Training Myself in Kintsugi

– Kintsugi

My self-education on kintsugi has the following basic principles:

  1. Master simple techniques before moving on
  2. Spend as little money as possible
  3. Use crappy materials to force myself to develop better technique

In hindsight, I actually spent more money on materials than I needed to. In this post I’ll go over my learnings and suggest an order of operations.

Order of Operations

Here is the self-imposed training schedule I’ve developed for myself, based on the broken ceramics I have. I only move on to the next stage when I’ve achieved satisfactory results.

Remember to start with shallow chips before moving to deeper ones. On shallow chips, you can use urushi lacquer with no additives. For a deeper chip, you’ll need to combine techniques and utilize sabi urushi or kokuso in addition to lacquer painting.

Chip Repair

For small chips, you can use lacquer only. For deeper ones, you can start experimenting with sabi urushi to fill them

A white porcelain cup with red urushi lacquer repair work

Hairline Crack

Hairline cracks require a steady hand and lots of brush practice on test materials first

Gaiwan lid with hairline crack repaired in red urushi lacquer

Update: This line was painted way too thin. Since it was plain red urushi without any underlayers, it’s been slowly chipping away with use.

Single Break

Use Mugi-Urushi to mend a single break, then fill any chips with sabi urushi

blue bowl cracked in two pieces, mended with mugi urushi

Double Break

This combines Mugi-Urushi, [[ Sabi Urushi & Kokuso ]], and lacquer painting while holding three pieces together with tape.

Gaiwan lid made of porcelain, broken in three pieces.

Complex Break

For example, a plate that has shattered into many pieces. You may need to construct filler pieces from scratch.

Glassware

I attempted this early on, but it was too advanced for me. Not only is the material more brittle to work with, but the fact that it’s transparent makes it tricky to create consistency on your inner + outer lacquer applications.

Materials

If you make a mistake, acetone is going to be your best friend. If you don’t have acetone, you’ll just have to wipe up your mistakes before the lacquer sets. Paper towels and rubber gloves are also great. Oil is needed to clean your brushes.

Now, how can you purchase the bare minimum material to get started? To be super thrifty, don’t buy anything except the lacquer. That way, you don’t have to buy gold powder or any of the wood or clay powders1 that are used for binders. You can even skip the silk puffs that are supposedly needed for polishing.2

You’ll also need a Muro curing box, which can be any box with a lid. You’ll need brushes—but at first, you can use a q-tip, plastic spoon, spatula, or a brush made from strands of your own hair. It helps to bind pieces together with rubber bands or masking tape. And of course, you’ll need sandpaper (or a similar abrasive material) to file down and smooth your lacquer repair.

Leaving out lacquer, these are the bare minimum items you’ll need:

  • Box with lid
  • Paper towels
  • Brush or spatula
  • Oil for cleaning brushes
  • Flour (only for mending broken pieces or deep chips)
  • Rubber Gloves3
  • Masking tape or rubber bands
  • Sandpaper

Lacquer Decision

This is the most complex decision and depends on where you want your kintsugi practice to go. Red lacquer is a good underlayer for gold dust. For silver, you might want to use a black lacquer.

If you’re interested in seshime lacquer as a finish for wood crafts, maybe you want to buy seshime raw lacquer. For cost, seshime raw lacquer is also the cheapest option. You can use it for mending (mixed with flour and various powders) and painting (mixed with red or black pigment powder).

Theoretically, you could get a great price for a translucent/raw lacquer + red pigment + black pigment + filter paper. You can mix different colors for each project while keeping costs low. Unfortunately, I don’t have experience ordering from a good vendor that carries pigment powder!

Speaking from personal experience, I should have ordered the cheapest red lacquer I could find from Mejiro for ¥3,630. And that’s it. You can technically use red lacquer for each step—including the under layers, the mugi urushi, binding, everything. It’s usually avoided because of the high cost of red lacquer. But if it takes me forever to use a single 100g tube, I think it’s fine. It was shocking to me how little lacquer is used in each repair. Now I have way too many tubes!

If you want to emulate my style, I recommend ordering only red lacquer and nothing else. I’ll be limiting myself to red lacquer until I finish all kinds of breaks, then I might go back and add metal powder in the future.

Tofu Box Practice

At first, my brush strokes were erratic. But with practice, I achieved even thickness and uniform fine lines, even with a crappy brush.

This helps you get a feel for your lacquer brush technique and also serves as a swatch test for curing times in your environment.

Footnotes

  1. Tonoko or jinoko are the clay powders typically used to make mugi urushi, sabi urushi, and kokuso. If you want to be thrifty, I suppose you can replace these with any type of flour or clay powder you have on hand. Even french clay powder for face masks. Why not? There are no rules in DIY.

  2. I still haven’t noticed an effect from polishing with silk versus any other material, but maybe I’m too much of a beginner still. 🤷‍♂️

  3. Instead of rubber gloves, you can also use plastic wrap. Hell, you can even use plastic wrap to apply the mugi urushi or lacquer. You can become a plastic wrap artist.