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.
-- Pay heed all who enter: Beware of "the Phog" Rock Chalk, Jayhawk