Japanese Lacquer Finish & Shellac Lacquer

Japanese Lacquer Finish & Shellac Lacquer

The main types of lacquer finishes, including Chinese, Japanese, nitro-cellulose, and shellac lacquer finish.

Craftsman Style

¶ There has been a much needed change in the use of the word lacquer, or laquer, of late to describe transparent coatings. It has been used in such a general way for years that one had little idea of the composition of any product called lacquer. The Chinese and Japanese lacquers are simply varnishes made of oils and gums peculiar to those countries. In the United States the word lacquer has been used to describe certain varnish coatings of a highly transparent nature which produce a dull lustre on metals and other surfaces. Some were used for decoration and some simply to exclude the air from brass, copper and other polished surfaces to preserve their brilliance. Some were air-drying and some baking varnishes.

¶ Today the word lacquer is rapidly being accepted as a designation for the cellulose pyroxylin coatings and it will be well if it is used in the future exclusively to designate these materials. All others really are varnishes and should be so described and referred to.

¶ The word lacquer is derived from lac, a gum resin produced by lac insects which feed upon the sap of certain trees in India. Shellac varnish is a solution of this gum in alcohol. When refined and purified it makes a nearly colorless coating and one which is quite transparent. In this form it has been long used, as stated before, for preserving the lustre on highly polished metals like brass, copper, etc. The shellac gum is also colored with aniline and other coal tar colors, the spirit-solubles, and is then called lacquer. It has been greatly used on furniture and art objects and when many coats are applied thin, remarkably durable finishes result. When these lacquers are baked at temperatures between 100 and 200 degrees the gum is fused, the lacquer is made to adhere more firmly to the surface and is a more durable finish.

¶ The Chinese and Japanese lacquers are not like the shellac lacquers. They are made from the juice of trees which grow in China and Japan, trees which are related to the sumac and dogwood known to America. After collecting this juice which looks like that which one squeezes from milkweed, it is purified and worked through many operations to make varnish. It is used in its natural white, transparent state and also is colored with various pigments and metallic substances which make it resemble enamels. These lacquers are used on woods and metals and for the finest work about three dozen operations are required to bring the job along to the finish of a perfect character. Such lacquer is not baked but, strange as it may seem, dries best in cold, damp and dark closets. The most valuable pieces of this lacquerware, boxes, trays, vases, etc., required from five to twenty years to complete the work.

Next Page: Nitrocellulose Lacquer.



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