Confused about shou sugi ban, or charred wood siding in general? Don’t fret, we know it can be confusing and we’re here to help! We get asked a variety of questions from interested customers every day, and figured it was time to put together a beginner’s guide to shou sugi ban.
*Note: This is simply an entry point to some of the most common questions we get asked. This is not a comprehensive guide by any means. But it will help set you up to use yakisugi for whatever project you’ve got in mind. We’ve also included plenty of links to further reading – if you so choose. Let’s dive in!
What is Shou Sugi Ban? (Yakisugi)
Yakisugi is a thin plank softwood siding and paneling heat treated in a traditional Japanese process. “Yaki” means burnt, charred, or heat-treated, and “Sugi” refers to the Sugi Cypress tree indigenous to Japan (often called “Japanese Cedar”). So, “Yakisugi” translates to “charred cypress,” burnt cedar, or “heat treated sugi”. This burnt cladding material is then installed on a structure to protect it from fire, pests, and weathering.
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I Thought it Was Called ‘Yakisugi,’ Not ‘Shou Sugi Ban’… What Changed?
Great question! In Japan where it originates and where 90% of worldwide consumption still is, everyone calls it “yakisugi.” In the West, however, someone misread the word about 15 years ago as ‘Shou Sugi Ban’. (a professor or grad student working with Fujimori Teranobu?) and somehow the term stuck. Then DIY culture picked it up and ran with it. Not to mention a New York Times article. All of this contributed to us here at Nakamoto Forestry being forced to choose between our traditional roots or playing along for the SEO long game. ‘Shou sugi ban’ is a ludicrous word in Japanese so this is a tough one. Read more here in this blog post.
How Do You Make It?
Historically yakisugi has mostly been made directly at the jobsite by the carpentry crew. However, manufacturing has now transitioned to lumber mills where the process has been refined. This transition has led to increased longevity and dimensional stability for both interior and exterior use.
Yakisugi is made by harvesting cypress trees in Japan, milling them to spec and then burning them using a kiln. It is then finished with an oil if desired and shipped to the jobsite for installation.
Check out this From Our Forest To Your Walls video our in-house videographer put together! It briefly breaks down each stage of the process.
Where Does it Come From?
Is Shou Sugi Ban Sustainable?
Wood and Shou Sugi Ban Sustainability
Aside from maybe a locally-sourced stone facade, wood is the most sustainable material compared to every other cladding product commonly available in construction. This really is the BIG ONE on the entire sustainability conversation. Consider greenhouse gases (GHGs) produced from any other cladding material … it doesn’t even compare. Natural solid sawn wood is better for your health and for the environment, full stop.
In terms of shou sugi ban sustainability in general, there are a few important points most people don’t realize. First of all the lumber market is international due to efficient freight and we can deliver wood from Japan to most projects with similar carbon footprint as regional lumber. Second, shou sugi ban is less carbon-intensive to manufacture compared to regular siding since it does not need to be highly surfaced, plus two minutes of recirculating-type kiln burning uses much less energy than the week-long kiln drying process regular siding goes through (siding has to be case hardened with a kiln either way for dimensional stability). Finally, it is important to understand that the burning process is designed to be in lieu of an oil or paint finish, so that part of the manufacturing or build process can be nixed.
Nakamoto Forestry Thoughts and Practices
Over the years we have adapted our timberland management, manufacturing practices, and distribution setup to align with our core mission of permanent sustainability and more recently our staff’s fear of climate change. There is a lot involved in terms of planning, execution, and certifications. It starts with timberland management planning based on the most recent and comprehensive science, from seedling cultivar selection to watershed protection to a longer harvest cycle of 100 years.
In terms of the manufacturing process, we air dry our lumber instead of kiln drying, our kilns have afterburner engineering to minimize natural gas consumption, and we use low to zero VOC (solvent) finishes. We bring logs in from nearby our mills and ship to the West from a port near our Tokushima mill. Ocean freight is the most energy-efficient method of cargo transportation. We can beat North American mills on carbon footprint since they’re trucking in logs from farther away and transporting cants from mill to mill and then selling through tiered distribution.
