Shou-sugi-ban & Terunobu Fujimori; charred cedar siding…

Shou-sugi-ban is the ancient Japanese technique of burning Sugi, or Japanese Cypress, for use as a gorgeous and unusual siding on the exterior of buildings… this textured charcoal finish is accomplished by binding two planks of wood around an interior layer of stuffed newsprint, lighting the paper on fire and allowing it to burn the length of the wood for 7 minutes before extinguishing the fire with cold water… next, artisans scrub each board with wire brushes, taking off the most charred wood and embedding the grain with the ashes… after each board has dried, they are individually rubbed with natural oils to coat and preserve the finish… this act of charring and coating the wood is said to protect the cedar or cypress siding from weather, pests and rot for 80 years…

matt and i first learned of this technique several years ago in a book on the Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi, and we have been planning to side our studio/guest house in this manner ever since… we love the rich silvery brown color, which will look beautiful juxtaposed next to the colors of our newly painted house, as well as the cedar, juniper and sage green grasses of the landscape…

unexpectedly, while considering the entry re: sauna design yesterday, matt decided he also wants to side the sauna with this blackened finish in order to create a sense of unity amongst the buildings…

Terunobu Fugimori, one of the few architects to use the primitive technique Shou-sugi-ban in many of his playful and unconventional buildings, was covered in a Dwell article earlier this year, and discussed several of his most notable buildings with charred siding… 

Charred Cedar House 2007

Coal House 

the humorous entrance to the tea room…

exterior view of the playful Guest House

a close up of the finish via Japanese Craft Construction on Flikr…

the boards as they are cooling…

all photos but JCC, Adam Friedberg via Dwell… 

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20 comments

  1. Pingback: wabi sabi house; inspirational architecture… « Materia

  2. Jami J.

    I love the look of this type of siding, I was wondering if you are considerng doing the finishing process yourself or if you have local source, I would love tobuild a small house with this type of look.

    • materiadesigns

      Hi! Thanks for reading… We are planning on doing it ourselves, first to a small sauna, and then to our guest house, pending that disaster doesn’t strike… my husband is a furniture designer and is thankfully very handy with these type of diy projects, and i’m the researcher and assistant… so far so good… where are you located? are you planning on building soon?

  3. This is so interesting. I love the look the charred cedar provides and it seems possible to diy it. Do you have any idea what kind of oils they use for sealing it? Will you let us know about your process and how it goes? Thanks for the great post and beautiful inspiration.

  4. Pingback: Shou-sugi ban and wax finish for Japanese Cedar - Woodwork Forums

  5. I own a design build firm in Seattle called dwell development
    ( http://www.dwelldevelopment.net ) We arwe a very modern and very green group. I came accross your post and this process seems so cool as well as cost effective , different, and interesting. I was wondering is there was a specific type of ceder that is best used for this process (or another wood?) that you could suggest?
    Any pitfalls to avoid or important tips would also be greatly appreciated.

    Much thanks,

    Anthony Maschmedt
    dwell development + design/build
    Seattle, WA.

    • materiadesigns

      Hi Andrew,
      Originally, my understanding is that Cypress was used, and has since been adapted to Cedar in the US because of how much easier it is to find. In the things I have read, people have used Western Cedar with good results, however we haven’t done our project yet, so I’m not sure what we’re going to use… there is not a lot of information on the process that I have found, but I haven’t gone into full research mode yet, b/c the project is several down the line… as soon as we try it, I will definitely post the results here, because lots of people have been very curious about it…. Labor intensive, but totally worth it it seems… thanks for reading! megan

  6. Pingback: The Unique Houses of terunobu Fujimori | Oddity Central - Collecting Oddities

  7. josette

    I am about to do a chicken coop using this method and am having a very hard time finding any info on the technique. I am wondering if you can point me in the right direction. Or, if you have any suggestions. i.e. oils used and thickness of boards, etc..

  8. Pingback: new Shou-sugi-ban inspired furniture from Materia Designs… « Materia Designs

  9. I am working on a sculpture fpor Farnham Park using a 3-400 yearold cedar of labanon.It will be 4m high out of the ground. It has got rot from the inside and we have been cleaning the rot out , although there is still alot left . It is hollow now , so I am trying to char it with a blow torch , which is a bit scary . I don’t know how long I should let it char for. Any ideas?? I am too scared to light a fire at the bottom as the wood is only 3 inches thick. But should I do this. What Oils should we seal it with? Should I get rid of all the rot?

    • Josie

      Penofin is great to seal it with. I used it on my chicken coop. See above comment. Eco friendly and it works. The boards I used were only 1 3/4 in thick. I charred to heck out of them with a roofing torch.

  10. Virginia

    I have read elsewhere that the charred wood finish has to be oiled annually. This seems like way too much upkeep. Has anybody got any information on this?

  11. Pingback: Charred Wood |

  12. Ken Culbertson

    Looks like this is an older blog but am hoping that you can still answer my question. Am interested in this Shou-sugi-ban technique, but having problems finding out exactually how it it done. In one of your responses it sounded like you were going to research it more in depth. So am wanting to do this technique on some cedar poles as well as a oak bench. I had read a small ariticle that other woods could also be done this way. The best info I did get was from a Japanese garden in Calif. and they said they used a propane torch. But how much burning need to be done? How much charring? etc. Any info would be great or guide to a book/website that can tell me more

  13. Christian

    Did you ever build your guest house/studio/sauna? I’ve been digging through your posts but only found references to some furniture. If you have posted something elsewhere it would be beneficial to update this post with a link.

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