Imitating Aged Oriental Lacquer

Searching for the Chinese antique finish look, start with a glaze. November 26, 2007

We're doing a project that is all a black lacquered, Chinoiserie art-deco kind of look. The finisher is spraying black pre-catalyzed lacquer and then clear coats on top of it. We've done samples in various sheens, and we like the glossier ones better; the duller ones look too modern.

The problem with the finish, though, is it still looks like a production finish - it's not a buffed-out, lustrous thing. On the samples, you can tell that it was a sprayed-on finish. We want something that looks more hand-done, older, more like 1920's art-deco Chinoiserie.

I did a sample where I rubbed out the finish with 0000 steel wool, followed by a dark paste wax, and then steel wooled lightly again - the result is nice, but the scratch marks are pretty strong. So we may go with that, but I'd love to get input on other things we could try (that keep our time down to say under 10 minutes per door) to get a richer, more organic look.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor M:
Try applying a glaze. Something with charcoal tones. Works well. Two ways to do it... Thinned oil-based paint or, preferably, a product called Amazing Glaze by ML Campbell. Amazing Glaze is easy to use and you sand it off, so it is rather quick and precise. Try a tone lighter than your black.

From the original questioner:
This is exactly the kind if input I was hoping for - thanks! Are you suggesting applying the glaze before the clear topcoats?

From contributor D:

Having worked on a fair amount of the real stuff over the years, I know how an aged urushi, Oriental lacquerwork, japanned, chinoiserie work looks over time. I think that is what you are trying to duplicate.

Amongst other things, I would concur with contributor M about going with a glaze for starters. However, I would make a glaze with only universal tints and naphtha/mineral spirits for speed, especially in drying. Wipe on, wipe off. I would change the color choice from a straight charcoal to a charcoal with a slight green/brown umber tone to it. This could also be just barely misted on with a gun to produce a slight uneven/patchy coloration and leave it to dry.

Then you can try a first clear coat with a lower sheen, maybe 30 or less, then topcoat with your gloss. This, or a variation of this as you see fit, may give you the look you are after. There are additional effects you could incorporate also, which really would take it to a higher level of realistic. There are lots of ways to get from here to there.

From the original questioner:
Contributor D, you are spot on about what we're going for. Thanks for your suggestions. I'm working with a finisher on this (we're the cabinetmaker, and my finishing experience is limited) and I'll discuss with him and see if we can try this out. You pique my curiosity with "additional effects." Please feel free to elaborate - regardless of how far we go with this particular project, I have a thirst for knowledge on this subject.

From contributor D:
There is usually a very slight "particulate" effect going on in the background black of lacquerwares. Sometimes it is a barely perceptible metallic gold, sometimes also a deep clay red or bright blue/green almost turquoise, sometimes more than one on the same piece - all depends. Again, it is barely perceptible by eye until you look real close or under a microscope, where it is clearly seen. So even though the eye barely perceives it, it is very much there and absolutely is a part of the look which is ultimately being viewed.

This could be created with a very fine fly specking technique or possibly by incorporating a mica metallic powder into the final black coat. The only problem there is the possibility of it being too even.