Burnt wood, or yakisugi, is the result of a natural wood protection technique of Japanese origin, also called shou sugi ban. It consists of burning the surface of a board deeply to obtain a superficial layer of carbon. The wood planks thus transformed were used at the time as cladding for wooden houses. The shou sugi ban is still used today in Japan for traditional houses, but also for cladding modern and contemporary buildings.
Traditionally, this treatment process is carried out by assembling three boards of Japanese cedar (sugi) to form a chimney at the foot of which a fire is lit. The flame starts at the bottom and spreads upwards as the wood burns. When the burning time is reached, the fire is stopped with water.
Although its origin is often attributed to Japan, this technique is as old as the world.
Already in prehistoric times, the hardening of wood over the fire was used to hunt mammoths, as the prehistoric novelist Jean M. Auel testifies in her series of books The Clan of the Cave Bears. More contemporarily, in the Middle Ages, the bottom of wooden stakes were burnt before being driven into the ground when designing fences. Similarly in Canada, this technique is very widespread, Canadians talk about torrefaction of wood.
Today the technique has evolved and wood is burnt in specialised ovens. Even if everyone can burn their wood at home.
The world's leading designers have adopted this technique, which allows an infinite range of variations in appearance. Thus we find a range of colours from intense black to black with grey or blue reflections. Various textures depending on the intensity with which the wood has been scraped or burned. To the touch, you can obtain a surface as silky as the skin or, on the other hand, you can preserve the irregularities of the wood and its "tortoiseshell" appearance. Each blade of wood is coated with a layer of carbon with a unique appearance.
From the restaurant Encore in the port of Scheveningen in the Netherlands, to the Courchevel chalet designed by Olivier Gay, via the children's home in Meudon, to the Barcelona villa in Spain designed by the architect Raül Sanchez Esteban, this technique is still being emulated throughout the world.
In Japan, the renowned architect Terunobu Fujimori has carried out several projects in burnt wood.
This treatment can be used both indoors and outdoors, for façade cladding, fences, furniture and wall cladding. It blends perfectly with contemporary style ! You can find ideas for creations in burnt wood here
Surprisingly enough, the primary purpose of burnt wood was to protect houses ... from fire. Constructed of wood, the risk of fire spreading from one house to another in a village was too great and would have caused havoc. The burnt cladding covered with this carbon layer considerably delayed the spread of the fire. A true natural flame retardant.
This technique also makes it possible to control pests such as wood-boring insects, which can no longer feed on the cellulose and lignin in the wood since they have been transformed into carbon, an inedible element for these insects. Lignivorous fungi do not grow either. This means that the wood can be stored for more than 80 years.
Finally, this attractive surface layer of carbon naturally protects against the sun's UV rays, the main source of wood weathering outdoors.
From an ecological point of view, the process is entirely natural. We talk about green building. And this is increasingly appealing to the younger generation who are looking for something more natural and sustainable.
Sugi means Japanese cedar. It is the wood that is traditionally protected by this technique. But this treatment can also be applied to Douglas fir and more generally to all softwoods.
To carry out this technique, it takes about ten minutes per board (depending on the desired aspect) to burn it either in a large bed of embers or with a simple blowtorch. In order for the charring to sufficiently protect the wood, it must reach a thickness of 3-5 millimetres. Once burnt, the surface is sprinkled with water to stop the charring. Excess charcoal can then be removed with a brush to play on the surface.
This is the most natural and sustainable wood treatment. Its only disadvantage is that it leaves black marks on contact and the carbon layer is fragile and sensitive to friction and weathering.
You will find many videos showing the process of realisation. It requires some equipment and patience but beware of burns, this technique can be dangerous. In case of doubt, it is better to leave it to the professionals.
Finally, to avoid any surface degradation and to keep the appearance of the carbon intact for a long time, a specially designed product is available in our shop: the Burnt Wood Protector PB600. It can be used for exterior burnt wood siding, but also for interior panelling and wall cladding, furniture and other Shou Sugi Ban furnishings.