Woodworking enthusiasts are always seeking new techniques to expand their already-considerable skill sets, and one such technique that utilizes natural wood is shou sugi ban. A shooting star in interior design circles circa 2021, this Japanese wood preservation technique brings out the beauty of individual wood pieces and confers the practical benefits of resistance to water and fire.
So just what is shou sugi ban, why should you use it in your DIY projects, which woods do you use and how do you do it? We demystify the particulars of this woodworking technique below plus teach you how to seal with Pure Tung Oil.
The Art of Making Shou Sugi Ban
The term called shou sugi ban translates to charred cedar board, and that concisely describes this woodworking technique. Also known as yakisugi, shou sugi ban is an ancient Japanese technique consists of charring cedar boards, burnishing the burnt results with sandpaper and wire brushes and then sealing the charred surface with natural oils such as Pure Tung Oil.
While this method of preserving wood has become a trendy alternative for indoor home decor, the Japanese have used shou sugi ban on Japanese cedar tree planks since at least the 18th century. Shou sugi ban siding protected their homes’ exteriors due to the waterproof, fire-resistant properties.
Benefits of Shou Sugi Ban
Aside from mitigating damage from water and fire, shou sugi ban burning process creates benefits for DIY woodworking projects. This technique preserves wood so the pieces retain durability over the years, and it provides an attractive finish that fits well with a variety of decorative styles.
Deeper charring results in a deep black look with an alligator skin texture that meshes with numerous color schemes, and lighter charring brings wood grain to the surface for an attractive rustic effect that fits well with farmhouse and lodge-style furnishings.
Additionally, shou sugi ban works well for both small and large projects, making it equally suited to making tabletop candleholders, decorating wood frames and enhancing wood siding.
Woods Used for Shou Sugi Ban
Traditional shou sugi ban utilizes cryptomeria japonica (Japanese red cedar) wood due to its porous structure. Obviously, this wood isn’t common in the United States, so woodworking enthusiasts usually use high-quality North American softwood alternatives like Southern cypress, Western red cedar or basswood.
If you can’t get your hands on any of these woods or just want to experiment with what you have on hand, however, common wood species such as pine, maple, oak and hemlock also work reasonably well for DIY shou sugi ban, though you may not want to use your results for decking, interior and exterior siding or cladding projects.
The Shou Sugi Ban Process
Since you’re going to be dealing with immense heat, you need a safe space to work through the shou sugi ban process — preferably outdoors. Working outdoors ensures exceptional ventilation and reduces the risk of smoke inhalation.
If you’re working indoors in a well-ventilated space, be sure to move anything out of the way that has the potential to catch fire while you’re charring your wood. Whether working indoors or out, make sure to have a fire extinguisher handy just in case sparks fly and you need to quickly put out flames.
When you’ve prepared your work area, gather essential supplies so you have everything close at hand. You need the following for this DIY woodworking project:
- Heat source
- Wire brush
- Coarse sandpaper
- Finishing oil
- Brush for oil application