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Shou Sugi Ban Japanese Technique for Charred Wood: A Designer Cladding, Decking, Furniture and Fencing Choice

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 actually a traditional Japanese method that has made a modern comeback.

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 actually a traditional Japanese method 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. Of all the charring wood techniques, Shou Sugi Ban is one you should have your eye on.

This blog post explains everything you’ll need to know about this Japanese burnt wood technique — its history, how it’s done, why it’s popular, what its uses are, and where to get it.

Close up of Shou Sugi Ban timber

The history of Shou Sugi Ban

Treating wood by burning is no new thing — Shou Sugi Ban (焼杉板) uses the method of Yakisugi to char its wood and provide a burnt finish.

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.

Close up of Shou Sugi Ban timber

The benefits of Shou Sugi Ban

1. Beautiful

The unique, distinctive appearance of timber finished with this charring technique is undeniable. The timber’s chic, mysterious darkness evokes 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 the timber’s clean, raw texture.

Whether a Shou Sugi Ban wood deck, charred wood door, burnt oak cladding or something else, this beautiful technique can be applied to all manner of furniture, giving it a dramatic, beautiful look.

Shou Sugi Ban style bed frame

2. Versatile

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!

Shou Sugi Ban internal cladding

3. Durable

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 and durability.

Despite the burned surface giving it a perceived fragility, the actual charred wood is extremely strong; when performed correctly, the charring process makes the timber as durable as hardwood.

The burning process also seals the wood to quite an extent, making it waterproof; this makes it a perfect choice for exterior use as charred decking, cladding or fencing, for example.

4. Sustainable

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!).

Close up of Shou Sugi Ban timber

Performing Shou Sugi Ban: the considerations

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.

Shou Sugi Ban process

Shou Sugi Ban: Oil treatment & lifespan

How long does Shou Sugi Ban last for? Its lifespan 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.

Shou Sugi Ban being coated

What can Shou Sugi Ban wood be used for?

This architecturally-led burnt timber finish can itself at home anywhere at your property. For architects and designers, it’s proving very popular for cladding, decking and fences; perhaps you’ve got a DIY project in mind — popular too are Shou Sugi Ban tables, chairs and even bed frames!

A range of timber species can be suitable for receiving this Japanese burnt wood finish. Some of the most popular wood types include pine, oak and, as traditionally used in Japan, cedar.

How exactly do I pronounce 'shou sugi ban'?!

A great question. You probably won't get many funny looks regardless of how you say it, but if you want to go for full authenticity, then the correct pronunciation will help.

  • Shou - 'sh-ow' as in the first four letters of shower.
  • Sugi - 'soo' as in Sue, followed by 'gee' as in the letter G.
  • Ban - as it looks - simply 'ban!'.

Sh-ow-soo-gee-ban.

Close up of Shou Sugi Ban timber

Where to get Shou Sugi Ban

If you’re searching for Shou Sugi Ban wood for sale, you can get your hands on some of this special charred timber through 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, Yorkshire!

Shou Sugi Ban cladded gable end

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