The burnt wood finish is famous for giving wooden furniture an incredible new look, but there are way more benefits to this technique than purely aesthetic. In fact, this Japanese technique (known originally as shou sugi ban, which translates to “burnt cedar board) aims to add a layer of protection to the wood with the use of controlled fire. 

And the best part: you can do it yourself! 

But since we’re dealing with fire, it’s important to be prepared. So let’s take some time to know exactly what the burnt wood technique offers and how to do it properly!

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. – Mark Twain

What are the benefits of a burnt wood finish?

Well, although it may seem obvious, we cannot neglect to mention the beautiful look of burnt wood, which is what drives most homeowners into trying it in the first place.

Burnt wood looks darker, more dramatic and contrasting than the regular wood look, but at the same fits, fits modern and vintage homes alike. Regular wood has its place in decoration, but burnt wood creates a healthy compromise – a natural look but with a dramatic twist to make it more unique.

But as mentioned before, the aesthetic is only one of its many benefits.

It also makes wood considerably more resistant. 

The extra layer of char on the surface of the wood might seem too small to make a difference, but in fact, it will protect it from moisture (which prevents mold growth) and even pests and bacteria. Both of these are excellent benefits, the first more useful for indoor furniture to last way longer, and the second to protect decks, fences, and other wooden outdoor furniture.

On top of that, because of this extra layer, the wood is also more resistant to fire. 

How to apply the burnt wood finish yourself

You can indeed apply this look by yourself as a DIY project, but given how it involves using a torch and only specific wood types are ideal, you have to plan ahead and take some safety precautions.

But before we start, which wood types are ideal for the burnt wood look?

Softwoods are better because it’s much easier to char the surface. These include the original japanese cedar that originated the look, but also pine and fir. Hardwood doesn’t char as easily and can lead to accidental burning.

Now, onto business:

Clear the work area. Because you’re essentially burning wood, this can contaminate a closed environment with gases and smoke, which can be intoxicating. To prevent that, it’s better to take your wood burning to an outdoor workplace, but do mind windy days. 

No sanding necessary. Most kinds of woodwork require sanding, but not this one – the charring of the surface will already do the job sanding would be used for, and sanding before charring the wood could compromise the final results.

Opt for propane torches. It is possible to char the wood with a small controlled fire, but those are a bit more dangerous to the inexperienced and harder to control when it comes to charring correctly. Which is why propane torches are better for this – they’re fairly cheap and make for a much more reliable tool, since you can control the intensity of the fire scorch small sections at a time without risking burning too much.

Once the burning is done, use a wire brush to scrub the burned area and soften the char – this technique is used to control how dark you want the color to be. Finally, clean the surface with a wet cloth. This will remove any excess dust and already reveal the dramatic new look – it’s worth waiting a few minutes to prevent burning yourself though.

Need more help with applying the old burnt wood finish? Talk to a professional handyman today or a local carpenter and get free quotes in your area!


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