Urushi - The ancient japanese Laquer

Urushi - The origins


Urushi is the japanese word for the sap of the Laquer-Tree " Rhus Verniciflua Stokes".


Since more then 3000 years this natural organic laquer is used to craft and decorate items of art as well as items of daily use in whole chino-asian area.


Over thousands of years especially japanese craftsman brought this artform to its fullest potential and developt thousands of techniques and methods of Laquer-Work, most of which are very delicate and time-consuming and are executed today, almost the same way since the where invented.





After 5 years of working with Urushi I am still fascinated about the varietys and possibilitys this material offers.


LUNA-Handpans are the worldwide first and for now only ones who have Urushi applied, and often people are concerned about using laquer on a istrument like the handpan.


But unlike synthetic laquers which are not suitable for the coating of Handpans, as they dampen the sound, Urushi has very destinct and different properties. Theese properties manifest themselfs mainly in the overtones, and allow for the fine and long sustain of  LUNA-Handpans:


- The hardness. Urushi if proper hardenend, reaches a 5.5 on Mohs scale, which is nearly glass. Thats about 600 kp/mm2 on vickers scale,

   and thus harder then nitridated steel with a vickers-hardness of around 400 kp/mm2 !


- While harden out to such a extent, Urushi remains durable-flexible, which is of most importance for the Handpan and Sound.

   The average elastic-modulus of Urushi ranges between 1000 and 2000 MPs with a tensile Strength of around 40MPs.

   This combined with and Elongation before break of about 5.8% does not only make it suitable for coating a handpan, but also enables  

   tuning after the laquer has been applied, so retuning is not a problem.


- Urushi is extremly chemical resistant. It is totaly resistent against water, alcohol as well as acids ( like handsweat ! ) and bases, thus

   giving ideal protection for the instrument.


- Beside thoose scientific properties the beauty in optics and haptics are not to tell. They have to be experienced.

   With Urushi you are not touching a metal surface while playing your LUNA, but a organic one.





Still today Urushi is harvested from the trees by hand. The profession of laquer-harvesting ( Urushi - Kaki ) is one on its own in japan. During one working day, a Kakiko ( "scratcher" harvester ) can harvest around 2 Liters of Laquer from 150 trees - which makes an average of less then 15ml per tree. The working time for such is 15hours per day.


That combined with the long refining process, ( kurome & nayashi ) in which the water-concentration of 30% is reduced to 3% and the different Laquer - Substances are homogenized after filtering, is the main reason for the high price of laquer.


The price of high quality japanese Urushi has a wide range as there are lots of different types, but it lies between Gold and Silver, in price per Gramm, which makes it a very precious material to work with.





Urushi is applied by hand, with very special and fine brushes ( traditional japanese brushes, made of finest japanese woman hair) in lots of delicate fine layers, each of one to hardening completely through.


Even today it cant be applicated in other ways, and all attempts to applicate it in more modern ways, for example with air-pistols or other tools, as well as speeding up the complicated hardening process, ( which is not a merely drying process, but encymatic hardening )  completely failed.


There are also different additions used for the application, which are also 100% natural and of high quality, like organic balsamic pine terpentine, and orange-oil as well as camelia-oil. Thoose are used to dilliute, polish and cleaning of Brushes.


While japanese masters often apply between 30 and 100 layers of Laquer in very decorative styles, for example Maki-E ( Gold-Picture )

where goldpowder is sprinkled onto the still wet laquer to create picture like decorations, or carving techniques, etc.

thoose techniques are not suitable for the handpan, because of the thickness of the laquer,

as well as very high time-consumption ( we are talking about years for one objekt here... )


Because of thoose reasons, I focus on basic-laquering techniques which represent a smooth, calm surface to where the sound can emerge from.