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Learning “fuki-urushi”


Speaking of lacquerware, most people think of an item with black or vermillion coatings. These lacquerware are created by applying colored lacquer and polishing over and over again until it becomes the desired color.


However, some lacquerware is coated without the use of colored lacquer. In other words, natural lacquer is applied to the lacquerware until finished. This type of lacquerware is called “fuki-urushi”.



The technique of “fuki-urushi”
The sap, which is the source of lacquer, comes out by cutting the lacquer tree to bleed. The sap contains impurities at this stage. So, it is required to remove these impurities and the moisture content from the sap. The refined lacquer after these processes is called “ki-urushi”.


When you want to give color to lacquer, you mix pigments (colored minerals) to ki-urushi. If black pigments are mixed, it will turn into black lacquer. And, if vermillion pigments are added, it becomes vermilion lacquer.


The lacquer prior to adding pigments is semi-translucent brown in color. Instead of poorly mixing pigments, this translucent lacquer is coated on wood over and over again. This is how fuki-urushi is created.


Wood has a grain. If black or vermillion lacquer, which are made with pigments, is coated over and over again, the wood grain will become invisible. On the other hand, in the case where lacquer is in its original condition without pigments, because it is translucent, the wood grain can be seen through the layers of coatings. Thus, a fuki-urushi lacquerware is finished optimizing the natural beauty of the material.


Performing “fuki-urushi”
Anyone can perform the fuki-urushi technique fairly easily.


When creating lacquerware by using colored lacquer such as black or vermillion, you need to go through delicate processes that include “shitaji (undercoats), nakanuri (middle coats), and then uwanuri (final coats)”, and this requires a certain level of skill.


The feature of lacquerware is its distinctive luster and rich color. However, it is difficult for amateurs to create the lacquerware by using colored lacquer.


On the other hand, fuki-urushi does not require advanced techniques that are needed when using color lacquer. In the case of fuki-urushi, ki-urushi without pigments is coated on wood and then the excess is wiped off with a cloth. You can create fuki-urushi by repeating these steps.


Of course, long standing skills are required in order to beautifully finish the fuki-urushi lacquerware. But, it does not require the same advanced techniques as in the case of using color lacquer.


The advantage of fuki-urushi is that you can try creating it with natural materials without the use of pigments. Also, fuki-urushi lacquerware is relatively low cost, so it is more affordable to many people.


Also, note that the luster and look of the finished fuki-urushi lacquerware vary according to the type of tree. Wood grain as well as the way the color comes out after being coated with lacquer vary depending on the tree type. Thus, selecting the wood that you apply lacquer is also an important task. For example, when you create a fuki-urushi lacquerware plate, zelkova, a wood whose grain clearly stands out, is often used.


In fuki-urushi, coating with lacquer and polishing are repeated more than four or five times. Compared to the case where colored lacquer is used, the work is much less demanding. However, in order to ensure that the beautiful grain stands out as a piece of work, the initial step, which is to polish the wood by assessing the quality of the material, is especially critical.

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