First, and foremost. This is not meant to deter you from using the material, but as a warning to take care when you do use it. Pure urushi is the sap from the tree known by the scientific name, Toxicodendron vernicifluum. As the genus name suggests (lit. Toxic Tree) the lacquer tree is considered poisonous and in fact, it is of the same genus as Poison Oak, Poison Ivy and Poison Sumac. One of the prime components of urushi is urushiol, and this component is necessary for the lacquer to cure. However it is this very chemical that causes the well known rashes and blisters when one comes in contact with Poison ivy, oak or sumac. This contact dermatitis, for me, has been very minor with no more than minor itching and a minor reddening of the contact area. However Having never experienced the other plants that cause this dermatitis, I cannot say whether urushi lacquer causes a stronger or weaker reaction. I can say however, that people have differing reactions to the toxin, and some are effected more strongly than others with the extremes being unbearable and painful rashes and blisters or complete, permanent or temporary, immunity to the substance. Urushi may possibly pose another problem that is usually not encountered with living plants of the toxicodendron species. Urushi has fumes. The scent is distinct but not strong at all, however theoretically, for those that are more sensitive to urushiol, the fumes may cause irritation and inflamation of the mucosal linings of the respiratory tract, possibly leading to various conditions akin to allergies or acute or chronic sinusitis. In extrordinary circumstances it could theoretically cause the inflammation of the mucosal tissues in the nose and lungs causing a minor version of the problems associated with the inhalation of smoke from burning poison ivy. Again, this is not meant to deter you from using lacquer as it is certainly a beautiful and versatile material.
It is recommended to ALWAYS use urethane (non-latex) gloves and never reuse them, carefully inverting them when removing. A respirator or mask is not necessary in my experience, however, use lacquer in a well ventilated area. In the case of accidental contact, I have been able to prevent rashes by IMMEDIATELY and THOROUGHLY wiping the contact area with pure odorless mineral spirits followed by a thorough wiping with pure or denatured ethyl alcohol. Any rags or surfaces that have come in contact with the lacquer have the potential to cause a reaction unless thoroughly cleaned. Even lacquer that is dry to the touch has the potential to cause a reaction in more sensitive people, and it is recommended to cure a lacquer piece for months or even a year before a thorough but gentle wipe-down with mineral spirits and a thorough washing with water and detergent.
That said, because writing out a complete introduction would probably not be the easiest thing to do, Here are a few things that you should probably read first, if you have not done so already.
FPN Topic: Urushi Lacquer
FPN Topic: Painting Pens/Maki-e/Lacquer Work
Urushi Kobo: Process
Youtube Video: Urushi Curry Spoons
These are wonderful sources for learning the basics of undecorated lacquering (i.e. without embellishments such as maki-e, raden, other decorative techniques)
One thing I have not seen in the online sources is a great deal of information about curing lacquer. Lacquer is cured in a "drying" cabinet called an urushi-furo that is actually not literally drying the piece but curing it. Urushi "dries" best in a warm, humid environment, because of the catalytic processes that occur to create a hard surface. The temperature and humidity is ideally kept stable, and particular adjustments can alter not only the speed of curing, but also the glossiness, hardness, surface texture, transparency and color. If humidity and temperature is too high, it can cure too fast, causing wrinkles in the surface and other problems. If the temperature and humidity is too low, it will cure too slowly or not at all.
Here's a basic list that I would suggest is required for starters:
Urushi - There are many types of lacquer, each processed in different ways. Generally though they are split into Black, Colored and Transparent. However, there is a different type of black or transparent urushi typically used for undercoats than is used for finishing layers, and there are typically glossy and semi-matte versions of each. I would start out with glossy black, glossy transparent and whatever colored urushi you would like to try. Using the glossy versions will probably allow you to skip the final polishing steps. A good source is Namikawa Heibei in Japan or Dick in Germany. It is recommended to filter urushi with yoshino-gami as seen in the youtube videos.
Urushi brushes - The best traditional brushes are made of asian women's hair. The naturally straight, long relatively thick strands make for good lacquer brushes apparently. These are expensive and hard to find, and i've had good results with certain types of synthetic oil color brushes, here, you'll probably have to go and check out the art stores. Dick.biz, mentioned above, has traditional brushes, although ones made from animal hair. Urushi kills brushes fast. I would suggest cheaper brushes as long as the hairs don't tend to fall out, which is possibly one of the biggest pains in the *ahem* aside from natural dust when working with urushi. Traditional brushes are very distinctly shaped. I *think* that some of them have a full length of hair inside them and you can chisel away the wood to come up with pristine bristles. I'm not sure about this, but I've seen evidence to suggest that it may be the case.
