Getting Familiar With the Yakisugi Technique

yakisugi in bathroom

Japan Yakisugi

Even if you aren't familiar with the technique by name, you have likely seen photos of yakisugi siding. In the Western world, yakisugi is known as Shou sugi ban, which came into being as a term because of a misreading of the Japanese word. Yakisugi is a centuries-old technique which involves charring the surface of wood to make it more resistant to moisture and more durable as a whole. "For us, yakisugi is like champagne to the French," said Satoshi Kimura, operations director at Japanese-based company Japan Yakisugi. Below, Kimura provides further explanation regarding the origins and benefits of yakisugi and showcases some of his own firm's projects of this nature.

Meet the Expert

Satoshi Kimura is the operations director at Japan Yakisugi, which manufactures charred wood using the Yakisugi method.

  • 01 of 05

    Yakisugi's Benefits

    yakisugi exterior

    Japan Yakisugi

    The yakisugi technique comes with plenty of benefits. Explained Kimura, "The technique of burning the surface of the wood improves performance in inclement weather, prevents decay, rotting, and insect infestation, and makes the wood more resistant to fire." Kimura noted that since the early 1700s, carpenters in Japan have been charring Japanese cedar—known as "Sugi"—to use for construction.

    In the past 11 or 12 years, the technique has become more popular outside of Japan, he explained. "It is often said that this authentic traditional Japanese heat treatment process is a gift from mother nature rather than a scientific construction method technique," Kimura noted. For centuries, yakisugi was only popular in Western Japan, where Kimura said it was used for "exterior siding and fencing on traditional Japanese houses due to its remarkable durability."

  • 02 of 05

    Yakisugi's Durability

    yakisugi exterior

    Japan Yakisugi

    Yakisugi has many benefits, one of which is its durability, Kimura explained. "Yakisugi is used today to not only create a dramatic and highly chic elegant visual with an often-reptilian texture, but it also has some incredible scientifically proven benefits as well," he said. When properly maintained, the technique will last for 80 to 90 years, he added, and noted, "You can still see some old Japanese houses with over 120 years old Yakisugi structure." In comparison, traditional wood siding is said to last just 20 to 40 years on average.

  • 03 of 05

    What Makes Yakisugi So Long-Lasting?

    yakisugi exterior

    Japan Yakisugi

    If you're wondering what factors make the yakisugi technique last so long when properly maintained, Kimura outlined a few. First of all, yakisugi treated wood is extremely weather resistant. "The carbon layer produced by charring the wood is resistant to weathering and fading," Kimura noted. This is the case no matter the type of climate. Additionally, it is extremely water-resistant as well. "When the wood is being charred, the pores within the wood start to shrink and close," Kimura added. "What this means is that it becomes much more difficult for the board to soak up and take on water."

    Kimura explained that in addition to possessing the above qualities, the yakisugi technique also makes wood fire-retardant. "By slightly charring the surface of the wood, you essentially get rid of its softer outer layer," he noted. "When the wood is being burned, the porous material within the wood’s inner layer starts to close its pores and becomes much more stable and durable. This carbonization process of the outer layer of the wood creates a layer of carbon that prevents the wood from burning quickly." If this wasn't beneficial enough, Kimura noted that burning the wood also prevents it from rotting and pests. "Termites and other wood-consuming insects hate the layer of carbon produced by charring," he stated.

  • 04 of 05

    Yakisugi's Aesthetic Appeal

    yakisugi doors

    Authentique Design/Japan Yakisugi

    Kimura described yakisugi treated wood as "Striking, very eye catching, and a fusion of the modern and the elemental." He added, "It is highly chic and elegant, enigmatic with a touch of drama and a kind of matte-ness and fineness of grain in the charring that is unlike anything else in the building industry." And those looking to customize wood can certainly do so during the burning process, he added. "You can get a variety of beautiful colors out of it, depending on how deep you burn and how deep you brush... and it can be stained as well."

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Maintaining Yakisugi

    yakisugi in bathroom

    26 Design/Japan Yakisugi

    While yakisugi makes for long-lasting wood, some maintenance is still involved, according to Kimura. "If the intended use is to have it outside and exposed to weather, it should be oiled about every 10 to 15 years, which is fairly standard for exterior wood treatment," he stated. "It will retain its color better and will remain water-resistant longer if it is well-maintained." Using wood indoors? You won't have to lift a finger! Kimura added, "For interior purposes where it will mostly be seen and not touched, it will require virtually no maintenance."