Playing with Fire


As you may know from a Lost Art Press event (or at last summer’s Lie-Nielsen open house), I’m always delighted to light a torch and demonstrate shou sugi ban – the Japanese art of charring wood to preserve and protect it.  What can I say…I like playing with fire – but only in a controlled and at least semi-safe environment.

So while editing the translation of Jogge Sundqvist‘s “Slöjd in Wood.” I was interested to read that an accepted practice in Sweden for disposing of linseed oil-laden rags is to burn them.

“Dispose of oily rags properly. In Sweden, we burn rags or soak them in water and put them in a sealed plastic bag. The oxidization process produces heat, so spontaneous combustion of rags or paper is a danger.”

To that, safety-conscious editor that I am, I added, “In the U.S., the accepted practice is to spread them out and hang them to dry. When they are fully dry, throw them away in a lidded, metal trashcan.”

But you know I tried it. (We had to christen the Lost Art Press Lido Deck somehow!)

Turns out linseed oil-impregnated rags burn pretty well.


“Slöyd in Wood” is due out in early 2018 from Lost Art Press.



About fitz

Woodworker, writer, editor, teacher, ailurophile, Shakespearean. Will write for air-dried walnut.
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13 Responses to Playing with Fire

  1. That has been my go-to rag disposal technique for years. Linseed oil, lacquer thinner, you name it.

  2. Bob Jones says:

    Duh! Why have I not done this. Properly dried rags were responsible for burning/melting my plastic city owned garbage can. Since then I soak in water in a bag but intentional burning would be way more fun.

  3. Steve Jones says:

    My grandson’s favorite part of finishing is burning the rags. Maybe that’s why shellac doesn’t do much for him….

  4. Have you ever used the blue torch instead of the yellow torch (sorry, don’t know the technical terms)? I have a blue one and always wanted to try this technique out on my hammer handles. I’m guessing your response is to “just try it” but I wanted to ask anyway.

  5. chucknickerson says:

    Is shou sugi ban one of the classes you’re scheduling to teach at Chris’ shop?

    • fitz says:

      It would be a 5-minute class. Run a blowtorch over the surface of the wood (looks great on Yellow pine, not so much on mahogany) until the surface is charred. Use a plastic-bristle brush (eg a scrub scrub brush for cleaning grout) to rub the loose burned bits on the surface, then rub with an oil/wax mixture. Voila!

  6. gyegreene says:

    Informative yet concise: thanks! 🙂

  7. J.C. says:

    Isn’t self-employment fun?! You have time to feed your inner arsonist. And the boss is “down with it.” LOL

  8. Nathan says:

    I can’t wait to read your upcoming book: The Arsonist’s Toolchest

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