Adventures in Japanning #7: That's a wrap! (for now)

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Blog entry by JayT posted 10-28-2012 05:42 PM 15598 reads 14 times favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 6: Completion! Part 7 of Adventures in Japanning series no next part

Having tested, erred, retested, erred again and so on, I was finally happy with how the homemade japanning came out, so did several restores.

We’ll try and do a summary of everything learned here in one blog post.

Supplies needed:
Asphaltum—available in powder form or liquid, which is what I used. Art supply stores seem to be the best source, as it is used in acid etching.
Solvent—Xylol or turpentine should either work fine. Both are capable of suspending the heavy asphaltum solids.
Varnish—I used semi-gloss spar varnish that was already on hand. Other recipes I found used gloss or BLO. I might have to try BLO sometime in the future.
Artist brush—A small mop brush (about 1/2in wide) worked very well. Make sure to get one that is recommended for oil paints and finishes.
Air-tight container for mixing and storing the japanning mixture
Shop supplies—such as sandpaper, paper towels, masking tape

When all was said and done, there was about $30 invested in supplies, outside of normal shop stuff.

Japanning Mixture:
2 parts liquid asphaltum
1 part spar varnish
Mix well. The ratio doesn’t have to be exact as I also had success with a 3:1 ratio, but make sure it is thick enough that it will coat and cling to vertical surfaces. If the mixture is too thin, it will sag and is susceptible to bubbling when baked.

The liquid asphaltum is a 50/50 mix of xylol and gilsonite,by weight, so if you purchase the powdered asphaltum, you should end up using nearly equal amounts of the three ingredients.

One issue that came up is that the liquid asphaltum will thicken after being opened, even in the original container. Adding a splash of solvent will easily get it back to a usable consistency.

Starting with a stripped and cleaned metal surface, lay down an even medium coat of the japanning mixture using the artist’s brush.
Allow the finish to dry overnight.
Bake at 250-300F for two to three hours. Indirect heat is best, such as an oven. When using the grill, I did get some bubbling where part of the plane was directly above a burner. The areas around the lettering were much more susceptible to this. To avoid that issue, I used the side burner(s) and place the plane body in the center of the grate so that it wasn’t directly over the heat source. Also, baking for longer &/or at higher temps may result in an even harder and shinier finish. If you want to do higher temps, go progressive, i.e. two hours at 250, two at 350, one at 450. Starting at too high of temps may cause bubbling or warp the plane casting.
After allowing the plane to cool, scuff the finish with sandpaper. 220 grit seemed to work best.
Wipe the finish down with a solvent dipped rag or paper towel to remove sanding dust.
Repeat the process to add more coats.

Three coats seems to be about right. It allows the finish to fill the unevenness of the casting while preserving the details of the lettering. I tried a fourth coat once, but it caused the lettering to lose its clarity.

A note about masking. On early attempts, I was masking all the surfaces not being japanned. The problem is that the tape has to be removed before baking and then reapplied. Later in the process, I didn’t mask at all and didn’t have any issues. Any japanning that ended up on the sole or sides was removed with a razor blade scraper before flattening, which removed any left over traces. The frog mating surfaces were carefully “painted” around and the very little japanning that got on those was again scraped off with the razor blade.

Having used both spray paint and now playing around with this method of japanning, here are my conclusions.

What I like about japanning:
The end result seems to match up a bit better to the original Stanley finish.
The whole process can be done inside.
It fills the iron castings very well.
The japanning mixture goes a LONG way. I have now done the equivalent of six planes (four complete, with two done twice) and have probably used about 20% of the liquid asphaltum. Considering the size of the planes done (#5 & 6 each once, 5 & 8 twice) a single pint of the asphaltum should easily do two to three dozen plane bodies.

Considerations before japanning (not necessarily negatives, but things you would want to think about):
The japanning finish is best done in a dust free environment.
The whole process will take several days to complete. The individual steps do not take that long (I was able to scuff, wipe and apply a coat of japanning on three planes in less than 20 minutes total), but you have the time to allow the finish to dry, then bake, then cool before doing the next layer.
Must have the ability to bake the finish without being kicked out of the house.
Requires the purchase of some materials that probably won’t be useful for much else.

I think there are times/circumstances when both spray paint and japanning are appropriate. If you are the type that just want to get the tool protected from rust and move on to using it or you are just doing a couple of items, then spray paint is probably more for you. For me, I actually enjoyed the whole process, so am inclined to continue with japanning. I’ll probably play around with some aspects of japanning (such as using BLO instead of varnish) just for the fun of it. If anything interesting comes up, I can add another post, but otherwise, this blog series is a wrap.

Thanks to those of you who followed and encouraged during this blog. Special thanks to Don and Mads for providing links with lots of great information. If anyone does attempt this process, please let me know how it goes and if you learn something I missed.

