Shou-sugi-ban: Charring Wood as a Preservation Method

Shou-sugi-ban 焼き杉 is a Japanese method of charring cedar boards. The method is simple. You char the surface of the wood, scrape it with a metal brush and apply a sealant. The charring creates a protective layer and also, surprisingly, makes the wood more resistant to fire. The technique extended the life of exterior cladding in a country where wood was a precious commodity.

The technique fell out of favor with the advent of modern materials but has seen a revival of late in the contemporary architecture scene. Designers, I think, are drawn to the dark color of the wood as well as the sustainability of the practice. I defy you to find a recent issue of Dwell Magazine without a Shou-sugi-ban wall.

The video above shows a modern method using a propane torch. You can see an alternate method, based on the traditional technique, here. Like most exterior wood projects, it’s a good idea to apply new oil annually. I’ve seen two recommendations: tung oil and Penofin.

I’m pondering the method for some upcoming backyard projects and am wondering if any of you have tried Shou-sugi-ban. If you have leave a comment!

090 Garden Myths: Nitrogen, Roundup, Compost Tea


Our topic this week is gardening myths and our guest is Robert Pavlis. We touch on a number of controversial, hot-button gardening topics such as synthetic fertilizers, roundup and compost tea. Robert maintains a six acre garden near Guelph, Ontario all by himself, he’s a master gardener and a speaker. He has a background in chemistry and biochemistry and runs two blogs: and

During the show we also discuss the “whys” of gardening, mosquito prevention, stuff you shouldn’t buy and the problems with fish fertilizer.

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.


Saturday Tweets: Pallets, Knots, Bikes

How’s that Tomato Grafting Project Going?


Back in the winter I announced my plans to graft my own tomatoes. I undertook the project more in a spirit of idle curiosity than necessity. We haven’t had the sort of soil problems that might require grafted tomatoes but I thought it would be fun to try.

To graft tomatoes you grow a hardy root stock (I chose Maxifort) and the tomatoes you want to graft them on to. You then make the graft and secure it with a grafting clip. For the grafting process I used the directions in the following video from Cornell University:

The next step is to put the grafted seedlings into a “healing chamber” consisting of a dark, warm and humid environment that gives the plant a chance to heal and the graft to take. You then slowly introduce light over a period of days to transition the grafted plant to normal growing conditions.

What could possibly go wrong?
Let’s just say that at Root Simple Labs mistakes were made.

  • The root stock grew a lot faster than the heirloom tomatoes I chose. When you graft you want similarly sized stems. It would have been good to stagger the days I started my seeds rather than planting them all at one time.
  • The healing chamber needs to be a carefully controlled environment. I improvised a greenhouse by putting my seedlings in plastic bags. This worked but I had trouble re-introducing light in a uniform way. Grow lights would make this easier. And it was a pain to open all the individual bags to mist the plants.
  • Because of my lack of stem sizes to choose from I ended up with graft unions too close to the soil level. Of the six plants that survived my horticultural incompetence, I think they all may just be growing from the graft union itself rather than the root stock. I’m hoping that I can tell when I pull the plants at the end of the season.
  • I used potting soil rather than a seed starting mix. That’s just plain stupid. What was I thinking?
  • Next time I’ll get a selection of grafting clips in different sizes. That would give some flexibility in when to graft the plants.

Despite my cascade of errors I still have tomato plants (though probably not grafted ones) and I learned some valuable lessons should I attempt this project again next year. I’m thinking that instead of tomatoes, which have done fine in our garden in the past, I might try grafting peppers or eggplants which we have had trouble growing.

How are your tomatoes doing this summer? Are any of you growing grafted varieties?

Nanotecture: Tiny Built Things

Nanotecture: Tiny Built Things is a tiny book of big ideas. It’s 336 pages of objects ranging from bird houses to sheds to temporary art installations. The unifying theme is clever design and a less than house sized scale.


This is the kind of book to thumb through if you’ve got a creative block, are curious about materials or just looking for inspiration.

And there’s lots of dog and cat architecture.

And saunas, like the bike propelled mini sauna above.

I don’t know if I need to own a copy of this book (I’ve got a library copy), but I’ve spent a many evenings leafing through the pages. On a side note, many of the objects in this book are temporary outdoor art installations, something you see a lot of in Northern Europe in the summer. I don’t know why we don’t see more of these types of art and design shows in the U.S. They’re popular and a nice use of public space.

The book has inspired me this morning to cut the blogging short and head to my workshop and build something.