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Shou Sugi Ban Japanese Wood Burning | DIY Charred Wood Tutorial

I love experimenting with different DIY techniques and, as both an avid maker of things and a volunteer firefighter, I feel duty bound to show you this really cool DIY charred wood tutorial – also known as shou sugi ban, a Japanese wood burning technique.

Shou Sugi Ban DIY: Charred Wood Tutorial for Beginners

What is Shou Sugi Ban?

My research indicates that “shou sugi ban” means “burnt cedar board” and it’s a centuries old Japanese technique for preserving wood with fire.  Basically it’s a way to speed up the weathering process and make a wood plank naturally weatherproof.  Traditionally used for siding, wood charring techniques like shou sugi ban have seen a resurgence in popularity.  Seeing it used in interior applications inspired me to think beyond siding.  (Although there was a moment during our “should we/shouldn’t we DIY our own siding?” phase that I contemplated charring each and every board myself).  Although the art of Japanese wood burning has a rich history, even a beginner DIY-er can have fun with this method of preserving wood by burning it.  I’m no pro, but after experimenting with a bunch of shou sugi ban projects, including different wood species of varying newness, I’ve picked up some tips and tricks.  I’ve outlined my own version of this Japanese wood burning technique in an easy DIY charred wood tutorial – with supply shopping list – below.

Shou Sugi Ban: Japanese Wood Burning Technique for DIY Charred Wood

Why to Like a Shou Sugi Ban Finish

Before I delve into how to do shou sugi ban, you might want to know why I was burning my lumber.  If you caught yesterday’s patio door makeover, you probably spotted one of my charred wood projects: our new deck step!  The design matches the metal and wood step we built last year for the car port entrance.  We had intended to let the wood weather to a driftwood grey but it didn’t weather at all!  I wasn’t too bothered because with the new, moodier siding choice we made this year I wanted a darker wood on the step and bench we built anyway.  I’ve been really drawn toward unusual and earthy textures, so the idea of a charred wood step with a deep, rich hue sounded perfect for our new exterior plan – plus burning wood instead of applying stain sounded like a heck of a lot of fun! (Spoiler: it was!)

DIY Welded Step with Charred Wood Cedar Top

If you’re eyeing up a stack of lumber, here’s all the supplies you’ll need to tackle your own shou sugi ban Japanese wood burning project.


Notes on Supplies:  Let’s just take a closer look at those supplies, because they might not be what every DIY-er has in their tool box!  Luckily, we already owned a small blow torch kit from a previous plumbing project.  It came with the torch head, below, a small propane tank, and some plumbing stuff. UPDATE: I got a larger propane torch for a bigger garden box project, check it out here.  For a small scale project, this is the torch head you’ll need:

The torch head attaches to these propane tanks, which are sold separately.  I bought a few but I ended up only needing one.

Shou Sugi Ban: Japanese Wood Burning Technique for DIY Charred Wood

Using this blow torch is simple: just turn the dial and light the end with a lighter.  You can buy larger cylinders but my tiny hands found this easier to hold for hours on end.  One quick tip: it didn’t like being held horizontally and sometimes the flame went out so I kept the lighter nearby to keep re-lighting it.  I also learned to prop up my surface so I could hold the tank more vertically.

How to Do DIY Shou Sugi Ban:

I used car stands to help prop up my projects because I spent a long time burning and not having to hunch over the project like a crafty gargoyle helped my back immensely.  A small (not flammable) stool might help you too!  Just get comfy because this will take a few hours but it’s really meditative work so I promise the time will fly by.  Once my safety equipment (ahem, pretend I’m wearing fire retardant gloves) was donned, I just wielded my propane blow torch like a spray can of paint.  Following the direction of the grain, I used sweeping motions to char the wood, just like if I was spraying paint – but I was spraying flame.  Little flare ups were okay and helped the charring process.  You can burn it as little or as much as you want, but for this shou sugi ban technique the goal is to really char the wood until you get the crocodile skin forming – almost like you’ve snagged a log from a bonfire that’s just getting going.  It lightens up a lot after the excess is scraped off, so if you’re going for a dark finish aim for the level of char you see below.  I recommend grabbing a scrap of wood and testing it out a little bit so you can see how much lighter the wood gets when the charred layer is removed.  You can go back a re-char an area after scraping to get it darker but I found that a silkier finish emerged if I got it as dark as I wanted the first time.

Shou Sugi Ban: Japanese Wood Burning Technique for DIY Charred WoodDIY Wood Burning Tutorial

Now for the sad part.  I LOVED how the wood took on that leathery look but that’s a lot of loose stuff so it needed to be scraped away.  I read some Japanese wood burning tutorials that recommended a stiff wire brush and that was terrible advice!  It gouged the wood.  Instead, I picked up a very stiff plastic bristle brush (below) from the cleaning aisle at my local home improvement store and it was perfect – look for something really sturdy with little to no bend.  Then, following the grain, vigorously brush the charred wood to remove the loose pieces and reveal the finish below – this is a good time to put on that dust mask.

How to Char Cedar

On the left side, still charred wood, and on the right side, where I had already removed much of the loose particulate with my brush:

Shou Sugi Ban: Japanese Wood Burning Technique for DIY Charred Wood

When I was satisfied that all loose bits had been removed, I gave the wood a sweep and then used a compressor and air nozzle (you can use a can of compressed air instead) to ensure that the fine dust I created wasn’t hanging around in the wood grain.

Shou Sugi Ban TutorialHow to Char Wood to Preserve It

Do You Need to Seal Shou Sugi Ban Charred Wood Finish?

