Introduction: How to Burn & Stain Wood Aka Shou Sugi Ban

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Shou Sugi Ban is a Japanese technique, that dates back to the 18th century, for preserving wood. The process is specifically meant for cedar, but works on many species of wood such as cypress, ash, oak, maple, and of course pine like I used. The wood is burned, and this preserves the wood by making it resistant to sunlight, water, and fire. Another benefit is how beautiful of a process it is. It can bring out and highlight the woodgrain in a way that other finishes cannot. When I first researched this process I found photos of shou sugi ban wood combined with brightly colored stains. I tired to find out how it was done, but it seems to be a proprietary process that is not readily shared. I decided to come up with my own process that I am sharing with all of you.

Materials used:

Propane Torch -

Minwax Water Based Stain, tinted you color of choice at Lowe's or Home Depot

Sanding Pads -
Sanding Block -

Wipe-On Poly -

Step 1: Burn It!

This technique can be accomplished with smaller torches, but I recommend using a large propane torch as pictured, and linked. This will allow for a quicker and more even burn. You'll have much more control, and you will avoid that "splotchy" look you get with a smaller torch.

  1. Its important to test out a few test pieces before burning you actually project wood. Boards will have different grain patterns, and different moisture contents. This affects the burn. Notice in the photos above the difference in the grain pattern from the first two boards vs. the second two. The grain is wider and longer in the first boards. The burn chars much faster, and the end result is not as nice as the tighter grain pattern in the second set of boards.
  2. Hold the torch 12-18 inches above the wood as you burn it. To me it feels like you are painting with fire, and you should "brush" on the char as such. You'll see what I am talking about when you try it, I promise.
  3. There are different levels of char. For the stained shou sugi ban it requires a light touch. In the last picture you can see what an "alligator skin" char looks like. You'll hear the wood crack and pop as you burn it.

Step 2: Surface Prep

Once the wood cools it is time to prep for staining.

  1. Using a wire brush gently scrap the top surface of the wood to break up the soot and ash. Do not gouge the wood as this will leave visible lines.
  2. For a heavier char as seen in the second photo you can be a bit more aggressive with the wire brushing to remove that top layer of ash.
  3. Wipe the wood down until you have removed as much of the soot as you can. Using an air compressor afterwards helps remove anything left behind.

Step 3: Stain It!

These stains came from Home Depot. Minwax has a water based clear tint stain that they will mix in colors. There are specific colors mentioned in the brochure, but I was able to get Home Depot to mix colors that aren't in the brochure. Not every store will do this for you.

  1. Make sure not to work on too large of an area. Its important to be able to wipe back the stain before it sets too heavily.
  2. Brush on a coat of stain, and then wipe it back off after 5-10 seconds. Apply more or less stain based on your preferences.

Step 4: Sanding & Finish

  1. A technique that really makes stain shou sugi ban pop is sanding with 220 grit sand paper in areas you want to pull out some of the natural wood look. The ideal spot is to find where the grain bends.
  2. Sand these spots lightly to pull out the natural wood so that you have the contrast of stain to char to natural.
  3. This is hard to mess up. Experiment with sanding to bring out the grain to your liking. Just remember to have a light touch.
  4. Apply several coats of wipe on poly to finish. This really makes the grain and colors pop.

Step 5: Shou Sugi Ban in Action

These are the other projects I've made using this process. All of these are videos on my YouTube channel. Check them out, and tell me what you think!

Jonny Builds YouTube

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