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Digital Subscriptions > Cottage Life > Fall 2016 > Workshop





They charred wood in ancient Japan for good reason:it weathers better and looks beautiful

These stairs took a week to char, brush, and seal with oilbased Varathane. “But we saved time because we didn't have to plane, sand, or stain them,” says the carpenter Chris Dobbins. “It was just a bit messier.”


Mike Argue wants to burn your lumber before he sells it to you. No, really. “Burning the wood effectively bakes the soft, susceptible fibres,” explains the charring specialist and the owner of Kindl, a timber mill based in Parry Sound, Ont. The centuries-old Japanese technique is called shou sugi ban, a method of charring the face of wood siding on buildings to preserve them against weathering, rot, and insect attack.

Today's charring technicians burn each plank individually, then, depending on the desired finish, scrape it with a stiff brush and seal it. The process is messy and time-consuming, but the result is rich texture and luscious dark hues. “You choose the timber, the char, and the finish,” says Argue, which means your scorched wood can range from slightly toasted with a pronounced woodgrain to a pitch-black “gator skin.” Your finish options: matte or gloss.

And charred wood isn’t just for siding. “We’ve built dining tables, kitchen island tops, staircases, and even a timber-framed screened porch using charred wood,” says woodburning expert Chris Dobbins, the owner of CDH Carpentry in Haliburton, Ont. “The charring locks in the desired colour, meaning you don’t get the colour change that happens to untreated cedar and pine over time.”

Scorched wood is easy to work with—nails and screws will bite into it just fine. At $15 to $25 per sq. ft., cladding your cabin in the stuff is pricey, but “the result is tough and beautiful,” says Argue, and is said to last well beyond 50 years.—Will Jones


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About Cottage Life

You can do it! A Guide to Cottage DIY. How to live with wasps. Easy pulled pork recipes. Why do animals have whiskers? Wood that lasts forever. Workshop secrets from the pros. The new wave of woodstoves.