Japanning, the process of ornamenting wood, leather, paper, or metal by covering it with a brilliant hard varnish, in which are often introduced gilt or colored designs. The art is supposed to have been acquired from the Japanese, whence its name. It is still practised by them and the Chinese in great perfection, and specimens of it are seen upon the fancy workboxes, tables, and other small articles of furniture imported from eastern Asia. The articles thus ornamented are first made perfectly smooth, and primed with a mixture of ox gall and rotten stone. Being then again smoothed, they are next covered with a thin coat of varnish, obtained from the juice of certain trees, which, at first appearing like cream, changes by exposure to the air to a deep black. This being dried in the sun or by artificial heat and rubbed, another coat of varnish is applied, and another polishing succeeds; and thus these processes are repeated, it may be 18 times, using toward the last the finest quality of varnish, until a perfectly smooth and brilliant surface is obtained. The ornamental design is then drawn with a pencil dipped in varnish of boiled oil and turpentine, and before this is quite dry the gold or silver leaf is laid upon it, and finally secured by another coat of varnish.
The method in use of imitating this lacquered ware does not differ from the preparation of similar works in spirit or oil varnishes, except that every coat of color or varnish is dried by placing the object in a japanner's stove, which is heated by flues to as high a temperature as the articles and varnish can bear without injury. For colored grounds, the colors in ordinary use, as Prussian blue, vermilion, flake white, lampblack, and various others, are employed, well incorporated with linseed oil or turpentine, and mixed with copal or anime varnish, more commonly the latter. For black japanned work, the application is of ivory black mixed with dark-colored anime varnish. After thorough drying in the stove the application is repeated; and if the article is intended to be finally polished, several coatings and dryings are required to give firmness for resisting the friction. After the general color of the ground has been laid on, the ornamental devices are painted in the usual manner, the colors being dried in and finally protected by several coats of varnish, made without drying ingredients, which also adds to their brilliancy. To produce a gold ground, the work is varnished with gold size, upon which, when partially dried, gold dust is laid with a piece of wash leather.
Subsequent varnishing gives great brilliancy to this coating. Engravings, especially prepared for the purpose upon fine paper washed with solution of isinglass or gum, are sometimes transferred to japan work with beautiful effect. - It is apparent that wood designed for japanning must be thoroughly dried, so that there shall be no risk of its cracking, shrinking, or warping by the stove heat to which it is to be exposed. After undergoing the usual process of seasoning, it is therefore, when sawn into nearly the shapes required, baked for several days in the japanner's stove; and when after this the finished shapes are given to the articles, they are again baked, and any defects that appear are remedied by the application of white lead or putty, or otherwise. An artificial ground, prepared by a priming of size and whiting laid on with a brush, and after drying a day or two smoothed down with rushes and a wet cloth, is sometimes employed by japanners; but it is objectionable from its liability to crack. The practice of japanning has been greatly extended of late years to a multiplicity of articles, especially to those in papier mache, sheet iron, and leather.
The product of the process applied to the last named material is the so-called patent leather. (See Leather.) Besides the introduction of the ordinary colors and of gold leaf, mother-of-pearl is often profusely scattered through the work in the first two materials. A display of gaudy colors appears to be the chief object aimed at; and as works of taste most of the articles of this sort furnished for our markets are far inferior to some of the cheapest productions of the eastern nations.