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One of the biggest misconceptions we run into when speaking with new customers is how much using shou sugi ban will cost them. Shou sugi ban is actually on-par or cheaper than most stain-grade alternatives. Additionally, shou sugi ban is maintenance-optional (it never really needs to be re-oiled unless you prefer to) which makes the long-term cost-performance a no-brainer for custom homes.
The term “shou sugi ban” is a North American term. It refers to wall and ceiling cladding made from wood and intensely burned or charred as a preservative heat treatment. The original Japanese term is “yakisugi-ita” which translates roughly to “charred cypress board.” We believe that the “shou sugi ban” term originally came to be as a mistranslation of the Japanese characters for yakisugi. Both terms are acceptable and are finished products, not verbs or processes.
Historically, the best wood for shou sugi ban is Japanese Cypress, or “sugi.” Cypress is straight-grained, fast-drying, flexible, tannin-rich, and strong. All desirable characteristics for siding. It has a thick, dense latewood growth ring, which burns to a more substantial, longer-lasting soot layer. Compared to other species, cypress’ chemical properties respond well to fire. It becomes incredibly dimensionally stable when milled, dried, burned and quenched by traditional protocol.
1. It’s inexpensive. Compared to stain-grade alternatives, the long-term cost-performance when factoring in maintenance and replacement is lower than the average wood siding.
2. It’s durable. The intense heat treatment burns off cellulose in the wood so that it’s resistant to fire, fungi do not grow in it and pests do not eat it. The surface is case-hardened and there is a protective soot layer, both characteristics which cause shou sugi ban to repel water and have maximum UV protection. Shou sugi ban is suitable for nearly any climate for these reasons.
3. It’s beautiful. Wood has an undeniable natural beauty to it. Shou sugi ban can come in many different textures and colors, allowing it to match any project design. It can be re-oiled periodically to keep it looking fresh and new, or it an be allowed to weather into a unique patina as has been traditional in Japan for centuries.
4. It’s wholesome. All of our shou sugi ban comes from forests that have been carefully planted and harvested for generations. Wood siding ranks #1 for sustainability among all exterior cladding options, and 2 kilograms of carbon are captured for each 1 kilogram of lumber produced. Since the need for regular maintenance is reduced, it is less energy-intense than regular wood siding. Sustainability and healthy living are of utmost importance to us, and our shou sugi ban siding embodies those values.
Learn more about the benefits of shou sugi ban here.
There is a holistic series of millwork steps for heat treatment and dimensional stability that are different from American millwork. It is not just burning lumber until it looks right or copying techniques from videos online. We have been milling yakisugi “shou sugi ban” for several decades and use logs from our own forests. There is little chance you will be able to DIY it for less cost than we sell retail for the same grade of wood.
However, if you’re dead set on doing it yourself here are the rules: Use cypress only. Face the outside of the log to the outside of the resawn moulder blank. Do shiplap or square edge, not T&G. Use planks about 1/2″ thick. Air-dry the wood completely, and use the traditional triangular Japanese flue method (weed burners do not work well at all.) Burn it way beyond your comfort level to where you think you’ve ruined the plank. Then, if desired, use a wire brush to knock down the soot and apply an oil finish.
Shou sugi ban is time-tested in Japan, a long skinny country with climates ranging semi-tropical to Siberian, and almost all abrasive coastal marine. Shou sugi ban will probably outlast any other softwood in any climate. Just make sure to install it over screen walls and with face nails to prevent rot and minimize movement.
Yakisugi, just like any natural wood siding, will patina over time. Color change can be slowed down by applying oil finishes, and the original color can be brought back in the future with a maintenance coat of oil. However, the heat treatment is originally designed to negate the need for an oil finish, and therefore the traditional aesthetic embraces a gradual patina. Unbrushed Suyaki will stay black until the soot layer erodes off in about 50 years, and then will start to change color. Gendai and Pika-Pika products will weather in color similar to any natural wood siding. All products can be re-oiled any time in future to freshen up the color and sheen as desired. There are no fast rules for how wood weathers in color since every site has different conditions. However, in general over time siding tends to mellow reddish brown on south-facing elevations and bleach to a gray tone on north-facing elevations.
We are actually able to offer a lower price point apples to apples since we control the entire manufacturing and distribution process, and production is to economies of scale. In terms of shipping cost and carbon footprint, 99% of the trip between our coastal mills in Japan and Portland distribution facility is by efficient ocean freight–then intermodal direct to your jobsite.
