Yakisugi, the art of charring wood

Pika-pika with a water-based protective stain finish in transparent by Nakamoto Forestry (Photo: Nakamoto Forestry)

Yakisugi is a technique of burning or charring wood, hailed from Japan. As a producer and supplier of yakisugi, Nakamoto Forestry found this wood-burning technique is gaining traction in the US, Europe and Asia. Martin Gottschlich, managing director of Nakamoto Forestry Europe, shares more with Panels and Furniture Asia about the yakisugi technique, and the company’s plans in bringing this Japanese tradition to the global markets.

What exactly is yakisugi and Shou Sugi Ban?

Martin Gottschlich: Yakisugi is a century-old tradition from Japan, where mainly farmers and in rural villages charred the exterior of cladding planks with fire to protect them from weather and fire. It is also known as Shou Sugi Ban, although this translation is based on a wrong reading of the Japanese characters for yakisugi.

Can you elaborate on the wood species applicable to yakisugi and technical process behind this wood-burning technique?

Gottschlich: Yakisugi is not only about burning or charring, but it is also a holistic process. It starts from the selection of the right wood, traditionally Japanese cypress, before continuing with the drying process. It is then followed by charring, which can be completed in a few minutes, and continues with an immediate extinction of burning boards by water, grading and brushing after the process.

Timber preparation, mainly the drying process, is most time consuming as it takes six weeks to three months depending on the season. For instance, in Japan, the timber will be dried to 10-14% moisture grade before burning to maintain optimal quality. This drying will be done solely by sun and air drying, unlike kiln drying in many other industrialised countries. Generally, most timber species can be burned and charred. However, some are suited better to create beautiful and long-lasting products. The best timber species is Sugi – which means cryptomeria japonica or Japanese cypress, or Japanese cedar in English – because of its superior properties. It features high durability, and its dimensional stability and low density provide good charring properties, creating a firm and resin-free soot layer. Other timber species might also work; some create attractive appearance, but none is known to produce similar optics and durability.

Interested to know more? Click here to read the rest of the article in the January / February issue of Panels & Furniture Asia.