Thursday, February 4, 2016

Shou-sugi-ban decorated paddles

Online paddlemaking friends, David G and Luke M have both attempted to decorate their handmade paddles with an interesting burning technique known as shou-sugi-ban. This traditional Japanese method of preservation was originally developed for use with cedar cladding on houses. Claims are that it can add another hundred years onto the longevity of the wood. Luke heard about the technique from another remarkable craftsman in the US, Nick Dillingham of Black Thunder Studios, who modified the technique to finish some of his remarkable crooked knife handles.

David and Luke were kind enough to send me emails about their experiences with this finishing method to share with the blog readers.

First, the paddle surface is scorched with a propane torch until completely black. After this burning period, the wood is scrubbed vigorously with an abrasive. Luke and David used  some Scotch-Brite(TM) pads to remove uneven remnants of the charred wood.  The complete surface burning / charring process obviously blackens the surface but if done properly, it still allows the grain pattern to peek through.  

Here are some shots of David's Sitka spruce paddle with reinforced ash tip. It's 56" long with a 26" by 5" wide blade. It only weighs 14 oz and has some etchings on the grip. Look at the beautiful contrast against that fresh Yukon snow!

David G's shou-sugi-ban Sitka Spruce paddle
Au Nord du Nord Woodwork 

The etchings reveal the lighter coloured wood below the charred surface, something known as negative pyrography in the woodburning art world. I've always had to resort to using a tiny electric pen to burn the backspace, so this technique is intriguing to me. Burn everything first and then reverse etch.

Grip etchings
Au Nord du Nord Woodwork 

David also uploaded a photo closeup of the blade's near perfectly straight grain. The paddle has not yet been oiled but David's great job with the burning makes it look like a pretty wood stain.

Sitka grain pattern
Au Nord du Nord Woodwork 

Over on the other side of the world, Luke made a paddle from fresh ash - a narrow bladed Maliseet style paddle to go with his nearly complete Maliseet ocean canvas canoe.

Luke M's shou-sugi-ban decorated Maliseet paddle

The grip area has been chip-carved after the burning resulting in a pretty reverse effect...

Luke's chip carving along the grip edge

Luke's chip carving along the grip edge
Facebook Album Link

Luke provided some additional details about his methodology. After scrubbing, the paddle was lightly sanded with 320 grit sandpaper -  the amount of sanding determines the darkness of the final product. He then carefully burnished the wood heavily with a piece of polished antler for that natural shine. The paddle isn't oiled despite that wonderful looking finish.

Luke mentioned a challenge with burnishing which resulted in some random patchiness despite careful efforts to burn and sand evenly. This is to be expected with any type of handcrafted work, but any "flaws" aren't visible to my eyes and the paddle look brilliant.

But as a warning to others who might try this method, he also wrote that the paddle blade started warping during the burning phase and notes that if both sides are burned evenly, the blade tended to straighten out. I found this very relevant as my intention was to try this out only on one side of a future paddle.

Thanks again to David and Luke for continuing to experiment with their paddle creations and share them with loyal readers of this blog.


David said...

Thank you Murat for the post. As for warping, I didn't have any on my paddle blade, I used vertical grain/quarter sawn wood, and I think that makes a big difference. And the piece of sitka spruce I use was air dried for about a year so moisture content to less than 9%....


Luke Mcnair said...

Thanks for posting this Murat! Great to see it on here. I agree with David about the grain orientation making a difference to warping; I’ve been experimenting with burning quarter sawn and flat sawn pieces of larch of identical size, from the same log and both seasoned for about a year. The quarter sawn wood didn’t warp at all, whereas the flat sawn piece bent up and cupped. The ash for the paddle has been air drying for about two years. It’s strange about the burnishing; it always seems to be difficult to get a good shine on the blade; I’ve found that burnishing it in small patches seems to work, and also rubbing the wood with a cloth first sometimes makes it burnish better. The shaft always shines up perfectly. I’ve recently finished another paddle using the shou sugi ban technique; I’ll send you some photos when I’ve done the chip carving on it.

Jonas Sjöblom said...

Fantastic technique. I will definitely try this on my next paddle project! Interesting canoe too, I have never seen that kind of gunwales.

David said...

Jonas, the "capped" gunnels were really common on birch bark canoe, and Luke's canoe is basically a birch bark canoe where the bark is replace by canvas. Have a look here...

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