Learn more about our carbon footprint & sustainability
Due to the traditional through and through resaw pattern optimized for wood longevity and dimensional stability, as well as the nature of how wood dries, there is often cupping of approximately 1/16″ over the board widths. Therefore, we spec two face nails every 16″OC to keep a flat plane.
Note samples cup more than final product due to short lengths and low moisture content. Also keep in mind this is non-standard millwork and form follows function with shou sugi ban. Slight cupping is all you have to give up to achieve maximum wood longevity and dimensional stability in all other dimensions over decades of exposure without maintenance.
Absolutely. There are also more stain, topcoat, and fire retardant options for interior applications.
The Japanese heat treatment process is never used for flooring or furniture. Cypress is too soft for flooring, and yakisugi planks are too thin for most furniture applications. Shou sugi ban is for wall and ceiling cladding only. Burning flooring or furniture or counters is a fun design thing we’ve seen, but it is not Japanese yakisugi (shou sugi ban) heat treatment.
In Japan standard thickness is 3/8” (10mm), but we stock 9/16” (15mm) since that is as thick we can heat treat with good yield. Trying to heat treat a plank thickness over 9/16″ (example 3/4″) by the traditional Japanese charring process doesn’t work. Interior moisture content will stay around 12% while the surface goes down to 0%. This results in crooking, warping, twisting, or checking. Siding and panelling needs to be straight and flat, and this is heat treatment not a cosmetic surface finish.
T&G will wick water and rot on an exterior unless covered by a roof. Exterior wood cladding cannot be blind nailed. It will always move over time and the fasteners must be accessible to tighten the wall plane back to flat. Plus you can’t burn a thin T&G profile deeply enough to heat treat. We only stock profiles that can be used for interior and exterior, and we specialize in products that have best possible longevity.
We have premium select clears in our Portland stock. Our focus is to supply at a low price point and ship quickly, therefore we do not mill custom profiles or lengths.
Yes, shou sugi ban is just like any wood in terms of installation and onsite oil finishes.
There are three reasons we apply oil finishes to our products: oil finishes bond in the soot, achieve the desired color, and make the color last longer. Some people embrace the traditional “sabi” patina aesthetic, and look forward to the organic, colorful weathering. With shou sugi ban, maintenance is optional. Re-oiling can be done as a periodic maintenance, or the patina can be enjoyed as it develops over the decades.
Yes, please inquire on your project’s specific requirements.
Yakisugi is just solid wood lapped siding and is installed the same as untreated wood siding. See our Installation Guidelines.
For exterior we recommend headed, ring- or screw-shank stainless nails at least 2” long. Since unavailable elsewhere in a high grade, we custom order and stock black factory painted stainless nails. Other nail colors such as brite, brown, white, or gray are available through your local fastener supplier. We are currently evaluating potential screw options for efficiency and appearance. For interior applications construction adhesive and finish nails work well.
There are many many options, same as any siding or paneling, and it really is a design decision. Since we often get asked about how to do penetration, corner, screen, or other details, we developed these drawings as detail suggestions.
Most yakisugi “shou sugi ban” has an oil finish applied during manufacturing that bonds soot into the wood surface so that it does not come off when touched. After installation wipe walls down with a sopping wet rag or hose them down to clean off any soot residue.
Note that since cypress has tannin content, on an exterior application there is always a chance the tannins can bleed out from weather exposure. This can stain a light-colored underpinning below the wood siding, but after a year or so the stains will wash off.
Please keep in mind that yakisugi “shou sugi ban” is a unique and organic wood product, with different characteristics and specifications from standard millwork. Form follows function with our product, and we have to follow rigid millwork and drying protocols for the planks to stay straight through the high temperature heat treatment process. You can learn more about what it is and how it’s made here. While our grading and millwork produces the most consistent yakisugi (shou sugi ban) product available in the world, it is still somewhat foreign, sooty, and will weather over time. Additionally, since we are often applying a dark oil to a light wood surface or a light oil to a dark wood surface, there can be a lot of variation in color tone board to board and sample to order. Make sure you are completely comfortable with the product before specifying it for your project. In the end what really matters is that you select beautiful, sustainably harvested, and natural wood siding–and not chemically treated wood or cement board.