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Learn lacquer’s coating methods and “shitaji” undercoats (“honkataji”)


There are different coating methods in lacquering. Sometimes lacquer is coated directly on the material, and other times, “shitaji” (undercoats) is coated beforehand. This is up to the type of lacquerware desired.


Now, we will learn the basics of lacquering techniques. The use of lacquer varies depending on the material used as well as the style of work that you wish to create.


Direct coating of lacquer
In this method, the coated object of lacquer includes wood, cloth, or animal skins. The method is divided into two types depending on whether you perform a process called “shitaji” (undercoats) prior to coating the work with lacquer.


If the shitaji stage is performed, the finished product will be hard and stiff. This is because it solidifies when the shitaji undercoats dry out. The shitaji stage is usually performed when coating wood with lacquer. Wood is a lightweight, durable material, but adding undercoats creates a stronger piece.


On the other hand, animal skins fit well into lacquer, so there are some cases where the shitaji stage is not performed. Because it is created without the shitaji undercoats, the finished product will have elasticity.


Similarly, in cases of coating cloth or paper with lacquer, the finished product will have elasticity if lacquer is applied without undercoats. However, when undercoats are added, the final product will harden, so it will lose its elasticity.


Performing the shitaji undercoats in lacquering
Even among people who know that lacquerware is created by coating the object with layers of lacquer, not many of them are aware of the fact that a shitaji stage is sometimes performed. Shitaji undercoats are the invisible sections, but they significantly influence the result of the work such as the sheen created by layers of lacquer. Therefore, the quality and price of lacquerware varies depending on the shitaji undercoats.


When applying undercoats on wood, check to see whether there are any scratches first. If there are scratches, you need to do some touching up beforehand.


Next, soak the wood in raw lacquer (ki-urushi: strained lacquer) to smooth the roughness. This process is called “kijigatame” (hardening the core). The kijigatame stage creates a base so that undercoats can be applied.


In the shitaji stage, two types of ingredients, a powder called “jinoko” and a raw lacquer, are mixed. After applying this to your work and drying, you will need to polish it with paper until smooth. Repeating these steps can create a strong lacquerware. In general, the more undercoats you apply, the better the quality of your lacquerware.


This shitaji foundation technique is called “honkataji”.


There is also a method to perform the shitaji stage without using lacquer. For example, some lacquerware use persimmon tannin instead of lacquer for the undercoats.


These lacquerware can lower the price while the appearances are much the same. This is because the undercoats are invisible as described earlier. However, compared to the “honkataji” technique that uses lacquer for undercoats, the one with persimmon tannin will be inferior in “quality” including its solidness.


Even if you say lacquerware in one word, the quality and price widely varies. One of the differences is the “shitaji” area where it is not visible.

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