Shou Sugi Ban is a traditional Japanese method of preserving cedar, where it is burned enough to create a layer of char on the outside.
Taking a flame to wood to create a finished produce may seem counter-intuitive. While generally used on exterior surfaces, charred wood panels are growing in appeal for interior use.
Shou sugi ban (焼杉板) is the Westernized term for what is known in Japan as yaki sugi-ita (or just yakisugi), which translates into “burned cedar board.” Traditionally three planks were tied into a triangle tube and the interior lit on fire before opening and quenching with cold water when ready.
Nowadays planks are charred in a kiln for volume production, then the surface can be left as-is or the sooty outer layer brushed off to achieve various looks.
The heat treatment improves the lifetime of the planks by preventing decay and rot, discourages insect infestation, improves dimensional stability, and improves flame retardant properties.
Shou Sugi Ban is not necessarily a purely black look, as it can be brushed and tinted to achieve a range of finishes.
Brushed finishes are usually best suited for interiors because they lack of the heavy char or “alligator” finish that acts as a natural barrier to the sun. Alligator or Gator finishes are often just coated with an oil top-coat to minimize soot dispersion during installation.
Not all charred timber is created equal. Many companies pay homage to the Shou Sugi Ban finishing technique to offer more economical and faster product to consumers.
Traditionally, the technique was used with cryptomeria japonica, a species indigenous to Japan that’s known as Japanese cedar. Today companies are offering planks in other species such as cypress, redwood and yellow pine species. New reproduction techniques can also yield more uniform finishing and “crackling.”
This charred cypress is brushed after being blackened; a colored stain is applied on top to tone the wood.
In the early 2000′s, Shou Sugi Ban was “rediscovered,” first in Japan, but then it quickly gained the attention of architects and designers in Europe and North America. Like industrial lighting or reclaimed wood, Shou Sugi Ban has a certain homespun, rustic-chic appeal.