For 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.
Call 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.
The 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.
Our Yakisugi cedar with newly installed black frame windows.
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!