• hickman

Learn a Thing: Yakisugi

Between ice storms this week, I've been working on some tool refurbishing projects. One of the tools on my workbench is destined to become a WATL compliant throwing axe. The handle needed some work, so I stripped it and sanded it back to bare wood. Not liking the look of it, I decided to try a traditional Japanese wood finishing technique—preserving wood with fire! Primarily used on cedar siding, I've seen this char-wood style of finishing referred to as Shou Sugi Ban, but that seems to have been taken over as a trademark. The more generic Japanese burnt-wood finish is apparently known as Yakisugi. For my experiment, I had an uninteresting hardwood hatchet handle from a junk store find. As you can see in the before picture, it's OK, but not nearly fancy enough.

Here's the same handle after about 20 minutes of burning over an open flame. (Practical wisdom says to do this out of doors, with a propane or MAPP gas torch. But I was out of gas for my Bernzomatic, so I did this in my kitchen over our propane range top...)

Here's the same handle, after about an hour of sanding, with the tool head dry-fit.

Much better—and starting to get fancy!

Maker Tank Manifesto for the win! In this case, Learn a Thing? Do a thing. Yakisugi was a pretty easy technique to get down. Charring this handle over a range burner was approximately the same technique you'd use to roast the skins off poblano peppers... The trick of it seems to be to burn it to a uniform char without actually setting it on fire. Then, when it's cooled, sand it again, and you end up with a nice mix of wood and char colors. This little throwing axe still needs a lot of work: at least one more round with open flame, several hours of sanding, a coat or three of of boiled linseed oil, and finally a bit of glue on the wedge to hold the whole smash together. Then it's off to the Axe Bars!

(As an aside: This tool head had never been sharpened when I got it. While I had the head off the handle, I tuned up the edge. It's sharp enough to shave with now, though I'm not sure that's actually the right call for a throwing axe. This too is an experiment, but the testing of it will have to wait until I've thrown this at a target a few hundred times.)

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