How to Lacquer a Plain Wooden Chair

The imitation of oriental lacquerwork has a long and rich tradition in the West. It is still popular today, and is used as a decorative technique for giving fur­niture a facelift. A number of highly colourful styles were used in the past, but the simplest for the ama­teur to imitate is gold-and-black lacquerwork. In this method, a design is applied in gold paint to a black background and the piece then given several coats of varnish to produce a very glossy finish.

The first examples of this type of lacquerwork reached Europe from Japan in the sixteenth century. The delicate gold brushwork and glossy backgrounds made a tremendous impact. Soon European crafts­men were producing similar goods in order to meet the huge demand. Its popularity was so great that, from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, ‘japanning’ and ‘japan work’ became the generic terms to describe the many kinds of European lacquerwork that were inspired by the Orient.

The appeal of black-and-gold lacquerwork is that you can make the decoration as simple or as elabo­rate as you like. A simple first project is to lacquer a plain wooden chair. First of all, paint it black, then add small details in gold, such as a few simple leafy bamboo stems – a popular oriental motif. Apply these to the back and front of the backrest and, to complete the transformation, cover the whole chair with several coats of gloss varnish. Ideally, the deco­rative brushwork should be applied freehand to give it the spontaneity of the earlier pieces.

If you are nervous about painting freehand, you can always practice on paper first, or trace suitable motifs onto the black ground (pencil tracings show up well enough on black eggshell]. Almost any piece can be decorated in this way – table tops, cupboard doors, boxes, trunks or chests of drawers – as well as smaller items such as wooden lamp bases, picture frames and trays.

You will need:

  • Wooden tray
  • Small tin of grey undercoat
  • Small tin of black eggshell paint
  • Paintbrush
  • Design or illustration, preferably oriental, to copy
  • Chinagraph pencil
  • Artist’s brush, no 1
  • Gold paint
  • Wire wool
  • Gloss varnish


  1. If you do not want to buy a new tray, paint an old tray black. First paint it with a grey undercoat. Allow 6 hours to dry and paint over with the black eggshell paint. Again, allow 6 hours to dry.
  2. Draw the design on the tray with a chinagraph pencil. You can either make up your own or copy one from a book or magazine. If you are feeling confident, you can attempt a whole scene such as the one in this example, or you could do something simple, such as a floral design.
  3. Carefully paint over the pencil drawing with gold paint, using artist’s brush no 1.
  4. Allow the gold paint to dry overnight. Once dry, rub over it gently with wire wool. This will produce an antique effect.
  5. Apply at least four coats of varnish. Allow each coat 3 to 4 hours to dry. In proper Japanese lacquerwork, up to twelve coats of varnish world be applied.

Filed Under: General How To's


About the Author: Bruno Silva is an entrepreneur from Portugal with over 15 years of experience in Online Marketing. He is also a blogger and writes on variety of topics from online marketing to designs, cars to loans, etc.

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