How To Make a Shou Sugi Ban Wall

Apartment Therapy Tutorials

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The reclaimed wood wall has been popular for a while now, and I’ve been wanting to get the look in my garage. I love the earthy hues and honest feel of reclaimed wood, but after realizing the time it would take to scour Craigslist and salvage yards for enough material, I decided to forego that nightmare and instead pursue a DIY approach using a wood-charring method called Shou Sugi Ban.

This ancient Japanese technique dates back to the 18th century, and was traditionally used on siding as a natural sealant to protect wood from decay, pests, wind, water, sun, and fire. That’s right — burning timber creates a protective layer over the wood and can preserve it for up to eighty years!

I did a few tests and found that burning timber was a great way to accentuate the grains and knots and create the imperfections and weathering I wanted. The dark, discolored look of worn lumber is masculine enough for our garage, but adds warmth against our concrete floors. Most examples of the Shou Sugi Ban treatment show an all black finish, but in this tutorial I left areas in the natural wood grain to get more of the reclaimed wood look. Maybe an all black wall will be my next project!

For those of you who would like to try this yourself, please be aware that dust from charred wood is so fine that it can clog pores and is extremely unhealthy if inhaled. Take extra precautionary measures by protecting yourself with goggles, gloves, face masks (or any respiratory protectors) and full-bodied clothing.

What You Need

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Materials:

Wood boards
Black or brown builder’s paper or matte black paint (for the wall behind the wood)
Nails
Stain (I used Miniwax Polyshades in American Chestnut)

Tools:

Fire pit (or a place where you can build a controlled fire)
Face mask
Water bucket
Sponge
Rags
Wired brush
Hammer
Stud finder
Tape measure
Chop saw
Pencil
Jigsaw or handsaw (for cutting wood boards to fit windows, electrical outlets...)
Brush (to apply stain)

Instructions

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1. We started by covering our wall with builder’s paper (we used black roofing paper, only because we had some left over from another project). Our garage walls were unfinished, so we chose to cover them with paper. For those who have a finished wall, it would be best to paint it matte black.

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2. Now the fun part. We went for the traditional method and built a fire in our backyard. We made sure to build our fire in an open area, away from anything prone to catching fire. We placed each wood board directly over the fire and burned only one side. After a minute or two, it reached my desired color. To get a nice gradient, I moved the wood board back and forth and constantly checked the color. If a board is too close to the fire or burns for too long it will scorch the wood into a very black color, leaving a scaly alligator texture. The best way to achieve a natural burnt effect is to burn some areas until blackened, lightly scorch other areas, and leave some parts unburnt. This will create a varied range of colors and textures. This is really a stylistic preference on how to burn wood, so go with what looks right to you. To speed up the process, we burned 3-5 pieces of wood at a time.

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3. After we had a nice range of color and texture, we used a wet sponge to cool and clean the wood. (This will also help prevent chars from becoming airborne.) With our face mask and protective gear is properly on, we used a wired brush to get rid of access soot. We also went over the boards one last time with a rag to make sure they were thoroughly cleaned.

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4. Before hammering away, I laid out the wood boards onto the floor to make sure all the dark pieces weren’t grouped together. I wanted the colors to flow and to have a natural staggered look. Ironically, random placement required a more thought out process than expected. We worked our way from left to right and from the bottom up. We found it more efficient to have one person hammering while while the other person measured, marked and cut the needed dimensions. We used a jigsaw or handsaw to create customized shapes for electrical outlets or windows.

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5. To finish off, we used Miniwax Stain and Sealer in American Chestnut to prevent any residue from coming off. Additionally, I found that this step really helped dark charred colors integrate into the lighter, raw wood and balanced everything nicely. I’ve read that linseed oil also does a good job at soaking into the wood and binding soot particles, preventing any unwanted discharge.

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To give you an estimate of the costs and labor, here's what went down: it took us about 8 hours to prep, burn, hammer, stain and finish a 10 x 30ft wall. We used about 40 pieces of inexpensive wood boards, which cost about $1.60ea from Home Depot. As soon as we finished burning and cleaning the wood boards, cutting and hammering up the boards was a breeze. This is an easy and affordable project that gave us great results. What do you think? Do you dare play with fire?

(Image credits: June Bhongjan)

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