Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Playing with fire.

How did that house get so dark?

What's he burning in there?


Last weekend, I convinced the NDC to create some charred cedar after being inspired by an article in Dwell on architect Terunobu Fujimori (May '09). Apparently, charring the cedar makes it resistant to insects, rot and rain for 80 years, although we were more attracted to the amazing color and texture that is the result of charring.

Following a set of thumbnail pictures and a brief description of the process, we headed to the lumberyard and picked up three six-foot cedar fence boards. The boards were bound together in a triangle to form a chimney.

The first thing our parents would have told us was to not light a fire at the bottom, but luckily they weren't around. The bottom of the chimney was stuffed with crumpled newspaper, but too much was put in, making the fire take a long time to light. There was, however, lots of smoke.

To get the fire to light, we blew into the top of the chimney. This made fire shoot out the bottom.

The fire did eventually catch, and the charring was underway. The whole process is supposed to take about 7 minutes, but because of the relative inactivity at the start, it was going to take us about 9 or 10.

That cedar is asking for it.

Once the cedar caught on fire the chimney created a wind tunnel which began shooting flames out the top. At this point the garage was starting to look awfully close, so the decision was made to shut our test down a couple of minutes early.

Water was sprayed into the top of the chimney, then the boards were opened up and completely doused to put them out. After they cooled off, this is what we were left with:

The boards were well burned in the middle giving around 4 feet of the Fujimori texture that we were looking for. As the fire was put out before the 7 minutes of burn time, the tops of the boards weren't charred to the same level as the middle. The bottom of the boards actually had some unburned sections where the excess of paper had stopped the wood from catching entirely.

Although the cedar is now sealed from the elements, it is the color and texture that we were really after, with the intention of incorporating it into a piece of furniture. The next step is to figure out how to work with these pieces of wood, which are now fragile and makes everything that touches them dirty.

Lessons learned while charring cedar:

1: Use just a few sheets of crumpled up newspaper. Less is more.

2: Make sure you are on stable ground or leaning up against a stone wall. You don't want to second guess the stability because of a gust of wind.

3: Make sure the hose is turned on. Not just the last bit of pressure after turning it off.