The art of painting and varnishing, after the manner originally practised by the natives of Japan, in the East Indies. It is employed for the purpose of preserving and beautifying various articles, usually of wood and metal, as well as of paper, leather, and cloth, when they are properly prepared for the purpose. Those articles we most commonly find japanned, are pieces of household furniture, cabinet work, boxes of all kinds, trays, screens, etc. and, very generally, those articles made of any of the above-mentioned or similar materials, which it maybe desired to preserve from moisture; and this it is admirably adapted to effect, from its drying very hard, and being impervious to water at all moderate temperatures, even to boiling in some cases; but it may be employed on any dry substance that is sufficiently inflexible to prevent the japan coating from being cracked or forced off. The true japan, or that said to be used by the natives of Japan and China, is a sort of varnish or lacker peculiar to itself. It is sometimes brought over to this country; but on account of the injury arising from its poisonous qualities, to those persons employed in working with it, is now seldom used.
It is the juice of a peculiar tree growing in those parts, and is collected by making an incision into the lowerpart of the trunk of the tree, and placing vessels underneath to receive it. This juice has the appearance of cream when it first runs from the tree, but on exposure to the air it becomes black. It is prepared for use by submitting it to the action of the open air in shallow vessels, and is kept constantly stirred for many hours, so that by having all parts equally exposed, it may become of a uniform deep black. A portion of well-charred wood reduced to a fine powder is added, and it is then fit for use. The Japanese first spread it thinly and evenly over the body intended to be japanned, and then dry it in the sun. If necessary, another coat is laid on, and dried as before. It very soon becomes harder than most of the substances on which it is laid. As soon as it is sufficiently hard, it is polished with a smooth stone and water, until it becomes as smooth and even as a plate of glass, and then wiping it dry, it is ready to be varnished, except when figures or other ornaments are to be drawn on it in gold or silver: in that case, the form of the figures or other ornaments is to be traced on the work with a pencil, in the varnish noticed below.
When this varnish is almost dry, the gold or silver leaf is to be laid on; the whole is then ready to receive the varnish, or finishing coat, which must be spread on thin, and as evenly as possible. This varnish is a particular sort of oil procured in Japan, boiled and mixed with turpentine. When any other colour than black is desired, the proper colour must be mixed with the varnish, and the whole spread on, particular care being taken that it be laid on evenly. The above is the method of japanning said to be practised by the natives of Japan. Our method differs from it considerably; it is less durable, but its practice is not so injurious to the health. We in some cases employ a priming or under coat for the purpose of filling up any inequalities, and making smooth the surface to be japanned; but at other times the priming is altogether omitted, the coloured varnish or proper japan ground bein applied immediately to the substance to be japanned. The former is the method that was usually practised, and still is, in those cases when the surface is very uneven and rough; but when the surface is smooth, as in the case of metals, smooth grained wood, etc. it is now always rejected.
The advantage of using the priming or undercoat is, that it makes a saving in the quantity of varnish used, because the matter of which the priming is composed fills up the inequalities in the surface of the body to be varnished, and makes it easy, by means of rubbing and water polishing, to procure an even surface for the varnish. This was, therefore, such a convenience in the case of rough and uneven surfaces, that it became an established method, and is still retained in many instances. There is, however, this inconvenience always attending the use of priming or undercoat of size and whiting, that the japan coats of varnish and colour will be constantly liable to be cracked and peeled off by any violence, and will not endure near so long as the bodies japanned in the same manner, but without the priming. This may be easily observed by comparing those articles that have been some time in wear, especially snuff-boxes, in the Japanning of which the priming has been used, with those in which it has been omitted- the latter never peel or crack, or suffer damage, unless by great violence! and such a continual rubbing as wastes away the substance of the varnish while the japan coats of the former crack and fly off in flakes, whenever any knock or fall, especially at the edges, exposes them to injury.
The Birmingham manufacturers who originally practised the japanning only on metals to which the reason before stated for the use of priming did not apply, and who took up this art of themselves, as a new thing, of course omitted at first the use of any such undercoat, and not finding it more necessary in the instance of papier mache and some other things, than on metals, continue still to reject it; on which account the boxes and other articles of their manufacture are, with regard to the wear, much better than those on which the priming is still used.
Having thus noticed the method originally practised, and the chief variation in the method now employed, we shall pass on to the manner of proceeding with the work to be japanned; the first in order will be the -