Antique Kougai Repair

One of my habits is to collect small damaged items, and then hoard them like the bizarre little goblin that I am until I feel knowledgeable enough to attept to repair them. This is one of those stories. -Law & Order BLNK BLNK-

Over the last few days, after tackling an entire iko (kimono stand), I was feeling confident. And with a fresh jar of Japanese urushi (lacquer), I thought I’d start repairing some of the kanzashi that I’ve collected over the years. I started with a kougai (it’s a double ended stick ornament thing) that…has seen better days. What’s wrong with it? Weeellllll… It’s a bit fucky.

Pictured: “a bit fucky.”

If you don’t know what you’re looking at, that thing should only be two pieces. The gold filigree caps go on the ends of the lacquered pieces, and the long, unfinished stick then slides into the other side to fasten it into the hair.

You know what? I’m just gonna pretend that made any goddamn sense. Whatever. You’ll see.

Anyway. Let’s go over the fuckery. First, other than the fact that it’s in pieces, the lacquer is chipped and flaking off. Have a look!

The wood that the kougai is ultimately made of, however, is solid, undamaged, and in good shape.

Next, the the filigree caps have been painted gold originally. It’s not real gold, and the method used to paint it shows its age. There’s wear, chipping, and bubbling. But! The metal itself, which I think is probably tin, is in good shape with minimal scratching and denting.

Can we take a second to admire that metalwork? Holy shit is it fantastic!

Okay so. I didn’t intend for this to be a tutorial, really. But, I am going to describe what I did enough to where you could probably take what I did and apply it to your own situation. If you have any questions before trying this yourself, leave me a comment, and I’ll answer it as best I can.

So first things first, I just picked the big chip in the lacquer right the fuck off with my thumbnail and then got to sanding. Ideally, we want to just sand down what is damaged to make it…how shall I say…kind of a ramp for the new stuff. We want smooth transitions.

I used 200 grit sandpaper to do this. I want to remove material, but very very deliberately. And since my crack was so long, I had a bit to do. The important thing here is to take your time and work slowly.

When that was done, I used a soft bristle brush to apply lacquer thinner. This is to clean it up. The parts I sanded look horrible at this stage. That’s okay! Sometimes shit gets messier before it gets better, right?

Next, I have this delightful thing:

Pictured: -Goblin noises intensifying-

Black urushi, direct from Japan! This is from Washin paint, and it’s just delightful stuff! Also…uh…urushi gives some people rashes, so wear gloves. I didn’t, because I’m fucking stupid not allergic to it. Fun story, I’m not allergic to poison ivy, either. Who wants to guess how I found that shit out?

Anyway! We’re painting it on in nice thin coats. I allow about 45 minutes between coats. I also stuck it upside down in a kneaded eraser on my desk as a way to hold it. Behold!

Pictured: STIK

It’s also worth noting that I felt the need to do all of this at my desk in my room instead of in the garage. Yeeaaahhh… Don’t fucking do that. Don’t play with lacquer thinner in your goddamn bedroom. That’s not a great idea.

While that’s setting, I gave the filigree caps a good wash in lacquer thinner to remove bubbling from the original finish, plus any dirt or adhesive it might have on it. When clean and smooth, I chose a product called “liquid leaf” to repaint it with. I didn’t bother to use real gold because it wasn’t real gold in the first place, but I suppose I could have if I wanted to.

Be cautious with liquid leaf–it is toxic.

Liquid leaf can be thinned with lacquer thinner as well, and I highly suggest that you do so. Going at this in washes will help preserve the textures in the filigree and minimize the appearance of brush strokes. I put them on little sticks in more kneaded eraser, and went at it.

Pictured: SHINY


Liquid leaf dries unforgivably fast if not thinned, but will be set and able to be handled gently after an hour if thinned. So a lot of this project is just fumes painting and walking away from it.

When everything was dry, it was time to reseaseat the caps onto the lacquered sticks. Let’s see…what to use…

Pictured: I wasn’t fucking asking.

That’ll do it.

I used the applicator to apply just a small amount to the inside of the metal filigree caps. I did it this way to prevent any squeezing out onto my freshly smoothed and perfect lacquer. Yeah, I can sand it down to a mirror finish if it bled out, but I really didn’t want to. It’s not lazy, it’s efficient!

When the caps were seated, I fucked off walked away for a few hours to just do whatever. When I came back, the repair elves that live in my underwear drawer made sure everything was right, tight, and solid. Haha, did I mention don’t use lacquer thinner in your fucking bedroom?

Anyway, here’s how she looks now:

All better! You can still see some defects in the metal beneath the liquid leaf…technically, I could have taken steps to conceal that but they’re tiny and seeing as how this thing is older than I am, it fell really hard into the Who Gives A Shit category. The lacquer is so baby smooth and shiny that you can see my other bottles and shit on my desk in its reflective surface, though, and that’s pretty goddamn cool!

Here she is holding my messy-ass bun.

Pictured: YES

Okay I’m done now.


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