Imitating an Imitation
Japanese craftsmen have for centuries made fortunes by cleverly charring sugi wood to imitate driftwood. Americans are now applying the process to our own cypress
By Robert H. Moulton
��UNDOUBTEDLY a good many of us own specimens of so-called "Japanese driftwood," which is not driftwood at all, but clever imitations made from the sugi tree. For many centuries Japanese craftsmen have plied a thrifty trade in this wood. In the be- ginning they gath- ered genu- ine drift- wood from the sea and turned i t to uses of beauty without treating it in any way. Its embossed-like surface . was due to natural agents The chemical action of the salt of the sea and the long-continued churling of the waves ate out and carried away the softer parts of the wood and left the harder grain.
However, the supply of driftwood was limited, and its evolution from the fresh wood by the action of the sun and the sea, covered a long period of time. The crafty Orientals then conceived the idea of pro- ducing artificial driftwood. This was ac- complished by charring the fresh wood with fire and then by rubbing it with rice-straw. The artificial driftwood had all the appear- ance of the genuine, and it was long before the imposition was discovered. Finally, however, a noted scholar and traveler, the late John S. Bradstreet of Minneapolis, discovered the secret. He then set about to find an American wood capable of tak- ing the sugi finish. After many experi- ments Mr. Bradstreet discovered that cypress was practically the only one that
��would stand up under the sugi process.
The process of treating cypress to secure
the sugi finish is so simple that it can be
carried out by any one. The only tools
necessary are a gaso- line torch of the kind used by plumbersor painters, an
��The process con- sists simply in char- ring the wood with a gasoline torch, scraping it after- ward with a steel wire brush and pol- ishing it by rubbing
��ordina- ry steel- w i r e brush, and a small scrubbing-brubh. The torch should have a large and exceedingly hot blue flame, since success in securing the desired effects depends largely upon the speed with which the burning or charring of the wood is done. Cypress wood, like the wood of the sugi, is close-grained, and, when cut into flat sawed boards its ap- pearance is very beautiful. The spring growth is much harder than the summer growth, and when heat is applied it merely discolors the harder grain while the softer summer wood is completely charred. All the charred portion is then brushed out by the wire brush. This leaves the wood entirely covered with a fine powder which must be removed with the small scrubbing-brush. Cloth should never be used for this purpose as it has the effect of rubbing the powder into the wood.
Charring the wood properly is perhaps the most difficult part of the work, although it is also important that the rubbing be done evenly so that the tone will become uniform. The more the soft grain is rubbed out, the lighter will the general tone become.