Cleaners - Odorless Mineral Spirits and Ethyl Alcohol (denatured is fine). I make sure i wash my brushes first in mineral spirits then in alcohol to clean them thoroughly. The alcohol however kills natural hair brushes so this is the reason I use it with synthetics. If you purchase traditional brushes, I'd use mineral spirits and whatever cleaner that the supplier offers specifically for urushi--probably pure de-gummed turpentine. You probably cannot purchase these from the international supplies, being considered hazmat and all. But you'll be able to find these at home depot or lowes. I would suggest you THOROUGHLY clean brushes as best you can, otherwise you'll end up killing the brushes at a rate faster than the urushi already does. Do not thin urushi with these cleaners.
Thinners - Oil of Camphor, Pure De-Gummed Turpentine. Traditionally, camphor oil (not solid camphor) is the thinner of choice for urushi. However, it is not easy to find, and being highly flammable, it is considered a hazmat by many shipping companies. Pure de-gummed Turpentine is a suitable substitute and can be found in any well stocked fine art stores. Please do not use Turpenoid or other turpentine substitutes. Only true turpentine will do. When thinning urushi, it is not recommended add more than 30% thinner to the lacquer
Abrasives - I would suggest trying out various abrasives. Traditionally as the prime solid abrasive magnolia charcoal is used, and i've found out that various types of charcoals purchased from an art store (should look like burnt wood, not compressed pastel sticks) works. Varying species and hardnesses can be used as different "abrasive grits" In Japan they also use "whetstones" that gradually disintegrate as you rub them. These are harder to find, but one of the online suppliers carries them. Alternatively, you could use modern abrasives such as sandpaper, steel wool, scotch-brite and micromesh. Try what you like best, but some of the modern abrasives can be too harsh. Powdered abrasives are also used in the finishing stages of lacquerwork. Traditional powders are charcoal powder, whetstone powder, tonoko, jinoko and tsunoko. Tonoko and jinoko are types of mineral earth mined from specific locations in japan. One use for these is to create a initial smooth finish in preparation for the final polishing stages. Whetstone powder in different levels of coarseness can be used much in the same way as tonoko and jinoko, but is most often made of alumina. Using tonoko, or jinoko for the initial polish is called douzuri. Tsunoko is the finesh polishing powder traditionally used for lacquerwork, and it or its equivalent is necessary for roiro-migaki. Tsunoko is a powder made from the ash created by burning deer antlers. This is mixed with a non drying oil, water, or my favorite, saliva (sounds gross but it works well) to create a very high polish. I use a modern equivalent since tsunoko is ridiculously expensive compared to what I use, and it being synthetically produced to have far finer and uniform in particle size, it arguably has the potential to create even a higher polish than tsunoko. One substitute for tsunoko that I've tried before was Jeweler's rouge. Its essentially a fine particulate form of iron oxide. It works really well in creating a shine, however it is RIDICULOUSLY messy to use, and tends to stain the lacquer somewhat. Actually, it kinda stains pretty much everything.
Urushi-Furo - This is an absolute must, however, you'll probably have to construct one yourself. the absolute basics consists of an airtight wooden box with a tray or bowl with a damp towel. I would also suggest purchasing a basic thermometer/hygrometer used for cigar humidors. The best method I could suggest in making a furo is to find a humidor cabinet and install it with an electric cigar humidifier. These typically keep the humidity levels at precise levels. However I'm not sure if they work up to the high humidity levels needed for urushi. Another thing i would say is needed for pens is some method of rotating the lacquered pieces as they cure. This is to maintain a even coat around the entire piece....maybe build something with a motor and some pieces of wood....dunno....
Some pens to lacquer....obviously its best if any clips and trims disassemble easily, or can be put on after lacquering.
All of this information was for simple, unadorned lacquerwork. There are quite literally hundreds of different methods of adorning lacquerware beyond this, including but certainly not limited to several dozens of maki-e techniques, several different raden techniques, rankaku, tsugaru-nuri, urushi-e, haku-e, heidaitsu, ishime-nuri, tamenuri, saishitsu, chinkin, chinkin-zougan, tsuikin, bokashi-nuri, nami-nuri, sumiko-nuri....i don't think i have the time or space to mention every technique that i've encountered so far, never mind those that I've only heard about or yet to see.
Okay. I think that's all I can tell you at the moment, without a specific question to go on. I'll be happy to answer the questions that you'll most likely come up with.
Whew. So, anyway, good luck on your endeavors!
Edited by SJM1123, 25 July 2009 - 08:31.