Ben had talked to James about his intentions to char the surface of the surfboard that he was making with us right from the get-go; it’s a traditional Japanese process called Shou Sugi Ban and is an incredible, if somewhat counter-intuitive, method of improving the durability and aesthetic appearance of timber.
Shou Sugi Ban translates as “burnt Cedar board” and is a process that was used by Japanese carpenters to finish exterior cladding and fencing that dates back to at least the 1700s. It developed from the practice of using driftwood collected from beaches because it was found that the weathering process of being exposed to saltwater and sun improved the wood’s durability whilst offering a unique appearance. As the practice became increasingly popular, demand outpaced the supply of naturally occurring driftwood and so Japanese carpenters looked for other techniques to weather timber. They came up with a process of charring the upper 3-5mm of a plank of Sugi (Cryptomeria japonica, also known as Japanese Cedar), cooling it, cleaning it and then finishing the blackened timber with a natural oil. The result is a blackened plank that is virtually maintenance free and is said to be resistant to rot, pests and (paradoxically) fire.