Shou Sugi Ban: Using Fire to Preserve Wood

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Have you ever built an outdoor project out of cedar and wondered what your options were for finishing the project in a way that would protect it from the deterioration that can often occur through prolonged exposure to moisture? There is a wide variety of commercial options available, including penetrating deck finishes, Spar varnish, exterior-grade polyurethane, marine varnish, and likely others. Another option that you might not be as familiar with is called Shou sugi ban cedar, which is an approach that was developed in Japan that uses fire to char the wood.

The process of charring the cedar releases a natural oil that is effective at preserving the wood and preventing water from causing harm to the wood. There are examples of cedar projects in Japan that have been preserved for centuries using this approach. In addition to its benefits as a preservative, it also adds a lot of beauty to the wood.

If you want to try the Shou sugi ban cedar technique on your next outdoor project, the steps include:

Burn the cedar. Using a torch, thoroughly scorch the wood, reading the wood’s surface and moving at an appropriate rate down the plank. Don’t burn it to the point where it compromises the structural integrity of the wood. As you will see in the video, there is an appropriate depth and extent to the burning process.

Brush the charred surface. Using a stiff bristled brush, scrape the flaking surface until it is smooth and not shedding charred wood.

Apply a finish. Boiled Linseed Oil gives the piece a beautiful glow and provides some additional protection to the elements.

Which project will you try the Shou sugi ban cedar technique on? Perhaps on the outside surfaces of a birdhouse? Or, maybe a bench like the one that George made?