DIY Torched Wood Finish Technique

Create dynamic burnt wood finish pieces, with this DIY wood burning style


If you love getting your hands dirty and are looking for a cool, yet dramatic project to do around the house. Maybe you’ve seen those beautiful burnt wood finishing wall pieces and have always wanted to try them, well you’re in for a treat.

In this article you will learn how to do a burnt wood finish that could be classified as the Shou Sugi Ban wood burning technique. The Shou Sugi Ban method in short, is a Japanese technique used to preserve and waterproof wood by charring it with fire, this results in a rustic yet beautiful charred texture on the surface of the wood.

If this is already getting you flustered with excitement, get ready to bring out the torch and get ‘blazing’.  

1. The gears

Maybe you’re already into wood burning or you’re a torch-enthusiast, if so, you may have a few torches laying around that you can select from. Having a few different types will help when adding fine details or when you're trying to cover a large or small area.

If this is something that you’ve never done before but are really interested in doing, you may start out with one, but over time you’ll see the need to have a few when you start to explore and branch out a bit. 

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The first type of torch you’ll need is ‘the big daddy’ of the torches, the weed torch, you can find this easily by simply doing a quick search online. With this torch you can whip it up to a propane tank, the same ones that are used for gas grills and you’re ready to torch.

The weed torch is helpful when you need to burn a lot of material or if you have a very large surface to cover, and let’s be honest the bigger the fire, the bigger the fun.

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However, if all you have (or all you can afford) is a smaller propane torch, it can still get the work done, but it will take a longer time to complete. The results will be as awesome but without the giant fiery fun bits. 

Just get a propane can with a nozzle and an electrical lighter, or a nozzle with a quick click igniter for easier lighting. This comes in handy for detailing, so if you’ve got a big bad torch, make sure to get a small one as well.

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There’s also a hand torch with a very specific use, but we’ll get into that later. Yes, this is intended to make you curious and read this whole thing. 

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2. Safety

Now let’s talk about the boring, yet super important stuff…The first thing you need is a big bucket of water whenever you’re going to burn stuff. Very straightforward, fire beats you, water beats fire. 

If you have a small piece of wood on fire, and you can’t control it… just throw it in the bucket, or if you have a larger piece on fire you can take up the bucket and dump it on the fire. 

Hopefully you’ll never have to dump the water onto your work, as you have to also be careful not to soak everything including all the electrical stuff that may be hanging about. So it’s always best to place the piece in the bucket of water instead.

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A simple spray bottle of water is usually enough to contain or minimize a flare up from spreading. This happens a lot when a small piece or a corner catches fire and keeps burning, with a few squeezes that should be enough to put it out.

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And of course, you need a fire extinguisher, they are not cheap, but if you ever need them they will save you a LOT of money and trouble. So try to invest in one of these bad boys, you’d rather have one and not need it than needing it and not having it.

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You will also need safety glasses, sometimes a sparkle or a sap may fly off the wood into your face, especially when you’re working around knots.

If you do not want hot, boiling, steaming sap or pieces of wood popping into your eyes. Glasses are your best bet at preventing that from happening… again, it’s a long shot but you’ll be happy if you’re wearing your goggles if this happens. 

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Last but not least, a pair of gloves for handling your work. You may be holding a small piece not thinking about the heat that it may contain, and the direction that the heat will travel, so a glove will protect you from being burnt. The best kind are the heat resistant ones, if you’re planning to wear nylon gloves, well don’t, as they can melt. 

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3. The technique

Ok, this is where the fun begins. Before you begin to torch away like a crazy person, you will need to prepare the wood by spraying it with water from your small spray  bottle.

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Using your weed torch, attach it your propane tank and light that up, keeping a safe distance away from the open flames and get torching.

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Once the very outer layer of the wood is black in color, you want to pause and spray a bit more water to prevent cupping and torch it up again. Cupping is basically when the sides of the wood are higher or more raised than the center, creating a cup like shape. This happens when the wood is exposed to various changes of moisture content.

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You can repeat this process of adding more water to the wood up to 3 or more times in between torching, until you obtain the desired amount of charring.

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Once you’re through, grab a firm brush and begin to scrape and brush away the charred layer of ashes. You’ll get a brownish, cool-looking finish with the wood grain details... you can stop right here if you choose to.

Or…you can go further with the fun! But the torches are away for now.

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The wood color is now a dark and medium brown, to add more depth to the piece and introduce some lighter colors, get some sandpaper and sand a few places to reveal those lighter tones. It may be a bit boring, but the end result is stunning.

Revealing the lighter tones will create an amazing contrast amplifying the wood grain patterns.

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4. The finishes

Now it’s time to add the finish of which there are many wood stains, finishes, varnishes or even acrylic or combinations to choose from, that can result in some beautiful finishes. 

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You can stain it with colored stains, you can use a natural stain for a golden look. Some finishes will look amazing especially on the knots and grains, so you can be creative with your finish. 

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You can even explore with sunbleached stains. When you’re applying, it will appear as if it’s all gray but after wiping it off, the results are truly amazing.

You’re aiming at creating a lot of contrast to make the wood grain stand out.

Now that you’re through with your pieces, you can get creative in what you want to use them for, they do however make one heck of a wall piece.

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Now for that third torch, this torch has a very specific use as was mentioned earlier!

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Grab a small piece of wood and torch it up. When the smoke starts, get a glass vessel with a good lid and grab all the smoke you can by simply placing it over the smoke and flip the glass  over with the wood on top.

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Remove the piece of wood from on top of the glass and pour in your whiskey and cover it with it’s lid. 

And that my friends is how you smoke a cocktail.

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