Abused Antique Tansu Round Two: Electric Boogaloo

So. We left off last time with a delightful trip into respiratory distress lacquer thinner hell blue-grey shabby chic fuckery removing the shell from the upper portion of the tansu. For a quick recap, here:

Cleared off the shit paint without managing to damage my teeth from all of the fucking clenching, restored the locks, adjusted a warp in the top drawer enough so that the lock alligns with the hardware installed in the chassis–that’s what I’m calling the whole fixture–and then I promptly passed the fuck out.

When I’d had a day or two to recover from that fucking nightmare of a task, I went about with assessing for damage that the person with the gigantic boner for craft paint was trying to cover. Mostly gouges. Some scratches. Nothing I would call catastrophic, really. Behold:

You know, as I sit here, I cannot help but comment that I understand that I’m speaking from a place of privilege when I restore these things. I have access to people who can help me, I can afford my materials, and I have the adequate space to do this. Someone who had this banged up chest might not have understood how to go about repairing it, and the chose to paint over it. I suppose I can understand.

But while I try to be understanding, I am also highly critical of the mindset that thinks they’re going to fill a gouge that’s as deep as my actual goddamn thumb with layer upon layer of spectacularly shitty craft paint. Because lemme tell you, they tried. Oh they really fucking tried.

I made the decision to fill in and stabilize the larger, deeper gouges, but I’m not going to try to remove all of the scratches. To put it really plainly, it’s because I’m trying to preserve what’s here, and removing all of the scratches would mean busting out the low grit sandpaper and completely resurfacing the top. I’m not willing to do that. So once the major gouges and blemishes were filled in, it was time to start playing with urushi. First, I simply reactivated what was there, like this:

Pictured: Hot wet urushi in your area

You won’t find any official guides on this, and if there are urushi police in the same way that there are kimono police, theeeennn:


…that will never not be funny to me, and I will never stop making that joke. Abandon your expectations at the door.


You can, in fact, reactivate urushi under the right circumstances. You can’t really spread it around, but you can get it workable enough to blend it. Basically, if you want to straight up remove urushi, use lacquer thinner. If you want to reactivate it so that you can blend it, use turpentine.

As an aside, turpentine is a fuck of a lot easier to be around for long periods of time. I actually think it smells vaguely like what knock-off Sprite tastes like. And when I said that out loud to my husband, he just stared at me. That means yes.

Anyway, there was just no way in hell that there was enough urushi on this fucker to cover all of that, so I knew I was going to have to start adding. And luckily for me, we’ve had some warmer days (urushi does not like to set in the cold), so I’ve been able to actually work on that. Here:

Worth noting, black is black, but red pigments are fucky when wet. That red doesn’t dry that opaque or that bright orange. It’s a deep, earthy red. It doesn’t look like much now, but my future involves a lot of thin layers, fucking off to let them dry, sanding, thin layers, fucking off to let them dry, sanding, thin layers, fucking off to let them dry until everything looks good. I applied a masking fluid to the hardware. You can’t really tell in the photos, but I’ll just be able to peel off what’s on them.

I would also like to be very clear about something. Yes, urushi is Japanese lacquer. Yes, I refer to most Japanese things by their Japanese name. But I’m calling urushi as “urushi” because urushi is actually pretty different from other kinds of lacquer that are commonly used today. Urushi is also made from the sap of a tree that is pretty similar to poison sumac, and a huge number of people who handle it in its wet and raw form get rashes because they’re allergic to it. I’m one of those fucking wierdos that isn’t allergic to poison ivy, and as it turns out, I’m not allergic to wet urushi, either. GUESS HOW THE FUCK I LEARNED THAT. I still wear gloves when I handle it, because I don’t want to accidentally touch someone who is allergic, or otherwise contaminate any surfaces. Be cautious when using this stuff.

And that’s about it for this one at this time. I expect to be working on it for awhile.

Now for the companion.

Pictured: -excited beaver chortling-

Look at this magnificent motherfucker. She, too, has had the everloving fuck banged out of her. I know what I said. Let’s have a look.

First, we’ve got chips everywhere.


We also have the same problem with some gouges as the formerly blue-grey one did.

Including this massive crack running across the center of the top:

Also, do you see that center picture? There’s that same blue-grey fucking paint inside of that fucking crack. What in the actual fuck? No, HOW in the actual, mighty morphin power fuck did they manage that?!

I actually don’t think I’m going to bother with trying to fill that crack in, and there’s two reasons for that. Shockingly, neither of them are because I’m really fucking lazy. The first reason is that I would have to sand down a ton of beautiful and intact urushi to do it. The second reason is that I don think it’s worth it to do the first reason considering that this piece is typically stacked on the bottom on two-piece tansu like this, and this area won’t be visible anyway. So I’m going to reactivate what’s here to clear up the scratches a bit, and I’m going to get rid of that blue paint in there, probably by scraping it off with an exacto knife. But it doesn’t seem like there’s a good, minimally destructive reason for me to go full restoration psycho on this crack.

What I am going to have some extra -siiigh- fun doing is removing a bunch of what is definitely just silver spray paint from the hardware on this piece. The person who did this was at least slightly more strategic with this than they were with the blue-grey bullshit nightmare from the other piece, but that is not a compliment because I still have to clean up silver mist that’s just in random places:


Something I noticed while I was scrubbing away the silver paint from parts of the lock hardware was that most of the silver had worn off over time, and what remained had settled into the engraving, giving it a high contrast effect. It makes the pictures in the locks very bold, and I actually like that quite a lot. So when this is all finished, I will go back and apply a high contrast finish myself. But I’m going to do it the fucking right way and not with an angry can of spray paint.

I will apply that treatment to both tansu, so all of the locks will have that high contrast. Pretty excited about that. Also the same key opens all locks. I need to do something with that key to make it look nice. I dunno. Blacken the iron maybe.

Right now, I have filler curing inside of the gouges, and urushi drying on drawers. I guess I’ll be back here when I have some interesting progress to show. Join me next time, when I have no idea what I’ll be covering because time is an illusion, the universe is a hologram, BUY GOLD.


4 thoughts on “Abused Antique Tansu Round Two: Electric Boogaloo

  1. (hi I’m going backwards through the whole archive because it’s all so interesting)
    Bless u for that tip about turpentine on urushi, I’m going to use that one. These are beautiful chests, I’m glad they found their way to you to get fixed up :u;


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