Japanese Lacquerware or Urushi

A few pictures from the Japanese Lacquerware museum in Wajima showing the techniques and tools used.  Look carefully at the numbers of the pictures to get the right sequence, and very often they go from right to left.

This is 'chinkin' after apply a design (1) its is then scratched (2) into  a highly finished lacquered surface. The scratches are then  wiped clean (3) and then wiped over with lacquer (4)  Gold dust is then wiped or brushed  into the scratches (5).  The surface is then wiped, again to remove the excess, leaving the gold filled design (6).

Parts of the design are then 'filled/painted' with lacquer and either gold dust or coloured pigments are sprinkled onto the wet lacquer. OR coloured lacquer is painted directly on.  This can then be scratched again to cut through to the black underneath.

Slowly after many processes the multi coloured and multi layered design is produced.

Tools of the trade.


A chinkin course my wife and I attended in Echizen.   This is just gold filled scratches!  Here my design has been transferred to the plate using a sort of carbon paper.

The design is then scratched into the already finished plate.

The tools - the pen is just for size comparisons.

Different 'chisels/scrapers' for different effects - a bit like engraving.

Once scratched the surface is wiped first to remove any remains of the yellow carbon, and then wiped with lacquer to fill the scratched design.  This was done by the tutor as none-users can be very allergic to lacquer. 

The excess is removed using washi paper.

Gold dust is then applied to fill the scratches using more washi paper.

Our finished plates.

Mine on the left - I took the design with me,  and my wife's on the right - she used a stock design provide by the tutor.

My next short course was some very simple Makie lacquerware on a pre-prepared black plate.   I was given the plate with the outline design already painted on and dried by the tutor.  My task was to carefully fill in parts of the outlines - the leaves and petals of the flowers with different coloured and plain lacquer.

Finally while still damp, coloured powders and some gold dust were sprinkled onto different sides of the designs and lightly brushed across the wet lacquer with a 'fluffy' brush, to get some graduation in the colours.  It was then left to dry and the residue wiped off.

My finished plate.

The last of the short courses I did was gold leaf work. This was in Kanazawa - famous for making gold leaf.  We were given plastic boxes that looked like black lacquered boxes!!  We then developed a design on the lids using a range of different width masking tapes.   The surface was then wiped with a lacquer based 'sizeing'.  Gold and silver leaf were then very carefully applied and wiped with a fine fluffy brush and pressed with washi paper to ensure it had stuck.  In some places crumpled up, or flakes of gold or silver leaf were also applied.

Mine box on the right, and my wife's on the left.

Now for some 'professional' examples - alas a lot taken through glass.

Chinkin - scratched designs

Makie- painted and sprinkled designs

Two tiny pieces, no more than 100mm in length.

Note the price US$900 or A$1300 plus tax!!!!

Makie and gold leaf

Gold and silver leaf.  The design is dabbed on, either with a brush or crumpled up course paper so the leaf only sticks to the dabs of lacquer.

Masking technique

Please get in touch if I can help.  Martin

Thanks for sharing, interesting and would take years to learn.

Main Street to the Mountains

Really amazing…and exceptionally detailed!

Ryan/// ~sigh~ I blew up another bowl. Moke told me "I made the inside bigger than the outside".

All great info, Martin.
I think I have seen some of those examples before - the one with the greyish cloth for sure.
I now have some of the "fluffy brushes" for working the powders, and would like to get a few of the special chisels for doing Chinkin, but hard to figure which would be the best two or three to begin with - and they arent cheap.
The tip about dabbing with washi paper is good.  

I made an attempt at chinkin and found that the varnish I am using is brittle and tends to chip when it is cut with a knife.  Maybe chisels will be better?  My amateurish solution is to do the cutting in the wood before the lacquer is applied.   The box I am currently working on has some patterns done this way.

I need to find out what that paper is they use like carbon paper.  Today I am making an attempt with normal drawing paper.  So we will see.

No Bees. No Honey. Bees Lives Matter

Hi Bryan,   The chinkin chisel I made was some 3 or 4 mm steel rod that I ground up to make my 'chisel'.   The tutor who showed me, used a scraping action, and not a pushing chisel action.  Though I've seen videos of the Japanese doing both methods in different areas of Japan.  Depending on the shape of the ground end, as you roll the chisel you get thick or thin lines.  There are some videos of people doing chinkin that you've probably watched.

So the chinkin chisel is nothing special.  You can drill a piece of dowel to make a handle, though most of the Japanese I saw just used the steel rod.   You can also buy tungsten  graver blades off AliExpress that have different profiles like these, but you use a pushing action with them.

Here's a picture of the ones in the Wajima museum  You can see the worn grooved oil stone behind! And the interesting compass!

The 'carbon' paper I used is called graphite transfer paper, its a white carbon paper that I got off eBay.  Here's a link. 


Sorry you'll have to copy the lot and paste it into your browser.

I also got a special 'rubber' to erase it.   It transfers onto almost anything!  OK for applying chinkin designs but think it would contaminate any 'lacquer' you painted on.   

I bought some rouge application make-up brushes for spreading the dust!