Shou Sugi Ban: Setting Fire To Portland's Fences

by Ben Bowen

Shou Sugi Ban: Japanese Cedar Burning

Update of 9/21/17 was inspired by this NYT profile. It is interesting to note that this technique has been fairly common here in Portland for over 20 years, largely due to our population of Japanese landscape architects and designers (notably Hoichi Kurisu, Sada Uchiyama, and Toru Tanaka). Not coincidentally, Portland is the only US city with a retail location for authentic Cryptomeria japonica lumber. Head over to Nakamoto Forestry to learn more.

Shou Sugi Ban- the Japanese art of charred wood, is a technique on the rise. It is as simple as can be, just take a flame to your wood. But the result is very modern, a dark sleek finish that really stands out.

Ross NW Watergardens has completed a number of landscapes over the years that incorporate this method. We burned cedar fences, screens, and garden structures. A project we just completed includes a juniper retaining wall. The style is modern Japanese, so shou sugi ban really made sense.

Juniper has a lot of natural oils, like cedar, but we had never attempted it with this material. We source our juniper lumber from Sustainable Northwest Wood. They assured it would work just as well with juniper. I think they were right.

We rented a torch and propane to burn the assembled wall. It looks too dark at first. After scrubbing it has a deep chocolate finish with black grain. And guess what? It actually seals the wood- prolonging it's life in the landscape!

Check out a few more pictures below, along with a great article the really explains shou sugi ban, and a couple related videos.