Training myself in 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

In hindsight, I actually spent more money on materials than was necessary. 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.


Chip Repair1

a white porcelain cup with red urushi lacquer repair work

Hairline Crack2

gaiwan lid with hairline crack repaired in red urushi lacquer

Single Break3

blue bowl cracked in two pieces, mended with mugi urushi

Double Break

Gaiwan lid made of porcelain, broken in three pieces. There is a blue cloud ink illustration under the transparent glaze.

Complex Break


Glassware4


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.

empty tofu box with red urushi lacquer test strips painted inside

Tofu Box Training


Practice brush strokes on disposable materials before moving to ceramics. Once you can paint a uniform thickness and create hairline strokes, you can move on.

Materials

If you make a mistake, acetone is going to be your best friend5. 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 powders6 that are used for binders. You can even skip the silk puffs that are supposedly needed for polishing7.

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
  • Flour (only for mending broken pieces or deep chips)
  • Rubber Gloves8
  • 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.

  1. For small chips, you can use lacquer only. For deeper ones, you can start experimenting with sabi urushi to fill them
  2. Hairline cracks require a steady hand and lots of brush practice on test materials first
  3. Use mugi urushi to mend a single break, then fill any chips with sabi urushi
  4. 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.
  5. If you don’t have acetone, you’ll just have to wipe up your mistakes before the lacquer sets.
  6. 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.
  7. 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
  8. 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.
Category: Kintsugi