Adventures in Japanning #1: Background, research & supplies.

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Blog entry by JayT posted 10-08-2012 02:01 AM 11280 reads 19 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Adventures in Japanning series Part 2: Testing blends and first attempt »

OK, first attempt at a blog, so please bear with me.

This blog series is my journey of trying to replicate the japanning process used on many tools, especially hand planes, for over a century. It will include some abject failures, as well as what was found to work for me.

This blog is not a commentary on how someone else might choose to finish their planes when doing a restoration and I am not necessarily advocating japanning over any other finish. There are many people on this site that are much more experienced and talented than me that use other methods. The blog is more a result of my curiosity as to how the tools were originally finished and to see if I could come close to replicating that.

A little backstory. After getting bit by the hand plane bug this summer, I started trying to do some restorations. The first couple were simple clean-up, tune up jobs, but soon I ran into one that needed completely stripped. Following and researching how several other LJ’s perform restorations, I decided to try Rustoleum Hammered Black spray paint. This was the result.

It looks good and is very functional, but is so obviously not that similar to the original finish. The color is more charcoal gray than black.

Doing some more looking around, I found that others had success with Duplicolor Ford Semi-Gloss Black, but that the original finish was something called japanning. I had never heard of this finish, so started to dig to see what that really was and if it would be possible for me to reproduce it in my little shop and on a budget. A bit of research showed that japanning on Stanley tools in particular was a finish made from gilsonite, a tar solid found in the western US and commonly known as asphaltum.

Even more digging/searching through Google showed that I could purchase gilsonite in powdered form or as liquid asphaltum from Dick Blick Art Supplies for a reasonable amount. (as opposed to the $60 quart of japanning found on another site. I’m sure it is great stuff, but I wasn’t going to spend that much right now) I ordered one pint and set out accumulating the other materials.

In addition to the asphaltum, I bought some xylol for thinner/brush cleaner. Xylol is an excellent solvent for heavy solids and is the solvent used in the liquid asphaltum, so there would be no compatibility issues. Turpentine would probably work, too, but as I had neither on hand and they are about the same price, xylol it was. Artist brushes for applying the finish and glass jars—one for cleaning the brushes and the other for blending the finish.

Next installment: Testing different finishes using the asphaltum and initial applications.

-- - In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

12 comments so far

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


17678 posts in 3956 days

#1 posted 10-08-2012 02:09 AM

Oh, I like this! Thanks for starting the blog, Jay!

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. - OldTools Archive -

View Arlin Eastman's profile

Arlin Eastman

4549 posts in 3899 days

#2 posted 10-08-2012 02:11 AM


Thank you so much for the info. I am going to use it and as you mentioned $60 is quite expensive and your way is alot less.

Just one suggestion buddy. Before and After pictures and block the glare so I can see the plane better and have all the parts off of the plane for the first picture.


-- It is always the right time, to do the right thing.

View JayT's profile


6448 posts in 3549 days

#3 posted 10-08-2012 02:13 AM


Yep, there is quite a difference in price. Shipping was almost the exact same amount as the asphaltum itself, but that still made it 1/4 the price of the other.

Before and after of the sargent are in both the HPOYD and the Show the Restoration threads. I didn’t realize the glare was so bad until posting on those, that is why the second photo, to better show the actual color of the Hammered Black paint.

-- - In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

View derosa's profile


1597 posts in 4174 days

#4 posted 10-08-2012 02:16 AM

Definitely following this, I’ve a 112 that I’ve seriously slacked off on refinishing and it badly needs new japanning.

-- A posse ad esse

View LukieB's profile


966 posts in 3668 days

#5 posted 10-08-2012 02:40 AM

Looking forward to the rest of the series, been using the Ford semi-gloss. Pretty happy with how they’ve turned out, but curious to see your results and process.

-- Lucas, "Someday woodworks will be my real job, until then, there's this"

View Arminius's profile


304 posts in 5141 days

#6 posted 10-08-2012 02:45 AM

From limited experience..

i) turpentine works fine.

ii) unless you are an authenticity nut, Ford Semi-Gloss Black gets you awfully close for a tiny fraction of the effort.

View lysdexic's profile


5349 posts in 3961 days

#7 posted 10-08-2012 03:30 AM

JayT you have my attention. Carry on.

-- "It's only wood. Use it." - Smitty || Instagram - nobodhi_here

View Don W's profile (online now)

Don W

20287 posts in 3905 days

#8 posted 10-08-2012 12:09 PM

Interesting for sure. Have you used Duplicolor Ford Semi-Gloss Black? I’d love to see a side by side comparison. I know if they are side by side, I can tell the differnece between original japanning and the Duplicolor Ford Semi-Gloss Black, but it takes close examination. Things like hammer black I can tell from pictures. It will be interesting how this compares to the original, because even vintage differences can have a different look.

As other stated, thanks for sharing this Jay.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View terryR's profile


7694 posts in 3646 days

#9 posted 10-08-2012 12:38 PM

Jay, thanks for sharing your recipe…results look awesome! Very nice job on the restore…and a nice job on your first blog! :)

-- tr ...see one, do one, teach one...

View mafe's profile


13690 posts in 4427 days

#10 posted 10-08-2012 07:20 PM

View mafe's profile


13690 posts in 4427 days

#11 posted 10-08-2012 07:34 PM

CanĀ“t wait to follow this blog.
Thank you for sharing with the rest of us.
Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View JayT's profile


6448 posts in 3549 days

#12 posted 10-09-2012 02:29 AM

Don, no I haven’t tried the Duplicolor, I got intrigued by trying to recreate the japanning before going to that step. You know how it is, something strikes your fancy and you just have to work it out. I’ll get a can and do a side by side before the end of the blog.

Mads, thanks for the links, they are hard to come by. One of the reasons I wanted to do the blog was because of the lack of readily available information. Those links will be a great help in further refining what I have been doing.

-- - In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

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