We recently discovered a fascinating way how to use fire to apply a unique finish to wooden surfaces. Yes, you read right. Fire is probably the one thing we always stay away from when working with wood. You avoid it in the same way, as you would never blow-dry your hair while sitting in the bathtub.
The question is: Why do we intenionally set wood on fire?
From time immemorial, fire was always the biggest enemy of humanity. A billion times cities were burning, buildings got destroyed, families lost everything, and lives were taken. The great fire of London in 1666 swept through the whole city for three days and took the homes of 70,000 people away – the city had only 80,000 inhabitants at that time. Not only in Europe, but also all over the world, fire was, and still is, greatly feared.
Maybe this is why, centuries ago, some great Japanese minds had the idea to give back as they were given. Maybe, wood has to be treated with fire to become fire-resistant. We do not know how many times they tried to find the cure and how many might have gotten injured. But one day their experiments succeeded and a new technique was born: Shou Sugi Ban.
What is Shou Sugi Ban?
Japanese cedar is the English translation for sugi, though technically it belongs more to the family of cypress than cedars. Shou Sugi Ban translates to “the burning Japanese cedar”, which is the excact descrition of what this technique is about.
Cypress wood is the best choice for exterior and interior use when longevity and physical appearance really count. It has a natural durability that refers back to the wood’s ability to produce preservative oil, also known as cypressene. Not only Europeans and Americans are using cypress wood until today, but also the Japanese cherished the qualities of this wood all along.
The Japanese found, that once wood got torched with high heat, it is more resistant to fire. It renders the wooden surface almost maintainance-free. Rotting and pests have no chance and the best part is, the finish with its more intense color looks hauntingly beautiful!
Why does the natural wood changes color?
As a result of the heat-treatment, the colors of the wood turn out even more intense; experts also call this Thermally Modified Timber. Chemical reactions turn the natural wooden colors into more intense, darker spectra. The colors pop even more if the heat-torched wood gets treated with oil or lacquer.
You can use almost every type of wood to experiment with Shou Sugi Ban. The type of wood you choose, the heat-intensity and the duration of the fire-treatment determine the color of the finished product.
Delta Millworks in Austin, TX, specialize in Shou Sugi Ban since 1985 and these guys are having a huge success! They developed the technique even further to produce evenly looking and lager quantities of chared wood that you can use for stunning house façades, for furniture or inside wall coverings.
Even smaller accessories like candleholders are perfect for this antique looking finish. Secptical?
Our craftsman JP tried it out: