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topic 11808

Japanning - what is it?


Q. I collect carpenter planes and would like to know more about a finish called japanning. What is it? How is it done and what makes up a "japanned" finish? Is there another name for this type of finish?


W. Carl Miller
- Crystal Lake, Illinois

A Handbook On Japanning and Enameling for Cycles, Bedsteads, Tinware, Etc. (1901)

Lacquer: Technology and Conservation


A. I always thought of japanning as a very bright and very hard enamel. But I've never studied it professionally.

Ted Mooney, Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey


A. There's some interesting non-commercial information on japanning at Also, maybe there was something useful in the reply to letter number 6873.

Bill Reynolds
Bill Reynolds
   consultant metallurgist
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia

We sadly relate the news that Bill passed away on Jan. 29, 2010.


A totally trivial fact: My grandfather operated a Japanning business in Newark NY in the early years of the last century. He was, according to his letterhead, J. Sutman, a Tinner and Japanner of Iron and Wood Work ..also Hard Rubber and Leather Finish Japanning. He was a very old man when I was born and I never had a opportunity to learn from him about his business. The only value of this information is to indicate that "Japanning" is a venerable finishing technique.

Joseph L. Sutman
- Thousand Oaks, California

88 Keys


I first heard about japanning on reading about Steinway grand pianos, made in New York. They used japanning to create the fine, glossy gold paint on the iron frames of the instruments towards the end of 19th and early 20th century. This is the part most visible when you raise the top of a grand piano and look inside.

Mr. Juha Huotari
- Helsinki, Finland

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