What Is The History Of The ‘Shou Sugi Ban’ Charred Wood Treatment?
The term “Shou-Sugi-Ban” is Japanese (焼杉板) and literally translates to “burnt cedar board”. The term is commonly used to describe the centuries old Japanese technique of charring “Sugi” (cedar) planks used for residential siding, fencing, and decking projects.
Originally, Japanese carpenters looking for an artistic and unique finish that also improved durability used recovered driftwood from the coastlines of Japan. Because of the weathering process wood undergoes when it is subjected to the harsh environment of saltwater, surf, and sun, Japanese driftwood was prized for its unique appearance and durability in many different carpentry mediums.
Driftwood that had undergone the appropriate weathering process was in short supply while demand in Japan for such a product was high. So the Japanese turned to another weathering process to achieve the durability and aesthetic. Fire in this case provided the preservative, and the unique and artistic dimension Japanese homeowners and craftsman were looking for.
The practice of charring Sugi (Cryptomeria japonica) commonly referred to in the United States as Japanese Cedar has been commonplace in Japan since at least the 1700s, and likely earlier. In the last 50-100 years the practice has fallen out of favor in Japan due to the advent of modern plastic or cement based siding, decking, and fencing. Additionally, wood in Japan has been in short supply for quite a while, and most wood has to be imported, increasing its cost. These factors caused Shou Sugi Ban to become a “lost” technique.
In the early 2000′s, Shou Sugi Ban was “rediscovered,” first in Japan, but then it quickly gained the attention of architects and designers in Europe and North America, and started showing up in custom designed houses and buildings. In the last few years its use has really exploded, for all the same reasons that it was popular in Japan hundreds of years ago.
Charring cedar in the United States as a method of coloring, finishing and preserving siding and fencing is just catching on. Because Japanese Cedar is indigenous to Japan only, builders in North America have turned to American outdoor woods such as Western Red Cedar and Southern Cypress, and found that they work just as well, if not even better than the original Japanese Cedar.
We here at Stoned Birdhouse use a sustainable and Northwest grown variety of cedar known as Western Red Cedar. It is a fantastic high performing and beautiful outdoor wood even before we apply our charred finish to it.