Gouge Ball Shou Sugi Ban Art

A few months ago I posted some wooden wall art panels with a unique abalone effect that I discovered by mistake. This post has become one of my most popular posts because it was so unique. I had so many compliments on this wall art but I also got a few comments saying that it looks too hard. While I personally found them easy to make the process is very time-consuming. Today I will share how I cut my work time in half by using a gouge ball to create this Shou sugi ban wall art.

The image below was the outcome of the original project where I discovered this technique.  I used a wood router to add the grooves into the wood and spend hours removing the square edges left by the router.  Over the years I have done a few Shou Sugi ban projects and know if I burn the wood deep enough it is easier to sand. I got so bored spending hours sanding the grooves I thought I would try and burn the sides to speed up the process.  The abalone effect you see below was the result, I did call it snakeskin-effect at first but I think it looks more like an abalone shell. A project like this can take a few days to complete so when I saw a gouge ball on Pinterest I was hoping it would work for this project

Gouge ball Shou Sugi ban

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What is Shou Sugi Ban?

Originating in 18th century Japan, Shou sugi ban is a particularly striking method of preserving wood by charring it with fire. Traditionally, this practice is used with Japanese cedar in order to weatherproof it. The wood is burned until the surface is charred, and then coated with natural oil. The result is a scorched finish with a magnificent charcoal black colour. The surface of the wood can take on a crackled or alligator skin look depending on the wood species and the burning intensity. Traditionalist utilizes only Cryptomeria japonica or Japanese cedar because it can take the heat for a deep burn resulting in pest, rot, and fire-resistant as well as becoming a natural water repellent and sun shield.

While this is the traditional method, over the years people have played around with it and this post will show another great way to use Shou Sugi Ban.

Gouge ball

The video I saw on Pinterest using the gouge ball was a guy making wooden spoons.  He used the gouge ball to create the groove in the wooden spoon, so I believed it would work to create the groove in my wall art.

I did a search on the internet and found two variations of the gouge ball. The first one was by a company called Arbortech with a price of around $120.00 and the second gouge ball looked different with a price of under $30.  Because I was unsure if this would work I went for the cheaper option, which worked perfectly for this project. The gouge ball is an attachment that fits onto an angle grinder.  I bought the 40mm ball for this project.

Find suitable wood

For this project, I used some recycled pine from an old bed frame.  I prefer to use pine because the wood is softer and I have found I get more dramatic results.

Start by clamping your piece of wood to the table surface. The grinder with the gouge ball is very powerful and will cause the wood to fly off the surface. Yes, I learned that the hard way. To add the groove it is as simple as moving the gouge ball across the surface. I did a couple of passes to get my grooves deeper. The surface was not very smooth after the groove was added but once the wood is burnt it will be smoothed out.

In hindsight, I think the grooves would have looked nicer if they were running in one line across each panel. But hey-ho we live and learn.

Burning the wood

To burn the wood you will need a blowtorch. Using the blow torch you burn the surface until the top layer of wood is cracked and charred.

Sanding the wood

To sand, the charred surface you have two options that I use.  You can use a wire brush and rub it with the grain of the wood until you see the light wood coming through. This is very time consuming and will take a few hours.

Another option is to use a coarse nylon brush that can attach to your drill.  This is the fastest way I have found and cuts your sanding time in half. The brush is held over the surface sanding with the grain.  You will notice the great texture on the surface after this step. If you want more texture you can burn the wood again and sand deeper into the surface.

To create the multicoloured look you need to sand some areas deeper than others. The more you sand the lighter the wood will become and the more vibrant the colour will be. If you leave some areas darker like the images below the results will be more dramatic. You will also notice that the woodgrains and the knots will stay black and raised.

If you prefer the plain wood colour you can stop now and add some oil to protect the surface.  This will also deepen the colour of the wood.

I made these panels to decorate my porch, but unfortunately, they blended in with the bricks and I thought the effects were lost. So I changed my mind and went ahead and painted them.

Painting the wood

There are a few ways to paint Shou Sugi Ban. I did a few tests a while back trying different products and shared the results in this post.  When adding paint to the raw wood you will need to wet the surface first to prevent the staining as I got in the image below.

I did not need to do this because I had already added the oil.  To stain this wood I used regular indoor house paint.

To apply the paint I used a paint roller and added a thick layer to the surface and let it soak in for about 5 minutes.

I used a clean rag to wipe off the excess paint. You can repeat this step if you want a darker colour.

I left the paint to dry before adding some more oil to seal the surface.  While I only added one colour to these panels, the different depths the wood was sanded created the other colours. I have added some close-up images so you can get a better look at the effects of the shou sugi ban.

More Shou Sugi ban project ideas

This wall art below was my first Shou sugi ban project. 

Shou Sugi ban barn quilt

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  • Reply
    June 13, 2022 at 10:42 pm

    What a cool technique; I’ve never heard of a gauge ball but now I’m intrigued! Love how you’re always pushing the envelope of Shou Sugi Ban!

    • Reply
      Anita Holland
      June 14, 2022 at 2:00 pm

      Thanks Sara, it is such a beautiful effect I just love playing around with it to see what I can come up with.

  • Reply
    June 14, 2022 at 12:08 am

    This is amazing, Anita! I totally love this stunning effect. Pinning!


  • Reply
    Michelle Leslie
    June 14, 2022 at 11:08 pm

    WHAT!!!! I need one of those gouge balls and to look for my angle grinder 😀 I haven’t used it in years but I have to try this out. It looks like so much fun and the results are gorgeous

  • Reply
    June 16, 2022 at 1:22 am

    Wow, using a gouge ball transforms the wood. The colors and the wood grain combined in your art design are stunning. Pinned

  • Reply
    June 16, 2022 at 11:28 am

    This is something I would love to do. I love working with wood pieces. This is beautiful

    • Reply
      Anita Holland
      June 17, 2022 at 5:22 pm

      Thanks Marie, I love doing this style of wood work because you never know what you will get but it is always unique.

  • Reply
    June 17, 2022 at 10:19 pm

    these are just gorgeous!! i love your unique creativity!

  • Reply
    Marty Walden
    June 18, 2022 at 12:38 am

    What a unique and beautiful type of art! Great job!

    • Reply
      Anita Holland
      June 18, 2022 at 4:50 pm

      Thanks Marty, they are so much fun to make.

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