Additionally we are the only shou sugi ban mill that we are aware of that has made the effort to become sustainability certified (under strict PEFC chain of custody parameters), have carbon footprints calculated for all of our products, and offer a Environmental Product Declaration for all of our products. The effort and expense for this array of data and compliance simply does not pencil out in the lumber business and can only be explained by authentic environmentalist credibility.
Check out our sustainability page for the full scoop on this topic.
How Much Maintenance is Required for Shou Sugi Ban?
That depends on whether the owner is okay with color change or not. Historically in Japan, no maintenance is done at all until it starts to fall apart after about a hundred years, at which time it is patched or replaced–on average in Japan and North America structures do not stand this long so keep this in mind. Over time, the weathering from the elements leaves a beautiful patina, or “wabi-sabi” aesthetic. Either the color change can be accepted or an oil stain applied to freshen it up.
In Japan shou sugi ban is rarely re-oiled. However, in the West, fresh color via re-oiling is the cultural norm. Westerners typically do not want to see any signs of aging due to a re-painting culture. Color longevity is the main subject, but also regular re-oiling will allow the siding to last longer.
The only other maintenance we recommend is to tighten up fasteners after a few years and then every decade or two over time. The substrate and siding will move due to weather and will pull out the fasteners little by little. So gently tapping them back in with a hammer will return the siding to a flat plane again. But again, this is also optional and often unnecessary.
During and After Installation Will Soot Come Off on Us?
Yes during installation, but not afterwards. The carpenters will get soot on their hands during installation so will learn real quickly not to rub their noses. All of our products (other than unoiled Gendai) have an oil finish that glues the soot into the wood. Soot will get all over the oiled board faces during installation so we recommend to wash the walls down with a hose or sopping wet rag as the final step. After that, no sootiness.
Here’s a 60 sec video video from Morlock Timber that clears it up nicely.
How Many Options do you Have?
→ Let’s break it down:
First of all there are four traditional surface types. We call them Sugi (unburned), Suyaki (charred), Gendai (brushed), and Pika-Pika (wire-brushed).
Second, choose an oil-stain color option. Not all surface types have all color options available, but there are plenty to choose from to find your desired look. Here’s a great blog post on this topic.
Third, choose which wood grade you want: “Standard Select” or “JOKO premium clear”. The difference is with knots, or with no knots.
Finally, decide what board width you want and if you want a “shiplap” or “square edge” profile for your layout design. Please see our installation diagram options for various layout examples to help decide. Note often orders are a combination, with shiplap as the field profile and square edge used for trim or louvered screen. Our most popular profile is 1×6 shiplap but we regularly see every choice there is.
Have more questions?
→ visit our FAQ page. Also head over to our YouTube channel for more visual information on specific topics. And be sure to follow us on Instagram for even more nuanced information, or simply to gain inspiration. Thank you for reading!
Bonus: here’s us burning it the traditional Japanese way. Note that we do not do it this way here in Portland, OR. We did this to show our audience the DIY traditional flue method and for fun.
We get a ton of questions about Shou Sugi Ban. People are nervous about what they read online since it’s such an exotic material and so many sources are questionable. It has an interesting background story and people want to talk with us as representatives from Japan. And we don’t blame them! Personally, I remember my first day at Nakamoto Forestry over three years ago. I was completely lost. But after reading a handful of blogs, scrolling through our social media and beginning to do research on a bunch of different topics, I eventually got my bearing. If I can do it, so can you. If I didn’t cover your question in this introduction, please feel free to reach out – that’s what we’re here for! Or you can always email our sales team —> email@example.com
What Else Should I Know?
We recommend diving into our website and learning as much as you can from our various articles, blogs and educational content! Yakisugi is a broad topic that we could talk about all day. Here are some handy topics for further reading to get started:
– Top 10 Myths About Shou Sugi Ban (Yakisugi)
– Rainscreen (please install)
– Other maintenance (mostly for homeowners)