Black beauty revealed in burnt driftwood

Maxwell Newhouse burns wood multiple times and then treats each piece to give his ‘carbon furniture’ a rich, black finish.

Maxwell Newhouse uses a 300-year-old Japanese burning technique called shou suji ban where he chars wood multiple times and then treats each piece to give his ‘carbon furniture’ a rich

Maxwell Newhouse thought he created something completely unique.

Always needing to reinvent himself, he wanted to try something new, so he began burning pieces of his driftwood collection last winter, on New Year’s Eve.

“In my own little world, I thought that I invented something brand new,” he said. “I thought if I can burn this and come up with a finish that’s black — and one of the most popular trends is white rooms with white walls — I thought this black furniture would fit beautifully.”

Turns out Newhouse didn’t invent the charred wood finish. The Japanese did. Hundreds of years ago.

It’s called shou suji ban which literally translates to ‘burnt cedar board’. It’s a Japanese technique that’s been around for more than 300 years. The reason it’s so successful is because it causes the wood to be fire resistant, insect resistant, and the black finish will last 80 years.

The Japanese use shou suji ban for residential housing, such as on roof shingles and siding. Newhouse uses the technique on his driftwood furniture.

He burns each piece of wood four times with a blowtorch.

“The first burn you have to wear a mask because there’s soot everywhere. I’m dirty from head to toe, and I look like a chimney sweep,” he says.

“By the time I get to the fourth burn, there’s no soot at all. I don’t understand what I’m doing, I just know it works. Then, I have a secret treatment where everything is set in so that the colour cannot be transferable.”

“You can sit on it in a white wedding dress and you’d be fine,” he adds.

He calls it carbon furniture.

“It’s hard for people to appreciate it because it’s hard to get around the fact that it’s burnt. The black isn’t like a paint or a coating. It’s actually part of the wood, it’s in the wood, and it’s permanent,” he said.

“When it’s just the (unburnt)wood, the colours are very beautiful and you become distracted by the wood alone. However, when it’s just pure black, you have a tendency to pay attention to pure form.”

The repurposed wood he uses comes from bonfires or off the beach. He loves searching for driftwood on Vancouver Island — his favourite spot is Campbell River.

The driftwood is “something no one wants, and I like that,” he said. “The wood can even be rotten because I can burn right to the point where I get to the fresh wood which makes it even more interesting.”

Newhouse has a eureka-like moment, as if he’s found gold, whenever he finds the right piece of driftwood.

“I find a piece and I’m stunned by its beauty. I sneak away like a thief; like a hoarder. I don’t even have to use it; it can just sit there and I can look at it and I’m happy.”

He has a workshop full of driftwood, stacked from floor to ceiling, that he’s collected over the years.

“I’ve burnt myself into a corner because I’ve made so many pieces of furniture and no one knows about it,” he said.

But now, his carbon furniture is on its way to becoming known by many.

Newhouse was recently commissioned by the City of Burnaby to build a large stand-up bass out of driftwood. It’s 10.5 ft. tall and weighs about 200-250 lbs. Though the piece is not made entirely out of burnt wood, he has added a couple of charred driftwood pieces into the bass, which is now on display at the PNE along with a large harp and drum he made last Christmas.

Folks can check out Newhouse’s driftwood furniture called ‘eco sculptures’ located on Miller Drive on the PNE grounds in between the entrance to horse racing track and behind the livestock building.

“I like that I’m using pieces that I’ve had for 10 years, and that I finally found a place for them,” said Newhouse.

“I like that Burnaby points me in different directions. They come up with ideas that I would have never imagined and that’s what an artist needs: someone to push them to where they think they can’t go.”

photo@theprogress.comtwitter.com/PhotoJennalism

Just Posted

VIDEO: Dramatic car fire on Highway 1 in Chilliwack

Vehicle on the shoulder of the westbound lanes west of Lickman Road Friday evening

Fraser Valley author launches second crime novel

Seamus Heffernan releases book Ten Grand on June 27 in Abbotsford

Chilliwack car show cancelled due to weather forecast

Popular Village Classic car show will not be rescheduled, say organizers

Judge gives 16 months jail for Abbotsford vehicle theft, flight from police, Chilliwack crash

Michael Joseph Hasell has more than four dozen criminal convictions in B.C. and Alberta

Missing Chilliwack woman may be in Surrey area

Jennifer Lynn Aleck, 44, last in contact with a friend on June 2

Protesters rally in Victoria over newly approved Trans Mountain pipeline

The Still No Consent! No Trans Mountain! 20 kilometre march will end at Island View Beach

Wildfire burning in coastal forest

A fire beside the Sea to Sky Highway is burning up a steep slope

PHOTOS: Event marks one year since soccer team rescued from Thai cave

Nine players and coach took part in marathon and bike event to help improve conditions at cave

Rock climber dies after fall at Stawamus Chief in Squamish

The man had fallen about 30 metres while climbing in the Grand Wall area

Five B.C. students taken to hospital after playing with vaping device

School district said students were taken to hospital ‘out of an abundance of caution’

Being a pot dealer is not what it used to be

Sunday Big Read: the business of selling marijuana in B.C. is a slow bureaucratic slog

VIDEO: Two more pride flags have been stolen from Langley woman

Lisa Ebenal was “angry” and “fed up” after the latest theft. Then people started showing suppport

Canucks acquire forward J.T. Miller from Lightning

J.T. Miller, 26, had 13 goals and 34 assists for the Lightning last season

Most Read