Lacquerware—Commentary and Impressions Eight

The tumbler is turned zelkova wood and the three small saké cup are made of a type of oak called nara.  In both cases the apply-and-wipe lacquer finish has enhanced the grain to great advantage.
Lacquerware All-sorts Eight—Apply and Wipe
This series of posts continues with a brief look at lacquerware, which has been very simply finished.

The aim of this series of posts on lacquering techniques in Japan, has firstly been to showcase some of the diversities which exist and then to comment on their appearance and special features.

As we have seen, for example, Wajima lacquerware begins with a primer and ground followed by a number of applications of lacquer, culminating in decorative effects to complete what is both a robust and eminently good looking piece of decorated tableware.

Without a doubt, however, the simplest and therefore perhaps one of the most ancient ways of using true lacquer is simply to apply it directly to a lightly primed wooden carcass.  Essentially speaking, this apply-and-wipe technique makes the wood more durable and resistant to most liquids, while still allowing the grain to remain visible and enhanced in appearance.

In Japanese this technique is called either suri-urushi or fuki-urushi.  Respectively the first refers to the application of lacquer with a spatula or stiffish brush, to force the lacquer into the pores of the wood.  And then the latter expression refers to wiping up remaining surface lacquer with an absorbent paper or a cloth, preferably one which is lint-free.  The lacquer is then cured in controlled conditions of humidity—about 80%—and temperature—25˚C.  Usually after at least 24 hours the hard surface can be rubbed down either with an appropriate grit of sandpaper or a scouring pad to provide a key for another application of lacquer.

This collection of coasters and small dishes were turned and lacquered by Yasuhiro Satake.  Several coats of lacquer have served to protect the wood and to enhance the grain.   Combined with the way each one has been turned, the number of coasts and the resulting depth of colour of the lacquer has helped to give each one character.
In some cases this whole process is repeated as many as twenty times, in order to achieve a desired effect and depth of colour.  Generally speaking, the more applications there are darkens the finish but this can also depend on the artificial or natural curing conditions when lacquering.  Old lacquer may also produce a darker finish.

Given that raw lacquer is coloured and not particularly transparent, it might seem as though this technique is somewhat limited.  Nevertheless the colour and grain of the wood and the way it has been tooled can also influence the final appearance of a piece.

This is part of the complex grain of a piece of zelkova wood, a member of the elm family.  The colour is natural.
The finer idiosyncrasies of the way in which true lacquer curers need not scare off anyone from using this simple apply-and-wipe method.  It is more a case of dedication and perseverance to see what can be achieved.  But remember, some people are allergic to true lacquer and it should not be ingested.

I maintain that true lacquer can be used to great effect even on particle board, which is sometimes called chip board.  True lacquer has the power to greatly improve the appearance of what is a very ordinary material.  You cannot hide mistakes however.  Mind you, the colour of lacquer is a little restrictive but there is no reason why pigments should not be added to the true lacquer out of a tube and used in this simplest of all lacquering techniques.  Apply and wipe—try and see!

The wood of this chest drawer front is zelkova finished using an apply-and- wipe technique.  The mythical animal is made of copper which has been coated with true lacquer and warmed, allowed to harden and then buffed.  This was made by Fujisato Woodcraft in the north of Japan.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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