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

15 comments so far

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 4453 days

#1 posted 10-28-2012 08:01 PM

Jay it has been a pleasure to follow you on this path :-)

one thing more to have in mind is that the solvent you use is degreasers
speciel Xylol is to the haevy side becourse it also dry out your skin and the eyes if you get
any in them …. beside you say you use an acid of an art

eye protection is deffently a thing you want to wear booth under mixing and applying the mix
platic/rubber gloves of some kind has to me considered too

after all we want to enjoy how our jewlry´s look with the hard work we have done … :-)

take care

View Don W's profile

Don W

20287 posts in 3905 days

#2 posted 10-28-2012 09:25 PM

JayT, this is probably one of the best blogs I’ve read. It makes it next to impossible for me not to try this now.

I have a couple of questions. What are the reasons you think you’d get kicked out of the house baking it? I know I’ve refinished a couple of rifles with baked on finishes, and I waited for the wife to go away, but for no real reason other than it was easier to not answer the questions. That finish had no real smell or adverse affects. Does the japanning have a bad smell, and anything else we need to know about?

How about touch ups. Do you think the plane needs to be stripped? What would happen adding a coat to a 80% japanning to get it back?

Once again, great series.

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

View lysdexic's profile


5349 posts in 3961 days

#3 posted 10-28-2012 10:21 PM

Good questions Don.

Thanks JayT for sharing this.

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

View JayT's profile


6448 posts in 3549 days

#4 posted 10-29-2012 01:28 AM

Don, there was a slight odor and visible fumes when baking on the grill outside. I imagine the odor would be a bit stronger in a confined space, but nothing very bad. If the wife is understanding (or you bake while she is away) you could use the kitchen. I didn’t want to fight that battle.

I do think that you could do touch ups. The biggest issue would be getting the new japanning to match the old well enough, especially the sheen. I actually did touch up one of the frogs. It had about 80% original japanning, so I didn’t strip it originally. Once the plane was reassembled, the difference in sheen was just enough to bug me.

One coat of japanning was laid down over the bare areas, then, after baking, the whole thing was sanded with 220 to even the finish out and a second coat was put on the whole frog. This allowed me to not strip down to bare metal, but also have a uniform finish. It turned out pretty decent. I don’t have a plane body with 60-80% original japanning to try it out, but I think it would work, as well.

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

View JayT's profile


6448 posts in 3549 days

#5 posted 10-29-2012 01:39 AM

Dennis, good points. I didn’t wear gloves, but it is certainly a good idea.

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

View Klickitat's profile


51 posts in 3208 days

#6 posted 08-28-2014 01:59 PM

I know that I am late to the party here, but what a great read.

Thank you for taking the time to do this. It was very informative and one of the best things I have read in a while.

View hhhopks's profile


663 posts in 3715 days

#7 posted 03-14-2015 01:43 AM

Thanks for sharing.
I enjoyed very much. I definitely want to try it.

-- I'll be a woodworker when I grow up. HHHOPKS

View jev67's profile


1 post in 2401 days

#8 posted 06-28-2015 06:58 PM

i found the best way to apply, and i picked this up from some real pros in this stuff, is to apply a second coat while the first coat is still a bit wet, this prevents having 2 distinct and separate coats, it melds the 2 coats together as one. and after baking at 250-300 F it gives a good thick factory like finish….i use my gas oven at my house, no smell or toxic fumes noticed either….i say 250-300 because any temp in this rage will work. 250 results were the same as 300. but for some reason, just as a personal preference, i use 280 F. i use a slightly different method(turpentine and linseed oil w/powdered asphaltum) but at (where i get cheap powder) they have a pint of liquid asphaltum for 10 bucks and the quart for not much more, and i been dying to try it. you could bypass the dissolving powder in turpentine step… actually i think it could be the key to perfect duplication…Because it dries so slowly, linseed oil is the perfect vehicle for natural and synthetic pigments and the product that it creates has been a hit with artists and printers quite literally for centuries, even ancient greeks used it.

View daddywoofdawg's profile


1029 posts in 2913 days

#9 posted 09-25-2015 04:43 AM

I trying to follow,where does the varish come in,and where does the Blo come in to replace.

View JayT's profile


6448 posts in 3549 days

#10 posted 09-25-2015 12:49 PM

dwd, varnish is mixed with the liquid asphaltum to get the final japanning mixture. The asphaltum by itself is too thick to do a good job. There’s more info in the second installment of the blog series.

I’ve read, but not yet tested, that BLO can be used instead of the varnish.

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

View AndyMcKenzie's profile


22 posts in 3732 days

#11 posted 05-27-2016 01:36 AM

Jay, I know this is an ancient thread (nearly a year… that makes this nearly prehistoric by internet standards!), but I just ran across it and wanted to thank you.

