What is Charred Wood Siding

Charred wood siding and fencing are the products of an ancient Japanese technique that makes a unique, beautiful, and durable exterior wood product. The Japanese invented this technique centuries ago, calling it “shou sugi ban,” or “yakisugi”.

The essential idea is to burn the surface of wood to a varying degree of char. The charred surface can be left completely untouched, can be heavily or lightly brushed, and can be sealed with a clear coat or a stain. This charred surface is then rot, pest, weather, UV, and fire resistant, in addition to being aesthetically unique, striking, and beautiful. Read more about the history of Charred Wood (aka Shou Sugi Ban) and characteristics of Charred Wood Siding and Fencing.

What are the advantages of charred siding compared to unfinished or painted wood siding?

Charred siding has several distinct advantages:

  • Charred siding can be cheaper upfront than traditional painted siding once you factor in the costs of paint and painting labor.

  • Charred siding speeds up construction times, since the siding does not need to be painted after it is installed. This further reduces upfront costs, and hassle, and gets your project finished faster.

  • The layer of char protects the wood from UV and weathering. This means that the wood will not fade or peel and need to be refinished in 10-15 years or less. This char finish can last upwards of 80-100 years without maintenance, and with proper maintenance can last much longer. Not only does this durability preserve the aesthetic character and structural integrity of the siding/fencing, but it also saves a significant amount of money in the long run. Re-painting a house every 10 years is a significant expense, and re-siding costs even more. Using Charred Wood siding will reduce or eliminate these long term maintenance and replacement costs.

  • Charred wood is more bug/pest resistant than normal wood. Termites and other pests hate the layer of char, and it deters them from trying to eat into or make their homes in your siding or fencing.

  • Charred wood is a natural, non-toxic way to preserve wood. There are already enough nasty chemicals involved in the building process, so being able to use a traditional, non-toxic finish on the largest surface of your house can really help reduce environmental emissions that affect soil, air, water, and you and your family.

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 CharredWood.com use a sustainable and Northwest grown variety of cedar known as Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata). It is harvested from working forests near our manufacturing facility, and is a fantastic high performing and beautiful outdoor wood even before we apply our charred finish to it.