‘Shou Sugi Ban’ – CHARRED TIMBER CLADDING
The ancient Japanese technique of charred timber cladding and its modern-day benefits.
‘Shou Sugi Ban’ is the centuries-old Japanese art of preserving and finishing wood using fire, and it’s having a renaissance.
Today we see several examples of this ancient woodworking technique adapted to contemporary living environments – it offers clean and distinct lines with a textural beauty and its blackened finish creates depth, particularly when contrasting other timbers; it’s stylish to say the least.
But what makes charred timber a true hero is the synergy of using a natural material where sensitivity is paid to its surrounding environment – it’s sustainable.
CREATING CHARRED TIMBER
Shou Sugi Ban, simply translated as Charred Cedar Board, originated in Japan – evident since at least the 1700s – involves burning the timber surface to create a dense carbon layer. This type of treatment increases its fire resistance.
Heating wood to render it fireproof seems counterintuitive, but that’s the thing with ancient craftsmanship, it generally stems from a ‘need’ – in this case it was a method of preserving drift wood collected from the shore that had already gone through a natural process of preservation from weather and water; making the material a perfect candidate for re-use.
Chemically, wood is made up of two components, Cellulose and Lignin, and burning the surface changes the cellular structure and thermodynamic conductivity (heat flow direction) creating a carbon layer on the surface that protects, insulates, and slows down further degradation (natural rot).
The material offers a slew of benefits outside its pure aesthetic pleasure (more on that later). To start, the carbon outer-layer doubles as a UV-protective-layer which means it’s not susceptible to fading; the depth and intensity of the ebony hue will stick around for a long time (it’s colour fast).
It’s resistant to insect attack and often cheaper than timber cladding painted, oiled or stained, now and in the long term, due to maintenance savings.
On the subject of pure aesthetic pleasure, charred timber offers an undeniably rustic-appeal, and curiously, the material offers a hybrid of ancient appeal (the work of humans is very present in the finish) and a modernistic undertone (pure, startling black) – making it a design wonder in itself.
The heating creates a denseness that renders the material incredibly durable – we’re talking lasting around 80 - 100 years; it also doubles as a non-toxic preservation method. And while we’re talking about toxicity, it pays to know that you won’t need to stain, oil, or use any chemical-based finishes – because once it’s charred, the finish will stand the test of time.
It’s not unusual for ancient techniques in woodworking to be applied in the twenty-first century; it verifies the adage that honouring a craft never dates. We’d love for you to talk to us about the natural, sustainable and aesthetic appeal charred timber can have on your home.