Deep Char - Light Char: Debunking Yakisugi Myths

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Martin Gottschlich

Dispelling the Light Char Myth in Yakisugi

There is no 'light', 'medium', or 'deep' char - either you do it right or not

Yakisugi, also known as Shou Sugi Ban, is an ancient Japanese art that does much more than just give a charred visual appeal to wood. This technique delves deep, revolutionizing the wood at a cellular level.

The intense heat treatment bestowed upon the wood does more than just mark its surface; it fundamentally transforms its structure, bolstering its strength and endurance.

Our journey here will take us beneath the charred exterior to uncover the significant effects of Yakisugi on the wood’s cellular composition and its extensive advantages.

Mastering the Art of Charring

Properly executed Yakisugi is a skillful blend of art and craftmanship, requiring precision to achieve the char that confers lasting benefits to the wood.

At the heart of the transformative Yakisugi process lies a powerful heat treatment that works wonders on the cellular makeup of wood. When exposed to the intense flames, the cells within the wood begin to shrink and partially close and thus will absorb much less moisture afterwards. This is not just a superficial change but a fundamental shift that endows the wood with remarkable properties:

  • Resistance to Moisture: As the cells partially close, their ability to soak up moisture significantly lessens. This results in a formidable defense against the dampness and rot that often plagues untreated wood.

  • Enhanced Stability and Hardness: The wood becomes denser and tougher as the cells shrink and seal. This newfound hardness provides a bulwark against the wear and tear that typically affects softer, untreated woods.

  • Reduced Timber Swelling and Shrinkage: With its diminished capacity for moisture, Yakisugi-treated wood is less prone to the swelling and contracting that come with seasonal changes in humidity. The result? The wood cracks considerably less over time and will maintain its integrity and looks throughout the years.

All of this can only be realised if the correct heat, time, energy input, insertion angle and treatment follow a strict protocol based on decades of experience. Such uniform, attractive appearance, a stable soot layer and a long-lasting treatment can never be achieved with manual, rapid flame treatment.

Through the magic of Yakisugi, wood is not just beautified; it’s fortified from the inside out, ready to stand the test of time and elements.

Suyaki Yakisugi
Suyaki wall with windows
Suyaki sample board surface image #932

Therefore, charring to the right level is at the heart of Yakisugi, essential to ensure the wood acquires the necessary characteristics for optimal preservation.

Despite some European manufacturers offering “light char” or “medium char” options, true Yakisugi requires deeper charring. In fact, when presented with such variants, Japanese practitioners of Yakisugi often respond with a knowing smile and a candid adage: “either you char it to the right level or not.”

A light char, potentially done with a blow torch, may offer some temporary aesthetic appeal, but it lacks the endurance provided by the deep, rich char layer that is synonymous with genuine Yakisugi. It is easy to comprehend that such wafer-thin charred surface has hardly any structure and will often flake off again rather quickly in wind and weather – similar to leaf gold.

For enthusiasts of a lighter aesthetic, our Gendai finish marries the traditional depth of charring with a surface that reveals the wood’s natural grain, achieving a balance between form and function.

Either you char it to the right level or not at all.

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Nakamoto Forestry engineers

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