“…each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.” 1 Corinthians 3:13

It’s a remarkable thing the effect that fire can have a piece of wood. If the fire is left uncontrolled, it will reduce beautiful wood to ash. But when the temperature, duration and placement of the fire is controlled, it has the power to reveal hidden strength and beauty. Wood becomes a symphony of colors, contrasts, and grains that were only a dim image of what they could be. This is why we have been captivated by Shou Sugi Ban.

What is Shou Sugi Ban?

Shou Sugi Ban (or Yakisugi) is an ancient Japanese technique of burning or charring wood in such a way that rather than being damaged, it is enhances and preserved. Traditionally, Yakusugi (commonly called Japanese cedar), from the island of Yakushima, was used. But with recent trends, designers and architects are using other types of wood, like western red cedar, cyprus, and oak. The cosmetic effects after being scorched, brushed, cleaned and finished are without a doubt remarkable. The heat of the fire brings out colors and tones in the wood that wouldn’t have been seen. The brilliance and beauty are exquisite.

Shou Sugi Ban custom fireplace display at Southern Hearth & Patio in Chattanooga, TN by Lewin Construction

Shou Sugi Ban custom fireplace display at Southern Hearth & Patio in Chattanooga, TN by Lewin Construction

What are the Benefits of Shou Sugi Ban?

Yet the benefits go far beyond just the aesthetics. Wood is make up of fibrous lignin and cellulose. Lignins form important structural materials in the support tissues – simply put, it’s lignins that lend rigidity and do not rot easily. Cellulose is basically a chain of linked glucose units. It much more flexible and looks a lot like dinner for some insects. The heating process in the Shou Sugi Ban technique leaves the structural lignin in tact while effectively neutralizing the cellulose, thus increasing stability. And since cellulose attracts insects, bacteria and fungus, the wood becomes less susceptible to insect infestation, decay and rot. Furthermore, the charring of the outside of the wood actually creates a natural flame retardant effect to the wood, making it less likely to burn. Some pressure treated woods can last between 25 and 40 years, with proper maintenance. Shou Sugi Ban treated wood can last 80 years or more with very low maintenance required, making it such a natural fit with our dedication to building homes and structures that will last for generations. And it’s eco-friendly when finished with natural oils, as ours are.

Shou Sugi Ban treated industrial spool re-purposed into work table at Lewin Construction Design Center

Custom table in the Lewin Construction Design Center – a re-purposed industrial spool with Shou Sugi Ban technique applied.

How is the Shou Sugi Ban wood made exactly?

The process of creating ‘Shou Sugi Ban’ is time-consuming, and, frankly put, it’s dirty work. It involves four steps: charring the wood, cooling it, cleaning it, and finishing it with natural oil. And we do it all by hand. Although time consuming, the final product is simply gorgeous, with its rich, silvery finishes. Achieving Shou Sugi Ban char requires a practiced touch with flame and brush. Great caution should be taken when working with fire. We do not recommend doing this at home or without the help of a professional.

Step 1: Burning the wood.

Using a controlled fire source (such as a propane torch) we add scorch marks and character to the wood without completely consuming the top layer. The level of char determines the look of the final product – which can be anywhere from just a deepening of the natural wood grains to an alligator-type finish.

   Shou Sugi Ban Step 1 Burning at Lewin Construction  

Shou Sugi Ban Step 1 Burning at Lewin Construction

Shou Sugi Ban Step 1 Burning at Lewin Construction

Step 2: Brush/Clean the Wood

We then scrub the wood with a wire brush after the scorching has cooled to soften the finish. The more we brush, the lighter the wood surface will become as an end result.

Shou Sugi Ban Step 2 Brushing at Lewin Construction

Shou Sugi Ban Step 2 Brushing at Lewin Construction

Shou Sugi Ban Step 2 Brushing at Lewin Construction

Step 3: Clean the Wood

We wipe (or wash) the wood to remove any excess dust, debris, or ash so that the board is completely smooth and clean.

Shou Sugi Ban Step 3 Cleaning at Lewin Construction

Shou Sugi Ban Step 3 Cleaning at Lewin Construction

Step 4: Finish the Wood

We finish the wood with natural oils like Tung Oil or Penefin Oil to preserve the natural finish over a longer period of time. Though the finish goes on looking quite glossy, after it is wiped, it dries to a beautiful finish. The final product is a piece of wood full of richness allowing the wood’s natural brilliance to shine through.

Shou Sugi Ban Step 4 Finishing at Lewin Construction

Shou Sugi Ban Step 4 Finishing at Lewin Construction

Shou Sugi Ban Step 4 Finishing at Lewin Construction

Shou Sugi Ban Step 4 Finishing at Lewin Construction by Lewin Brothers, Steve & Sam

Shou Sugi Ban Finished Light Char

Though it is indeed a labor-some task, but we believe that the essence of the building is in the details. Houses become homes because of the love that is built into them and the love that dwells inside them. It’s just a part of our passion to see homes that last for generations.

You can see samples of our Shou Sugi Ban wood that is available for order here or more of our finished eco-friendly, high efficiency homes built from locally sourced materials here.

For more information on Shou Sugi Ban click here.

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