The final step was to seal the wood.  I have read about many different kinds of oils and natural sealants (like linseed oil) but I wanted to make sure I used something we could walk on so I opted for this wood protector photographed below, from Home Hardware.  I recommend heading to your local paint shop and describing your project.  For a step like this, ask for a top coat that is designed for decks and foot traffic.  If you’re doing this DIY charred wood technique for a different project, tailor the top coat to your needs.  This particular product was very thin and milky when applied so I just poured it on, brushed it and hoped it dried clear – and it did.  Yay!  Two coats helped amp up the sheen and lustre –  when the sunlight hits it, it really gleams but in the shade it looks very moody.

I am beyond thrilled with the result!  Thanks to this Japanese wood burning technique, the wood has incredible depth and sheen.  It shimmers in a way that a wood stain just can’t replicate.  I’ll keep you posted on how this weathers and wears – it’s wood, so it will change with exposure and use.

Shou Sugi Ban: Japanese Wood Burning Technique for DIY Charred WoodShou Sugi Ban: Japanese Wood Burning Technique for DIY Charred WoodDIY Wood Burned Cedar Shou Sugi Ban: Japanese Wood Burning Technique for DIY Charred Wood

The ONLY trouble I encountered during my Japanese wood burning project was that I charred my wood when the cedar surface was glued and assembled and the wood glue made charring the seams nearly impossible.  If I did this again, I’d char my planks before assembling my project!  And, if the wood glue didn’t dry clear, I’d use the char dust and mix with epoxy to create a color-matched caulking of sorts.  But aside from this little whoops, this project – and the revamped car port step and bench – were successes!  And I have one more really, really fun shou sugi ban project to show you – I just need to take a break from painting the exterior and snap some photos.

Don’t Forget to Pin for Later!

Looking for a Larger Charred Wood Finish Project?

See how I charred garden beds right here.

See how I made a charred wood frame right here:

P.S. I was asked about my turquoise wedges. I bought them on Amazon last year but these ones are pretty similar but these Minnetonka wedges look even comfier and they come in aqua too!



  1. Beth Doerksen
    June 28, 2018 / 1:33 pm

    I really enjoy the variety of projects that you do. Lots of times they aren’t ones that I have seen done before. Thanks.

    • Tanya from Dans le Lakehouse
      June 28, 2018 / 2:26 pm

      Thanks so much! I have always been really experimental with projects (I once painted my own car, lol) so I love sharing the process. I’m so happy to hear you enjoy these posts!

      • Vickiejhatcher
        November 21, 2020 / 5:31 pm

        I have a kitchen table, I do not like color nor do I have a need for and I do need an outdoor, pool side, patio type table, that I would love to do this with. However, I do not want to take the time to strip it. Besides being unhealthy to breath, do you think this too could be burned off during this process? Or do you think these residues would have an impact on how it turns out?

        • November 21, 2020 / 10:39 pm

          It’s really difficult to say what charring the finish on your table could do. With the all natural finish I’ve used on other wood burned projects, the charring actually cures the finish. So there’s a chance this could do that… I would recommend stripping it and I will tell you about a stripper I just used that was MAGIC – no scraping, layers of old finish on my kitchen cabinets just came off like butter. Here it is in action. And here is a photo of the can. I would recommend stripping, to not do so is a risk but, I am also the adventurous type and would probably try it, knowing I can sand it down or strip it after the fact, if charring the finished table doesn’t work out.

  2. Dan
    September 22, 2018 / 12:01 pm

    Exactly what I was looking for. I’m in the middle of building a bench from white oak for a Japanese garden and I will try this. Thanks for posting

    • Tanya from Dans le Lakehouse
      September 24, 2018 / 12:37 pm

      I’m so glad I could help! I’d love to see photos when you’re done.

  3. Misty
    October 30, 2018 / 5:31 pm

    Hi great tutorial I have a question, I am doing this technique on an upcycle a living room cabinet project so obviously wont be walked on so you mentioned an oil product or something else?? Just wondering what that would be?

    • Tanya from Dans le Lakehouse
      October 31, 2018 / 11:28 am

      Chat with your local pros at your favorite paint store to get the best recommendation for what to use to seal it. I used Watco spray lacquer for another wood burned project and that worked really well to seal everything in, but you’ll want a specific recommendation for something that will be used as a furniture piece.

  4. Diane
    April 7, 2019 / 3:05 pm

    Finally-a good, thorough how-to with clear details and helpful photos. Thank you so much for sharing. My project is different but I wanted better examples of depth of char and removal of material than I was finding. Yours was perfect.

  5. Katy
    June 23, 2019 / 10:37 am

    What a great project, that bench step is stunning!

    How does the wood look now, a year later? What kind of maintenance has it required? Have you needed to reapply the sealer?

    I’m dying for an update. 😁

    • June 24, 2019 / 11:53 am

      Thanks Katy! I was surprised that the charred look lightened up a bit. I think I should have charred it to the darkness I wanted – and then some – but the wood itself is in good shape. It’s clear that this has a good impact on protecting from the elements. It just lightened up visually a bit. I have not applied more sealant. I’m curious to see if it lightens up more – in which case I might try charring it a tiny bit more. I don’t think I was aggressive enough with it.

  6. tengseng sangma
    March 2, 2020 / 11:02 am

    Very good project, well done. I just wanted to know if I could do the project with not so seasoned pine lumbar. As I have limited time should I go ahead with my project?

    • March 2, 2020 / 1:01 pm

      Thank you! I can’t see a problem with using not as seasoned lumber when it comes to the wood burning, but you might run into warping and other problems down the road with your wood. Not because of the wood burning, just because of unseasoned lumber in general and the issues that pop up.

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