Know Your Wood - Shou Sugi Ban
Yakisugi - Some Of The Most Sustainable Beauty You’ll Find
Japan has long held a tradition of owning its beauty. There’s a minimal and uncluttered style that Japanese design and influence has which is easily identifiable regardless of where you find it. From the italic nature of Japanese writing, to the clean lines of Japanese buildings and furniture, it holds its own.
There is more than an aesthetic to the design though - there’s always a philosophy behind it and Yakisugi is one craft which has been keeping Japanese homes and gardens looking stylish for generations.
What Is Yakisugi?
‘Yaki’ is Japanese for grill and ‘Sugi’ is the name the Japanese give to Cedar Fir. Yakisugi stems from the tradition of burning your house in order to protect it due to what happens to the wood during the charring process. Yakisugi, also known as Shou Sugi, carbonises the wood when it burns it, which strengthens the wood, waterproofs it and provides a natural pest repellant in the process.
In the city of Ikaruga there is a Buddhist temple, Hōryū-ji, which is the one of oldest wooden structures in the world and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Yep you guessed it, it is carbonised being made from Shou Sugi wood and at 1414 years old, you can see here the buildings are still immaculate. Shou Sugi is the same process as Yakisugi and stems from Chinese origins but they are effectively the same process.
How Does Carbonising (Yakisugi) Work?
Yakisugi carbonises the wood through a controlled burning treatment. The heat applied to the surface draws the carbon and natural resins in the wood to the surface. The ongoing heat alters the wood at a cellular level and charrs all of these resins which does one of a few things…
It solidifies the carbon on the surface which provides the distinctive charcoal finish traditionally associated with Yakisugi. Imagine melting sugar until it is a liquid, and then pouring it over a sponge before letting it cool. That surface is then far less permeable than before the sugar was coated. Obviously wood and carbon are far stronger than sponge and sugar, but you can imagine the difference a ‘sealing’ process like this would make to timber.
The carbon in the wood is also what attracts the bugs and pests - the sugary carbon provides tasty food for the various pests which invade wood and timber. The carbon makes a fantastic breeding ground for spores of mould and rot to multiply too.
By bringing that carbon to the surface and drawing it out of the wood before burning it, there’s no attraction left for the bugs and no sugar rife breeding havens for the spores to inhabit or spread. By depleting the wood of the food supply the bugs usually inhabit it for, you’re removing the incentive altogether.
What Are The Benefits of Using Yakisugi Wood?
One aspect of Japanese philosophy is that strength is borne out of destruction. Yakisugi burns the wood, but instead of destroying it, it redefines it. Almost like the infamous Phoenix - what rises from those embers is beautiful.
Waterproofing Using Yakisugi
With our changeable climate in Europe, the wood we use on the outside of our homes or in our gardens needs protecting from the water and moisture we’re so regularly exposed to. This moisture can cause a lot of expansion and shrinkage throughout the year, which in turn weakens the wood.
The moisture on the fencing or cladding can also cause the wood to rot or encourage mould to grow, again, destroying the fence over a period of time and causing it to perish. We have become accustomed to treating the wood around us to prolong its life and keep it in as good a condition for as long as possible using specially formulated treatments.
The Japanese opted for their charring application instead, which is a long lasting weatherproofing process not needing the ongoing maintenance we’re used to in order to stop moisture from penetrating the wood.
Yakisugi Provides An Eye Catching Aesthetic
Whether you opt for a fully charred timber, or a lightly scorched effect, the impact on the grain of the wood is simply stunning. A black charcoal effect will provide a beautiful backdrop to any garden providing a fantastic contrast to the flora and fauna in the garden.
Where the Yakisugi also shines, literally, is that the heat treatment ‘burns’ the wood inside to a degree too, making the grain of the wood really stand out. Scorching the exterior, but then sanding it down reveals the intensified natural beauty of the grain leaving you with a well defined finish which really catches the eye.
This aspect of the Yakisugi timber is where we will be focussing the most based on the aspects of our range which our customers particularly enjoy.
We will provide the charred timber, which you will then be able to tailor to an aesthetic of your own choosing, depending on how much of the grain of the wood you’d like to see.
Slatted Screen Range To Include Yakisugi
Slatted Screen Fencing are really excited to be able to offer Yakisugi timber as part of our range now. We will initially be using Siberian Larch for the timber we’ll be applying the charring process to.
We have been providing high quality Siberian Larch timber for a number of years, choosing suppliers we know will meet our high standards of timber quality as well as working ethically and sustainably. As Yakisugi is so environmentally friendly, it complements our ethos perfectly.
Our new charred timber range will use the Siberian Larch, where it will be charred using tried and tested methods leaving us with a solid wood which is beautifully burnt on the outside.
Sanding the charred timber to remove the dark surface and reveal the gorgeous grain underneath, will result in a far more distinctive finish than an uncharred timber.
Once you have sanded the wood to a degree you’re happy with, you can then oil the wood with special oils we’ll also stock, to really lock in the beauty for many years to come.
We’ll be adding Cedar to our charred timber range this year too. If you’d like to know more about our Yakisugi timber, simply get in touch and our team will happily discuss this exciting addition with you.