1902 Encyclopedia > Lacquer


LACQUER, or LACKER, in general terms may be said to be coloured and frequently opaque varnishes applied to certain metallic objects and to wood. The term is derived from the resin lac, which substance is the basis of lacquers properly so called. Technically, among Western nations, lacquering is restricted to the coating of polished metals or metallic surfaces, such as brass, pewter, and tin, with prepared varnishes which will give them a golden, bronze-like, or other lustre as desired. Of the numerous recipes for the preparation of the various lacquers, the following for a gold lacquer for brass work may be taken as a sample :—shell-lac 8 oz., sandarach 2 oz., turmeric 8 oz., arnotto 2 oz., dragon's blood \ oz., dissolved in 1 gallon of rectified spirit. Throughout the East Indies the lacquer-ing of wooden surfaces is universally practised, large articles of household furniture, as well as small boxes, trays, toys, and papier maché objects, being decorated with bright-coloured and variegated lacquer. The lacquer used in the East is, in general, variously coloured sealing-wax, applied, smoothed, and polished in a heated condition; and by various devices intricate marbled, streaked, and mottled designs are produced. Quite distinct from these, and from all other forms of lacquer, is the lacquer work of Japan. The source and nature of the raw material of Japanese lacquer has been referred to under JAPANNING, and there also will be found some allusion to its extraordinary durability and resistance to all ordinary solvents. Not less extraordinary is the manipulative skill shown by the Japanese in this kind of work, and the variety and exquisite perfection of its decorative treatment, which all go to place Japanese lacquer of high quality among the rarest and most prized treasures of decorative art. In the preparation of Japanese lacquer workthe wooden object to be treated is first coated with severarlkyers of raw lacquer mixed with brick dust, &c, which, when hardened, are smoothed with gritty stone. A few layers of common or inferior varnish of the colour desired in the finished object are then successively added. After each coating the objects are placed to dry in an enclosed box, the sides of which are kept moist with water, so that hardening takes place in a dark damp atmosphere. The final coating is composed of the best quality of lacquer, and it is smoothed wiih great care and polished with powdered deer horn. The brilliant smooth polish of plain black lacquer is brought up by repeated thin rubbings over with uncoloured lacquer and polishings with deer horn. Such are the elaborate processes used for entirely unornamented lacquer; but most Japanese work is enriched with decorations which introduce an endless variety of treatment and much more complex, tedious, and costly processes of operation. Flat work, variously coloured and speckled, ornamented with gilt patterns, is among the simplest of the artistic lacquer productions of Japan. Relief or raised lacquer work, on the other hand, is a most elaborate and costly production, the labour of months and even years being expended on the preparation of fine high-relief examples. The raised designs are produced with a mixture of red oxide of iron and lacquer repeatedly applied till the desired elevation is attained, the form of the raised surface being carefully modelled and controlled between successive applications by rubbing and grinding with charcoal powder. Metallic powders—gold, silver, bronze, &c.—are applied with the final coat while the work is still in a viscous condition, and these sinking into the lacquer produce a strongly adherent surface with a fine subdued metallic lustre. Other methods of ornamental treatment consist of inlaying and incrusting the lacquer with mother of pearl, ivory, gold, bronze, or tinfoil. A great variety of decorative effect may be thus produced, but lacquers so treated are not held in the same high esteem as the raised or even the flat varieties. Thin sections of the substance to be inlaid are placed on the surface of a freshly coated and yet " tacky" object, and imbedded by the repeated applications of additional coatings; the surface is then rubbed and reduced till the inlay and lacquer form one smooth continuous surface. Relief incrustations are managed in an analogous manner, the lacquer being' smoothed and polished around the incrusted object or pattern. Lacquer is also ornamented by carving, a style mostly applied to red lacquer, although it is also occasionally done in black and other dark colours. This method of treatment has been introduced from China, where red carved lac or Peking lac is a characteristic ornamental substance.

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