Faux Urushi

Poison sumac for a perfect finish? A quick epoxy fake-out spares the itch.

by Donald C. Williams
pgs. 42-49

Within the ongoing renaissance of fine furniture making, I find myself an enthusiastic evangelist and ardent agitator for the full appreciation of decorative surfaces in most iterations, especially finishing. To many skilled furniture makers, I’m that weird woodworker who sees finishing not as something to be endured or avoided, but rather to be anticipated and savored as a delightful opportunity for expressing skilled craftsmanship and artistry.

Yup, I’m the guy who thinks making things is mostly the necessary preamble to the more desirable task of making the surfaces sing in four-part harmony at the finishing bench.
For most artisans aware of the rich history of traditional finishing, that sublime space of “the perfect finish” is occupied by the exquisite hand-rubbed or pad-polished transparent spirit varnish known commonly as French polish.

In that assertion they would be one-third correct, as a padded spirit varnish is but one of the trinity in the pantheon of sublime historic decorative finishes.

And as it happens, the remaining two finishes are interconnected in that the penultimate decorative surface, “japanning,” is in fact a Western derivative of the ultimate high-performance decorative finish representing the highest expression of the art – namely oriental lacquerwork or “urushi” (ur-OO-she).

Website: Read artist Wiebke Padnikow’s thesis on the history of lacquerwork technology.
Video: Watch lacquer master artist Maki Fushimi work wordlessly in the studio – it’s hypnotic.
Book: Check out The National Museum of Modern Art Tokyo’s “Japanese Lacquer Art: Modern Masterpieces,” for creative inspiration.
To Buy: “Traditional Techniques with Don Williams” collection of videos and articles.

From the April 2017 issue, #231