Friday, 31 May 2013

DIY Vintage Machine Japanning

The 1891 Singer, I decided, needed a lick of paint, particularly since the decals were almost gone.
What I discovered was that the stuff that's on there is not actually paint at all, but Japan, named from the country that made it famous. It's very much like enamel, but is made from shellac and lamp black. The latter is, I believe, just fine charcoal and the acceptable substitute is asphaltum. Asphaltum is available today, lamp black not as much. When the sewing machines were painted with this, they were (as with enamel) placed into an oven overnight, and this process repeated twice more. Is it any wonder sewing machines cost so much?
Anyway, I decided that instead of replacing the Japan with enamel, I'd have a go at the original finish. To this end, I decided to try an experiment: Japan made from a 1920s record. Assuming this will fail, I've ordered and received shellac flakes and asphaltum (from Jackson's art supplies in Perth). See Woodworking forum for the basis of my research.
The record was from the tip shop. When I told him what it was for he only charged 50 cents. Bargain! It takes almost a whole week to dissolve a record, so last weekend I smashed it all up and placed it in an ice cream container, like so:
Pretty stupid to put it in this for two reasons:
1. What if metho also dissolves vinyl?
2. I'm supposed to shake it each day!
So, after covering it with cling film for a day or two and stirring very carefully, I transferred it into a clean, empty, dry morello cherry jar. Shook it at least once a day and now, six days later, it's very thick, smells like tar and about as painty as it's going to get.
Stripping the VS2
I stripped the "bright work" off, and the sewing machine looked like this:
Applied some paint stripper, waited 15 minutes and washed it off. The tin suggested applying it 2-3mm thick but I didn't want it to eat my precious old lady, so it went on thin:

Painted with stripper
After hosing
Still a lot of old Japan there, but the stripper meant it was thinner and easier to remove (although by no means easy). I used a scraper, wire drill attachment (essentially useless for removal but good for removing the newly formed rust) and sandpaper (don't use a machine on the curved surfaces or they won't be for long).
Eventually it all came off:
This is also after cleaning with metho which got a lot more black stuff off. I kept wiping with clean cloth and metho until there was no more black stuff. Sent a photo to a friend who said it looks raw and industrial. Yes, it does now, but if I didn't coat her with something, she'd be orange by the day's end.
Also mentioned to my friend that I never thought I'd get excited by a naked old lady (122 years old, in fact). Another thought was a guilty one: This is porn to a sewing machine collector.
OK, enough humour. You'll probably notice I've removed a lot more stuff as I've gone along: It became obvious that if I have to bake this in the oven (or hooded barbecue - apparently the tar smell gets much worse once it gets hot and I do love my oven) I don't want anything to go with it if not necessary, so I took a lot more things off. It'll possibly be difficult to get them back on, since they include the shuttle race and work clamp, but I know I can do it.
First coat and she looks like this:
I was very disappointed that it's so dull, but I had a look at the discussion pages again, and someone mentioned that it's dull and rough until it goes into the oven, so I'll wait until after firing to decide on its success. I will leave it to dry overnight then rub it with emery paper before giving it another coat. I will also add some boiled linseed oil to the mixture, as this was also mentioned to stop the Japan from becoming brittle. The linseed oil will add to the smell, too, so the BBQ's the prime contender for firing at this stage.
And that's as far as I've got. Will update when there's something else to report.
EDIT: Something else to report. I added boiled linseed oil, then gave it all a second coat:

Yes it's looking rough, but as I mentioned I'm not expecting great things (like it even working) and the finish goes smooth once it's in the oven (BBQ).
I also found that it's so thick that it covers the oil holes (notice they're all gone). Will have to take to it with a small drill bit and carefully (by hand) scoop off the 'Japan'.
Will give it today to dry (it's cold and extremely wet in Melbourne right now), or until it's slightly tacky to the touch.

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