Introduction: Using Shou Sugi Ban to Make an Interesting Coffee Table

Picture of Using Shou Sugi Ban to Make an Interesting Coffee Table

I was researching different ideas for a deck in my back yard and found some interesting decking patterns on the internet, then stumbled across this video about the ancient japanese finishing technique call Shou Sugi Ban, which involves burning and scrubbing the cedar wood to give it weather resistance, bug resistance, and strangely enough, fire resistance. The end effect leaves the wood with a metallic sheen that changes with the angle you view it at and is quite beautiful.

I realized it would be way too much work to do a whole deck this way, but it might be really cool as a coffee table. I then decided to basically make a coffee table using the same style as a diamond pattern deck, but scaled down.

The table is all cedar except for hidden support, and all wood is readily available at your local big box home improvement store. Total cost is a little over 50 dollars in wood, plus whatever tools you don't have.

I am a total amateur wood worker, which will be obvious when you look at my pictures, but the table receives a lot of compliments and if I can make it, so can you.

Step 1: Materials List

1x4x8 cedar board 6.48 x 3= $19.44

3.5x6 cedar picket 1.48 x 8= $ 11.84

1x2x8 furring (white wood) 1.02 x 4 = $ 4.08

4x4 cedar post $ 8.00

tung oil (optional)$ 10.00

stain (optional) $ 7.00

Step 2: Tools

Picture of Tools

A 20 dollar propane torch from Harbor freight is the best way to make short work out of burning the wood. Be aware that the intense heat from this thing can set things on fire several feet away from the piece you're burning.

A compound miter saw makes it easy to do any pattern you want for the planking, and allows mitering the corners of the border pieces. A miter box and a hand saw would work, but you will need a lot more time and patience.

A pocket hole jig can make extremely strong joint connections if you have one, but glue works just fine.

A square helps in keeping the table aligned.

A nice flat build table and some long pipe clamps would have helped a lot, but I was able to make do without.

Step 3: Design

With just a few tweaks, this design can be as different as you want it. You can do your planking in a different style like parquet or herringbone, you can shou sugi ban the frame too instead of doing it in a contrasting stain like I did, and you can make it any size you wish.I decided on 32" x 60", just because that seemed to fit the area, and went with a contrasting merlot stain on the frame to match the wife's accent colors in the room.
You may have noticed in the video the step where the wood is oiled. I intended to do this, but after some experimentation found that the oil draws the ash out of the wood and keeps it in suspension, so that you get a black smudge on your fingers every time you touch it. Non-oiled wood handles cleanly. If you're planning on a glass top, the oil might be a nice touch, but it only makes a subtle difference in looks.

Step 4: Building the Frame

Picture of Building the Frame

First I mitered the 32" and 60" pieces at 45 degrees.

I then found out that using pocket screws on mitered 1x4's is problematic, or at least beyond my skills. I wound up just using glue at the corners and using pocket screws on the divider pieces.

Step 5: Support Furring for Planking

Picture of Support Furring for Planking

Using a scrap piece of planking as a guide, install the 1x2 furring along the inside of the framing at a depth to make the planks flush with the top. I experimented here with screws, but titebond glue and clamps seemed to be the best way to get these attached.

Step 6: Cut Planking

Picture of Cut Planking

This is what I would do different if I could start over. I cut the planks to size and got them all to fit tightly, but after going through the burning, scrubbing, washing and drying process, the planks shrank some, and afterwards the fit was loose with some gaps between boards.

I recommend you do shou sugi ban on all the planks before cutting them, so you can get a tighter fit than I did.

I started each section trying to cut a uniform first piece at the center, so all four sections would roughly match.

Step 7: The Fun Stuff, Playing With Fire!

Burning the wood is straightforward. My apologies for the focus on the video, I didn't realize it was that bad till I was finished.

Once again, exercise extreme caution using the torch. Dried out winter Bermuda grass will ignite a surprisingly long distance away from where you are working. (Yes, I speak from experience).

Keep an extinguisher and/or water hose close by.

Step 8: Scrub the Planking

Using a wire brush, wet and scrub the planks. The longer you scrub, the lighter the finish.

Step 9: Legs

Picture of Legs

I attached a square piece of planking in each corner for the legs to attach to and reinforced it with a mitered piece of furring as you can see in the second pic.

I then glued each leg in place with glue on the end and in-between the leg and the perimeter piece.

Lastly I added a couple of 2" decking screws down through the plank into the top of the leg.

Another option here would be hairpin legs, or galvanized pipe legs from the plumbing section of the home improvement store.

