Shou Sugi Ban (also referred to as Yakisugi) is an ancient Japanese technique of wood preservation known to bring out the beauty of wood pieces in addition to providing the piece with natural resistance to fire, bugs, water, and rot.
This wood finishing method involves charring the wood surface with a torch and then sealing it with oils such as tung oil.
While Pure Tung Oil is the most recommended option to seal beautifully charred wood siding and decor, other finishing oils, such as hemp oil, can also get the job done.
But if you are interested in trying this technique, you will want to learn more about Shou Sugi Ban finish, how it’s done, the type of wood used in the process, and how to seal charred wood.
Below you will find a step-by-step guide along with many other tips and guidelines. So, make sure you stay with me and keep on reading until the end.
Shou Sugi Ban Finish History
The Shou Sugi Ban finish is visually stunning and an excellent way to protect your exterior wood siding, outdoor wood furniture, or décor from the elements.
The Japanese have utilized the Shou sugi ban on Japanese cedar tree planks since at least the 18th century, and it has become a popular way to preserve wood indoors.
Shou sugi ban siding also helped preserve their homes’ exteriors owing to the water – and fire-resistant qualities.
The wood used for the project
Shou sugi ban practitioners traditionally used cryptomeria japonica, or Japanese red cedar, due to its porous and absorbent properties.
However, this type of wood is not widely available in the United States as of now.
As a result, many U.S.-based Shou sugi ban artists utilize high-quality North American softwood substitutes, including Western red cedar, Southern cypress, and Basswood.
Many other wood species like pine, oak, maple, and hemlock also work if you are just beginning, trying to learn the technique, or do not have the above options available.
You should however choose the wood wisely for projects such as siding, cladding, decking, or outdoor decor furniture to get fine results.
The Modern-Era Benefits of Shou Sugi Ban
A few benefits that the Shou sugi ban burning process offers are:
- Enhanced durability to the wood for decades
- Attractive finish and color that suits various home decor styles
- Suitable for small as well as large surfaces and projects indoors and outdoors
Whether you plan to decorate your tabletop candleholders, wooden frames, or wood siding; or want to add a rustic look to your kitchen cabinets, this finishing technique will serve the purpose.
The best part is that once you learn how to do it, you can experiment with this wood-burning and finishing technique on any suitable project.
For example, if you want a deep black look (much like the texture of alligator skin), char the wood deeply.
Or if you’re going for more of a rustic effect, lighter charring is key to bringing out the wood grain and making it more visible – this usually fits better with farmhouse-style lodges and cabins.
Choose the techniques per your preference and decor style, as some might not mesh well with all color schemes.
How to Do Shou Sugi Ban Finish – The Process?
There are various ways to do the Shou sugi ban finish, but charring the wood with a torch is the most commonly used method.
This technique is easy to follow and gives you more control over the final look of the wood.
The steps to charring wood with a torch are:
Step 1- Preparing the Work Area
Start by preparing the space where you will be working with the wood surface and all the heating work – you always need to be safe when working with fire by ensuring you have plenty of ventilation.
The best place to work is outdoors, but if you’re indoors, make sure the room is well-ventilated and that there’s nothing nearby that could catch on fire.
Have a fire extinguisher handy at all times, just in case something goes wrong.
Step 2- Charring the Wood Surface
Yakisugi woodworking, or Shou sugi ban, is best achieved using modern propane torches and blowtorches that offer high heat intensity and excellent flame control.
- Begin by setting up your equipment and arranging the wood pieces you want to char.
- Next, use your heat source to start burning the wood.
- The wood will blacken and develop soot after about 5-10 seconds of concentrated heat.
- Observe as you work, and stop the burning process once you see the surface split (much like the logs in a fireplace).
- During the wood-burning process, the end grains tend to burn slower than the face grains. Consider applying a bit more heat to those areas for an even charred pattern.
Remember to take extra safety precautions while doing this work, such as wearing protective clothing and eyewear.
Step 3- Brushing the Charred Wood Surface
The next step of the Shou sugi ban process is to brush the surface to remove the charred wood pieces from the topmost layer of your project and reveal its inner beauty.
The majority of Yakisugi woodworking fans achieve this by wire brushing, but you may also use coarse sandpaper instead to get rid of any char.
If you’re going with a wire brush, stroke in the direction following the grain and remove enough from the top layer until you expose the brownish-black shade that’s typical for the Shou sugi ban wood-burning technique.
Once the surface is brushed, wipe the surface down with a wet cloth to clean off any remains of the charred wood.
Be sure that the surface is dry before moving to the next step – which is sealing.
Shou Sugi Ban Tung Oil Sealer – Sealing the Charred Wood
Although the charred Yakisugi woodworking pieces obtained from the above process are resistant to elements, using pure tung oil on your project will help further to increase the durability of timber and its lifespan.
This is simply because tung oil penetrates deep into the wood grain and provides a protective barrier against moisture, UV rays, mold, and mildew.
- To apply the tung oil to the charred wood, simply pour some of it onto a lint-free cloth.
- Then rub it into the wood grain in a circular motion. Remember to work in small sections and go with the grain when applying the oil.
- After you’re done with one section of the charred wood, move on to the next and continue until the entire surface is covered.
- Let the tung oil sit on your Yakisugi woodworking project for about 15-20 minutes, and then wipe off any excess with a clean cloth.
- If required, apply a second coat of the oil sealer to your charred wood project while focusing on areas that haven’t absorbed much of the oil.
- Leave the surface to dry for at least 24 hours, and your Yakisugi project is ready for use and handle.
Many woodworkers prefer hitting this finished surface one more time with a blowtorch to get a better finish with oil sealer. But that’s completely optional.
What Can You Use Instead of Tung Oil for Sealing the Charred Wood?
In my opinion, pure tung oil works best for indoor charred wood projects.
But that doesn’t mean it’s mandatory; you can use other finishing oils like hemp oil if you do not have a tung oil wood finish available.
Hemp oil will provide the same barrier against moisture and other elements, but it may not penetrate as deep into the wood grain. As a result, you may need to apply more coats of hemp oil to achieve the same results as tung oil.
Also, remember that if you are working on an outdoor wood charring project (that would remain outdoors), it will need improved weather resistance.
Grab an oil that’s a combination of tung oil and linseed oil, or get one that contains zinc as an additive.
It will cost you more, but the results are definitely worth it – your outdoor charred wood project will become much more durable and weather resistant.
The bottom line
Shou sugi ban is an excellent alternative to regular woodworking and finishing methods, and it offers a host of benefits.
Not only is the process relatively simple, but it also doesn’t require any fancy equipment or materials. Plus, the resulting charred wood surface is beautiful and extremely durable.
Consider sealing your Shou sugi ban woodworking project effectively to make your project look best with the passage of time.
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Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.