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Shou Sugi Ban: Japanese Technique Makes Pine Wood Waterproof with Fire

Shou Sugi Ban M House Chris Collaris 2
M House by Chris Collaris

Setting wood on fire may not seem like the most logical way to make it stronger, but the ancient technique known as ’shou sugi ban’ has proven its effectiveness time and time again. Charring any species of wood (usually with a blowtorch, these days) wraps it in a layer of carbon that protects it from moisture, mold, insects and even fire. As you can see, when it’s used as exterior cladding, it also lends a dramatic darkness that’s becoming increasingly popular in modern architecture.

Shou Sugi Ban Sleeve House by A:O
Sleeve House by A/O
Shou Sugi Ban Sleeve House by A:O 2
Sleeve House by A/O
Shou Sugi Ban M House Chris Collaris
M House by Chris Collaris

The process alters the texture as well as the color, and while it can be used in conjunction with other processes like stains, glazes and lacquer, it’s also a highly effective standalone treatment with a beautiful finish. After charring, the wood is typically cleaned with a wire brush to remove soot and loose particles. The shou sugi ban process shrinks the cells of the wood, making it less permeable to all the factors that can damage it over time.

Shou Sugi Ban

This demonstration on a pine plank shows the varying degrees of charring that you can use to enjoy these benefits. Some choose to only mildly char the wood to enhance the color and durability, but a heavier char can make even untreated pine suitable for use as exterior cladding without requiring chemicals of any kind, making it ideal for sustainably built structures.

Shou Sugi Ban Architectural Digest
Shackleton Thomas Furniture via Architectural Digest
Shou Sugi Ban Waterproof Architectural Digest
Shackleton Thomas Furniture via Architectural Digest

Charred wood has become so popular, many timber suppliers are beginning to offer pre-charred options to consumers, but experimenting with the technique yourself has its rewards. A little extra time and elbow grease permanently alters the wood, and anecdotal accounts have claimed its effects can last for nearly a century. Want more details? Check out the article ‘Use This Incredible Technique to Waterproof Wood Furniture’ at Architectural Digest.


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