Kintsugi: The Wabi-Sabi Approach to Pottery Restoration

The Japanese art of Kintsugi repairs broken pottery with gold, to highlight its beauty and imperfections – a philosophy that shines as a metaphor for life.

Creativity 10 min read Jan 10, 2023
Kintsugi: The Wabi-Sabi Approach to Pottery Restoration

Have you ever broken something too precious to throw out – maybe a vase, a dish, or other piece of ceramic pottery? If so, Kintsugi is the right skill for you to try this year.

Discover Kintsugi and find out how you can transform what would have been discarded into something of new worth and value.

What is Kintsugi?

Kintsugi, which means “golden joinery” in Japanese, is the Japanese traditional art of repairing broken pottery with gold, silver, or copper.

Kintsugi is rooted in wabi-sabi, a philosophy that seeks beauty in imperfection, impermanence, and humble materials. Like most traditional Japanese crafts, it was developed as a response to natural disasters like earthquakes and fires that would regularly strike Japan.

The Kintsugi process involves using lacquer and powdered gold to fill cracks in broken pottery and then joining the pieces back together with resin. The result is a beautiful statement piece that highlights the cracks, as it is displayed either indoors or out.

Kintsugi Is More than Just a Repair Method

Japanese culture is rooted in the idea that beauty can be found in imperfection and impermanence. Indeed, by highlighting the cracks, Kintsugi makes the history of a broken piece of pottery visible and celebrates its flaws, regardless of whether it was made yesterday or centuries ago. The cracks are part of the design.

In that sense, Kintsugi is also a philosophy that acknowledges that every object has its own history and beauty, even if it’s been damaged by time or natural disasters. It teaches us to accept the impermanence of all things and embrace the imperfection that makes our world beautiful.

What are the Materials and Tools Used for Kintsugi?

The Kintsugi process requires only a few simple materials. Gold lacquer, which comes in powder form, can be bought at most craft stores or online. You’ll also need some kind of adhesive like Urushi lacquer and some kind of dusting material to remove the excess gold when it is applied. Some makers like to use resin or epoxy to fill in cracks.

You also need to have brushes with fine bristles, small metal spatulas, and tweezers. It helps to have your own magnifying glass as well, to see more clearly when applying the gold lacquer.

How to Repair Damaged Pottery with Kintsugi

First, examine your pottery for damage. If it’s cracked or completely broken, you’ll need to carefully remove all the pieces by hand or with an awl or similar device.

Be sure to clean and dry the damaged item you want to repair. Remove any dirt from the cracks and surrounding area using a soft cloth. This is really important because it will prevent any dirt or dust from getting into your lacquer later.

Next, use a small amount of lacquer to fill in the cracks or holes in your pottery. You can use a brush or your finger to apply the lacquer, just make sure it’s thick enough to fill in the cracks but not so thick that it will drip out of them. Let this dry completely before moving on to the next step.

After it’s dry, use a fine-tipped paint brush to apply gold powder over the surface of your pottery. This is done in layers, letting each one dry before adding another one on top of it.

Once your item is dry, use a fine grade sandpaper or steel wool to smooth down any rough spots and make sure there aren’t any air bubbles trapped underneath your lacquer layer. So don’t worry if you mess up; you can always sand off any mistakes and start over again!

Everyday Uses of Kintsugi at Home

Kintsugi can be used for a lot of different things around the house, from broken ceramics and glassware to wooden furniture and other household items.

Use gold to repair ceramics and glassware

A broken dish or vase repaired with gold lacquer may be the most common depiction of Kintsugi in popular culture, and you can easily do it at home. For example, you can use Kintsugi to repair a teacup or other glassware that has been damaged in the dishwasher.

Just be sure to clean and dry the item first, then use your brush to apply thin layers of gold lacquer on top of each other until you have completely covered all of the cracks. The gold lacquer will harden and become more durable than the original material, making it much less likely to break again.

Apply silver or tin foil for less expensive Kintsugi

This version of the Kintsugi technique is useful for fixing cracked porcelain, bone china, glass, or even wood. You can use silver or tin foil tape to cover up the cracks instead of gold lacquer, and the foil will blend in with the rest of the object so well that even close-up inspections aren’t likely to reveal it.

The tape is easy to find at any hardware store, and it’s usually fairly cheap. The downside is that the silver or tin will wear off over time, so make sure that you have a plan for replacing it if your piece breaks again.

Achieve a more natural result with mica

Mica is a type of mineral that’s often used in cosmetics because it gives off a sparkling effect almost like glitter does, but with a more subdued effect. If you want something that looks less like gold lacquer and more like real gold, then this is probably the best option for you.

Mica, also used in making pottery, comes in a variety of colors and blends in with the rest of the object. Because mica and burnished metal are both softer than gold, they won’t stand out as much on the crack. They give off a more natural-looking shine than gold lacquer does, which can be a good thing if you want to keep the look of your object relatively close to its original form.

Try the Kintsugi technique in jewellery making

Kintsugi works great in jewellery design, especially if you want to highlight some of the flaws in your work. For example, if you’re making a bracelet with a few missing links or beads, then using Kintsugi will make those flaws less obvious while also giving them more depth. Or you can accentuate it by adding gold lacquer around the damage, similar to how a painter might use white highlights on dark backgrounds.

You can also use Kintsugi to add a unique look to your jewellery. For example, if you want to make some earrings that are more ornate than the average studs or hoops, then try attaching two different pieces of metal together with a crack in between them. This will give the impression that one part is floating above another and adding a unique aspect to your design.

Kintsugi is an age-old technique that will make your broken items beautiful again. But you’ll also discover that it is a fun and satisfying art form that won’t break the bank. Try your hand at Kintsugi today!

Use Kintsugi to restore everyday broken pottery!
Modern Kintsugi with Daisy Cooper
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Modern Kintsugi with Daisy Cooper

Craft of Modern Kintsugi to repair your ceramics