Published on Thursday, April 11, 2019
It’s hot at the moment - Shou Sugi Ban is a technique for treating timber with fire, leaving it with a charred surface. Seems a bit extreme? Well, it’s an ancient Japanese treatment that has made a modern comeback.
It can be applied to many species of timber, machined into a variety of profiles, and put to a number of uses - most commonly as cladding, fencing and decking.
It’s not hard to see why it’s become so popular - this unique, eye-catching charring technique has a distinctive aesthetic appeal, as well as a number of interesting benefits and uses. This blog post explains everything you’ll need to know about Shou Sugi Ban - its history, how it’s done, why it’s popular, what its uses are, and where to get it.
Shou Sugi Ban uses the method of Yakisugi to char its wood. Yakisugi is a traditional Japanese technique for wood preservation. Yaki means to use fire, and sugi refers to the type of Japanese cedar traditionally used (a soft timber native to Japan).
Yakisugi became a popular technique in Japan as a way of treating cedar siding to make it strong and waterproof; evidence exists to suggest the practice dates back to the 1700s. It was extremely popular as a way of creating beautiful, durable timber. Shou Sugi Ban fell out of favour in the 20th century with the emergence of plastics and an increasing cost of timber.
21st-century architects and designers have picked up and revived this centuries-old practice, with it again becoming popular for external and internal cladding projects for its aesthetically-pleasing, durable charred finish.
The right choice of timber is crucial. The best type of timber to use for Shou Sugi Ban are open-celled, softwood timbers - in line with Japanese tradition. This is partly because there needs to be a minimum depth of char when the treatment is applied, to stop the burned effect being worn off by weather conditions. This depth is harder to achieve on hardwoods. However, Japanese cedar - as an example - is a lighter, more porous wood, lending itself to the charring process much better.
The charring is accomplished with a blowtorch, with a brush, oil and a cloth to finish the job. Depending on the timber species, profile, finish and oils used, the end product can vary to quite an extent. The charred wood can be finished with an oil in order to enhance its appearance. This is more suited to interior use, however - note that UV and rainwater will cause the finish to weather quickly in an exterior environment.
The unique, distinctive appearance of timber finished with this charring technique is undeniable. The timber’s chic, mysterious darkness can evoke ancient Japanese vibes, and can find itself at home in many contemporarily-stylish ‘dark’ interior and exterior projects. The charring process gives a charcoal-black finish, revealing timber’s clean, raw texture.
The charring process can produce all kinds of different looks - this could be a contemporary ‘sleek’ burned look or a highly-burned traditional look, giving an alligator skin vibe. Shou Sugi Ban can be applied to many species of timber, machined into a variety of profiles, and put to a number of uses - most commonly as cladding, fencing and decking.
Many designers find Shou Sugi Ban to be a refreshing, bold alternative to black paints or stains. This makes it very simple to contrast and complement with other furniture when applied internally. It’s hard to go wrong with Shou Sugi Ban!
Photo credit: URBANADD Architects.
It’s true that Shou Sugi Ban’s resurgence in popularity is entirely down to its aesthetic appeal amongst architects and designers. However, it’s still worth celebrating the timber’s strength. Despite the burned surface giving it a perceived fragility, the actual charred timber itself is extremely strong; when performed correctly, the charring process makes Shou Sugi Ban timber as durable as hardwood.
Did we mention that it can also be eco-friendly? By negating the need for retardants, preservatives and paints, Shou Sugi Ban is also an environmentally-friendly way to preserve timber. As mentioned earlier, the charring treatment also makes the timber water resistant! Make sure to also look for a timber provider with FSC®-certified suppliers (hint hint: us!).
Photo credit: japanese_craft_construction
The lifespan of Shou Sugi Ban varies based on the depth of the char, and the use of protection oil. It’s recommended that you treat your Shou-Sugi-Ban® timber with a char oil every year or two.
With the right level of char depth, and with the choice of appropriate oil protection, there have been examples of Shou Sugi Ban timber lasting for over 50 years.
You can get your hands on some of this special charred timber by through the team at Duffield Timber. Our timber experts will be able to guide you through the process and nail down the exact requirements for your project.
For all things timber, we’re your people. Get in touch with our friendly team to discuss your next timber project, or pop in for a chat at our HQ in Melmerby, near Ripon!