labor intensive, but the results are fantastic and give a dark color that is the test of the time. You may want to consider using this centuries-old product to give a unique touch to the exterior or interior of your home.

flame charring wood

What is it?

The term shou sugi ban is the result of a misjudgment of the term yakisugi. In Japanese, yaki means charred or burnt, while Sugi refers to the wood – specifically Sugi Cypress, also called Japanese Cedar – which is traditionally used for the product. Shou sugi ban combined Chinese and Japanese pronunciations of yakisugi, and has become the most common term in the West for heat-treated wood.

This old form of preservation is gaining popularity around the world, as the methodical process of drying, firing and extinguishing makes the surface of the wood a rich ebony paint that is waterproof, durable and requires little maintenance.

charred diagonal wood pattern

How is it created?

It starts with the right choice of wood. Sugi Cypress is endemic to Japan, so in the west cedar is used which can be more easily procured. Its light and porous properties make it an ideal material for manufacturing shou sugi ban, but it can also be done with pine, maple or oak.

The wood must be dried thoroughly before the intensive heat treatment. Air drying is preferable to oven drying. When completely dry, the wood is fed into an enclosed fire and carefully monitored to ensure that it is extinguished at just the right moment before it is completely burned. It can also be heated by hand, but that method requires more experience.

flame that charms a candlestick holder

After heat treatment, the wood is dried again and is ready for use as it is. At this stage, the wood gets a characteristic cracked appearance like what you see in a log burning in a fireplace or a campfire. Other options are available if you are not into the rustic look of the rough surface.

hand brushes a charred piece of wood

Coal can brush away to reveal a lighter color and the fine pattern on the wood grain underneath. Depending on your wishes, a second brushing can also be done to better reveal the beauty of the wood patterns.

hands applying steel wool to charred wooden candle holder

When the desired surface has been reached, the wood must be coated with linseed oil to create a seal against the elements for correct weather resistance.

hand-treated charred wooden surface

What is it used for?

This versatile material has many uses. Traditionally, it was used for exterior siding and shipbuilding, but the modern creative DIYer can figure out many ways to integrate this durable material on both the exterior and interior of their homes. Outdoor furniture made with this wood is extremely beautiful with its warm, rich tones. Decks and railings, interior accents, shelves, etc. are just some of the places there shou sugi ban Can be used.

shou sugi ban house

Why use it?

The beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so if you love dark wood jewelry, this look is a definite turnaround. If you are just so uneven with the aesthetic appeal shou sugi ban, consider another reason to love it: its durability and almost maintenance-free service life. Cedar is a long-lasting material, and exposing it to the heat treatment process makes it even more so. Charging the surface minimizes cellulose that would normally attract harmful insects. The resulting soot layer increases its resistance to fire due to the elevated threshold for combustion.

In its original, unbrushed state, shou sugi ban resists weathering and helps keep the paint for 40 years or longer, depending on the burns and site conditions. On the other hand brushed shou sugi ban will be susceptible to weathering like any other wood and will require periodic oil treatment with a few years to maintain its waterproof capacity and keep it looking its best.

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