at our Canadian cottage: charring cedar

IMG_0984For the addition to our cottage in one of Canada’s provincial parks, we decided to follow the Japanese tradition of cladding the exterior with charred cedar. The technique, known as Shou-Sugi-Ban or Yakisugi, is said to raise the natural resins in wood and naturally protect against rot and fire.  (Try igniting a charred log and you’ll see what I mean.) Besides the long-lasting benefits,  the moody-black aesthetic of the burned wood convinced us to try out Yakisugi.

IMG_0973Call us crazy (we were) to burn wood on purpose.  Luckily, our excellent contractor (Brinkman Construction) was game.  He supplied us with a massive propane torch typically used to melt ice on roads, and we char-tested Western Red Cedar and Eastern.  The Eastern, primarily because it’s local and readily available, won out. We laid out about 12 boards at a time and went to work. It’s very intense and best done in pairs: one person working the torch, the other ready with a wet brush and pail of water to control wandering licks of fire.

IMG_0965The depth of the charring in Japan varies wildly, from wood burned deeply over fire pits to light charring.  Swiss architect Peter Zumthor charred the interior of the Bruder Klaus Field Chapel in Germany to create a mystical experience.  We decided to go for the sateen finish of the lighter char to gain some rot resistance and heighten the wood’s natural grain.  It took nearly three days to produce about 400 boards.

IMG_1506We’re thrilled with the result.  In full sunshine, the wood takes on a silver patina.

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Our Yakisugi cedar with newly installed black frame windows.

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Now we’re counting down the days ’til construction inside and out is complete.  More on that – and the Birch tree installed inside the cottage – to come.  Happy creative summer!

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7 comments
  1. Sarah McComb said:

    Love the Yakisugi look!!! How much fun was the blow torch???….though I suspect that after three days and 400 boards, it might have become a mundane task! Way to go guys….I am super impressed!

  2. Barry Irl Ditto said:

    Looks great! Can’t wait for the next update. The white birch should work well with the charred wood, but you–as a bone fide aesthete– are probably one step ahead of me on that….The birch and charred wood should create an ethereal look and feel. You may have stumbled upon a new design concept for Wiccans and Druids!

  3. Hello Lisa: Remarkable process and impressive results. Appreciate the link to the structure in Germany. But if this is in Algonquin I would thought you would have upheld history and used Eastern White Pine! Thanks for this.
    Regards, Bruce

  4. Wow! Truly impressive. Where did this inspiration come from? Keep us posted – it’s looking fantabulous! Best, Michael

  5. Christy said:

    Great way to age wood – did you have to rub it or sand it after to get the shine or is that just the natural look of the burnt wood?

    • Hi Christy,
      The shine is amazing! Some people do hose the wood down and then scrub with a nylon brush to imbed the ash into the grain. But we found too much of bare wood started showing through. We did finish the other non-exposed sides of the wood with a non-toxic preservative. Best, Lisa

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