Making Your Own “Japanning”

You likely know what Japanning is even if you don’t know it by name. It is that thick black, glossy paint you see on tools, especially old tools, like on the inside of the soles of hand planes and on antique sewing machines.

The technique of Japanning that we know of in the West is from Europe, starting in the 17th century. It is based on a very ancient (circa 2000 B.C. ancient) lacquering technique from Japan, hence the name.

If you’re doing antique tool restoration or other restoration or maintenance and want to apply your own Japanning, Eric from Hand Tool Rescue shares a recipe in this video. In the video, he runs through a number of different recipes and tests them to arrive at the best one.

Here’s the recipe he ends up with and here are his notes from the video’s description:

50% Turpentine
30% Asphaltum/Gilsonite
20% Boiled Linseed Oil

Mix together and set aside for at least 24 hours. Check if consistency is like molasses/nutella, and add more turpentine if too thick or more asphaltum if too thin. Wait at least 24 hours after the addition of any further ingredients before use.

Once ready to paint, do not stir or shake the japanning as undissolved particles will be at the bottom of the container.

Paint on one thin coat and let sit for a few hours before baking. Place painted item in cold oven and set it to 200F for 1hr then let cool. Bake it again at 300F for 1 hr and let cool in the oven. Then bake at 350F and finally 400F for 30 min each, cooling in between steps. If japanning is still not hard after 400F, you can bake at 425F for 1 hr.

Once fully hard, you can smooth out the first coat with sandpaper and apply further coats. You can also apply further coats before you bake past 300F, if you think your first coat is smooth enough.

You can also choose to not bake this finish at all, but you will have to wait at least 90 days for it to cure. Addition of japan drier to the recipe may make it cure faster.

Keep the unused japanning in a container with a tight lid. If the japanning starts to get too thick or hardens, you can always add more turpentine to bring it back to life.

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