Burn baby burn!
Charred wood flooring is a hugely popular choice for a variety of different styles of homes. Being suited to a modern, industrial aesthetic as well as antique and rustic interiors means that across the board, charred wood, also called Shou Sugi Ban, can be found in many of the most beautiful homes in the UK and around the world.
It is recognised by its darkened appearance sometimes highlighting the wood's natural patterns or sometimes with a pattern, not unlike crocodile skin.
But what is the process of charring wood? Is it as durable as other types of wooden flooring such as solid wood flooring or engineered wood and are there alternatives?
If you do choose charred wooden flooring how long does it last?
We’ll answer all your questions about this elegant flooring solution so you can decide if charred wood flooring is the right option for you.
What is Charred Wood?
Charring wood with flames is a method of finishing wood which helps to preserve it, make it waterproof and protect it from rot and pests.
Originating in Japan where it is known as Shou Sugi Ban or Yakisugi the charring process is largely done using Japanese Cedarwood. In fact, the ‘Sugi’ bit in the Japanese name means Cedar.
The process involves individual planks or ‘ban’ being charred by passing them slowly through a flame until the outer layer of the wood is lightly burned. These days it is usually done with a large propane torch/blow torch by individuals or in large machine burners in large-scale manufacturing plants. In years gone by (the process is thought to have begun nearly 2000 years ago) and even in some places by traditional craftsmen now the process is done by tying three planks together to form a triangle and in the fire lit at one end so it can burn quickly up through the three planks.
The wood is burned for usually no more than five minutes and the resulting finish can be grey or charcoal black sometimes with a crocodile skin texture or sometimes just a natural highlighting of the timber's natural pattern.
Once the wood has completely cooled traditionally an oil is applied to add extra protection, but there are other finishing options available now as well.
How Long Does Charred Wood Last?
The charring process acts as a preservative for hardwood. It is the carbon created by burning that provides a protective layer around the wood.
With minimal maintenance of a finishing product or oil applied every 10-20 years, it should last 80 to 100 years.
What Wood is Best for Wood Charring?
Traditionally Japanese Cedar has been used for charring, with the Japanese name Shou Sugi Ban literally meaning burnt cedar boards. The primary quality of Japanese Cedar that makes it suited to the charring process is that it is porous.
Species native to the UK that share this quality include Larch and Ash, both of which are being currently felled in large numbers to halt the spread of disease.
Spruce, pine, maple and even oak are sometimes used for charring however, denser woods such as oak are generally used in buildings, flooring and furniture because it is naturally hardwearing and has anti-fungal and anti-pest properties, meaning the charring process is not really required and can therefore be considered as an expensive and purely aesthetic process.
Charred Wood Finish Alternatives
There are more economical alternatives to charred wood flooring. The most obvious choice is engineered wood flooring which provides the aesthetic qualities of solid wood or charred wood as well as durability.
The dark palettes of charred wood are often what make people look into charred wood flooring as an option for their home. Indeed, because charred wood includes shades from dark brown to grey as well as a blackened look, they suit any style of decor or age of building.
With plenty of darker shades of solid wood and engineered wooden flooring and finishes including stains, oils and waxes there are plenty of alternatives to charred wood floors.
Pros and Cons of Wood Charring
Advantages of Charred Wooden Flooring
Prevents rot, the burning process removes the ‘food’ for fungus.
Prevents wood boring insects as it removes their food source.
Lowers fire risk; pre-charred wood is less prone to burning.
Preserves wood without the use of chemicals.
Naturally waterproof; the heat from the fire closes the pores in the wood that would soak up moisture either from spills or just from the moisture and humidity in the environment.
Highlights the natural beauty of the wood.
Disadvantages of Charred Wooden Flooring
The process of charring wood is labour-intensive which can dramatically affect cost.
Non-uniform finish; natural products and processes will never result in uniformity.
Requires an experienced craftsperson to do the charring.
It is a time-intensive process so you may need to wait longer than you’d like for your wood to be ready.
If the charring is completed to the level of the ‘crocodile skin’ effect then the charred bits can break off. This can cause staining to clothes or other fabrics, can be walked around the house or even pose a health risk when inhaled or ingested by pets or small children.
Is Charred Wood For You?
Charred wood is certainly fashionable and has some excellent qualities. Though there are also downsides to this style and processes that go into creating this type of wooden flooring.
If you would like to learn more about wooden flooring solutions that are perfect for you and your home including alternatives to charred wood floors then do get in touch with us at Wooden Floors UK. Our experts will be happy to advise you and discuss a range of options.
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