Step 10: Bringing It Home

Picture of Bringing It Home

I used a palm sander to round off the sharp top edge of the perimeter piece. If you have a router, a routed edge would look really nice.

Next I stained the trim according to the instructions on the can. Lay it on thick, wait a couple of minutes, then wipe it off using a lint free rag.

This was a lot of fun and I enjoyed making something I conceived in my own head. The possibilities for customization are endless.

I hope it has inspired you to try something new.


workislove (author)2015-01-10

Last year I was at a beach bonfire, and after the fire was put out I saw the metallic sheen of which you speak on the outside of some of the logs - I wondered if there was a way it could be used decoratively - and here it is! I love that this is an actual thing, and I will definitely try it, as soon as I get my hands on a torch.

Do it bud. Looking at your instructables, I'm sure you can take it further than I have. Can't wait to see what you turn out.

Rachael K (author)2014-12-30

Great instructable! Interesting and well designed.

seamster (author)2014-12-29

Fascinating! I'm going to give this method a shot on some future project. Thank you very much for sharing this!

adamwatters (author)2014-12-27

The table turned out beautifully - cool design, cool technique. Thanks for sharing!

tina47 (author)2015-01-17

nice table!

dreiseratops (author)2015-01-10

Looks really nice!
I think Ill give it a try.

I hope you do! It would be awesome to see an "I made it" post on my first instructables.

So you basically fire harden the wood all over the surface, wash it, & that's it?

Yes, wash it with a wire brush. You can vary the amount of char and scrubbing, getting all sorts of different textures, like alligator skin.

bsims1 (author)Hal Nine Thousand2015-01-11

Is that the same amount of charring on white pine 2x4 with different amount of scrubbing?

Hal Nine Thousand (author)bsims12015-01-12

It's different amounts of charring, AND different amounts of scrubbing, and I think it's probably cypress wood judging from the article I got the picture from.

Well, I can't post a link to get past the wsj login, but the company that produces the shou sugi ban in the photo is at this link.

And I wish pictures could convey the wonderful metallic sheen and how it changes as you walk around the table.

oliver3 (author)2015-01-02

Nice job! I like it

Perhaps you can tel me something, which I did not understand on the film of the feller showing the process. After he scrub the planks he apply with a brush something from a white bucket.... to be sure is that some kind of yacht varnish?

hope to hear your replay thank you

Happy new year!!

It is Tung oil or Linseed oil. I don't recommend it on an interior piece, but it helps with weatherproofing any shou sugi ban that will be outside.

What about setting glass insets on top of it, or can you put polyurethane on it, or would the diminish the glass-affect you get from the metallic burnt wood?

I'm still thinking about putting glass on top of the table, but the 32" size I chose is making it problematic to find an inexpensive piece of glass.

As far as the polyurethane, I couldn't tell you. I've never used it. If you try it, let us know how it looks.

PhillipS1 (author)2015-01-08

Wonder what this would look like if you did the torching on all of the outside-facing surfaces? Could even do less scrubbing on the trim pieces to make them darker for contrast..

That's an excellent idea, and I want to do exactly that if I ever build another one.

stonewall96 (author)2015-01-08

Could this be made from pallet wood? I can get red oak, poplar, etc in quantities(in other words, all I want if I be patient!) I like your instructable as I am always looking for alternate, cheap projects! I am retired and have more time than money!

I imagine it could. Cedar is "traditional" and if it's going to be outside I'm sure it's the better choice, but for a coffee table I would think any wood is fine. Let us know how it comes out.

aarendal (author)2015-01-02


DrDaveBowman (author)2015-01-01

You should have finished both sides

You should have never unplugged me.

Kafukai (author)2014-12-29

Cool! I liked how you have used the torch?

If I'll use butane torch instead, it would do the same job?

I don't know, aheibi. Give it a try and let us know!

I've tried it, and the butane torch do the same, the only different is that you couldn't use a butane torch on a snowy day :-)

boatingman (author)2014-12-27

Not too bad, not too bad, at all, especially coming from a killer computer. Love your handle. 2001 was an amazing movie, even more so considering when it was made.

If I only had a nickle for every time someone asked me to open the pod bay doors. :)

jmwells (author)2014-12-27

I've seen this done in Japan. They fire all sides. I was told that firing only one side may lead to warping as the plank is only sealed on one side. Great look. Wife must be pleased. She's probably thinking of your next project already. Ha ha

Thanks! If I was using Shou Sugi Ban outdoors, I agree, it would need to be fired on all sides, but in an indoor conditioned environment, I'm guessing it will be fine with just one side. I'll let you know if I ever see any warpage.

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