I’ve been working on cleaning up a Miller’s Falls plane I picked up somewhere, and the body is probably down to about 1% Japanning behind the frog, and about 95% in front of it. I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to do yet, but this looks like a pretty good option!

-- More of my rantings:

View Evo160K's profile


2 posts in 1881 days

#12 posted 11-29-2016 10:50 PM

Jay, your outstanding series on Japanning has motivated our people to try to recreate the original japan finish on an industrial, Singer sewing machine we are restoring, hopefully to museum quality.

We are wondering if you would mind commenting on an issue we encountered while testing the material?

We started with Graphic brand Liquid Asphaltum (50% by volume Mineral Spirits – Xylol and 50% by volume Gilsonite/Asphalt). We thinned it with Klean-strip brand Pure Gum Spirits Turpentine and added 10%-12% Klean-strip Boiled Linseed Oil. We used a natural bristle brush to coat a test piece of cast iron that had been cleaned with turpentine, then let the coating dry for 24 hours. We heated it for two hours at 250 degrees F., two hours at 325 degrees F., two hours at 395 degrees F. and let it cool to room temperature in the oven. The piece had a high gloss, several pinpoint size air bubbles and easily scratched with a fingernail. Because it was soft, our first thought was the piece needed to be baked to a higher temperature. We moistened 220 gr. emery paper with turpentine and began sanding the piece. To our surprise, the coating easily wiped off down to bare metal, more or less confirming, at least to us, the need for a higher baking temperature.

We then applied a second coat, let it dry for 24 hours, baked it for two hours at 250, two hours at 350, two hours at 425, and let it cool to room temperature in the oven. It again had a few air bubble, but it was much harder and did not scratch with a finger nail. We thought we were on the right track.

Now here’s the issue: we again wet the emery paper, but this time with denatured alcohol, and lightly sanded the piece to remove the air bubbles in preparation for the final coat…....again the coating easily wiped off…....down to bare metal.

Do you know what we’re doing wrong?

Thank you, thank you very much for your time.

View JayT's profile


6448 posts in 3549 days

#13 posted 11-29-2016 11:33 PM


I never experienced anything like that. Every time I’ve done the japanning, it has firmly adhered to the cast iron. Even four years later, the planes shown above have no chips or other wear, the japanning has held up perfectly. It sounds like the only thing you are doing differently is using BLO instead of varnish and baking to higher temps. I have not tried adding BLO, but have a hard time believing that is what is causing your issue.

Troubleshooting to me says that either the metal is not getting clean enough, the finish is going on too thick or it’s something in the baking process. Without being in the room, all I can do is guess, so please don’t feel offended by any suggestions.

First is easy to double check. Clean thoroughly, maybe even resorting to something more aggressive, like brake cleaner.

The second is also easy, thin coats, but making sure the mixture is not so thin as to run off the metal, it still needs to cling well.

The baking, however, has a lot of variables. I’ve not personally tried the progressive temps, it’s just something found in the research, so don’t know how much that is contributing to the problem. I suppose it’s theoretically possible that overbaking is causing the japanning to contract a bit as it dries and pull away from the cast iron, or the cast iron is cooling too fast and contracting away from a “shell” of the finish. Have you tried baking for just three hours or so at 250-300 degrees? You mentioned your first attempt seemed soft, but keep in mind that even with baking, the finish will continue to cure for quite a while until achieving full hardness. I’d rather have it a bit soft and allow to contract with the cooling iron and then curing some more than to have it too hard, too fast.

That’s the only thoughts I’ve got. If you really want a superior quality finish without the frustrations, it might be worth investing in a quart of the Pontypool japanning I linked in the first blog post, which does not need baked. As a matter of fact, they stress to not do so.

Best of luck.

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

View Evo160K's profile


2 posts in 1881 days

#14 posted 12-03-2016 07:37 AM

returning topic

Jay, thank you for your thoughts on the issue. Oddly, it may have resolved itself!!

So we stripped the test piece again, wire wheeled it, cleaned it thoroughly with turpentine and japanned it a third time with three coats, drying each coat overnight, as we did the previous two times. We baked each coat for two hours at each of 250, 350 and 425 F. and took it out of the oven on Nov. 30, for the final time. On Dec. 2nd, without having done anything further to the test piece, we decided to wipe it with a turpentine saturated rag as a test, (no emery paper this time), to see what would happen; we were thinking the turp was going to remove the coating as before.. To our great surprise and delight, it didn’t phase the coating. The coating didn’t scratch with a fingernail and looks authentic….everything seems to be fine.

Perhaps the piece was a bit too warm the previous two times we wiped it down, or maybe the emery was too aggressive for the temperature. Whatever, we hope the issue is behind us. Do you have any thoughts? Thanks Jay.

View Manitario's profile


2818 posts in 4221 days

#15 posted 12-15-2018 08:12 AM

This series is pure LJ’s gold. One of the many reasons why I’ve stayed on this site.

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

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