Watch how hard it is to make a traditional Korean inlaid lacquer box

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There’s no way I would have the patience to lacquer-polish-lacquer-polish etc. What a meditative craft this must be.


As it should be. It seems rather sacred to me.

Side note: I’m thinking how someone could post this to many various social media platforms like imgur, and you’d get a slew of “nice, but not that nice” comments.

Received one of these as a wedding gift - very cool to see how they are made and it gives me a whole new appreciation for it.


…A box like this takes twelve months to complete.

Love the dude’s little smile at the end :slight_smile:


Exactly my thought! His smile was as sweet and pure as that of a child yet with all the depth of someone very wise. Few people earn such a smile…as deep and layered as the lacquer he applied.


If it’s real lacquer, it’s a scale bug doing that harvesting. :wink:

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Right on the video comments:

… am I the only one not impressed. its just a box and I am sure a machine could make it in an hour



Available in the BoingBoing store?


He’s not using shellac, but rather “true lacquer”, the urushiol-based lacquer derived from the toxic sap of the Chinese lacquer tree. So no bugs required!

Lacquer from the lac insect is definitely true lacquer, since that’s the source of the name of the substance. Etymologically the English word lacquer is ultimately derived from Sanskrit lākshā (लाक्षा), which was used for both the Lac insect and the resinous secretions it produces. (Literally, laksha means ten myriads).

But anyway, thank you for the link, I didn’t know anything about urushiol lacquer and spent nearly an hour down the wikipedia hole! I even learned new things about the Rainbow Body of Light, which was a very unexpected connection.

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I wonder if the economics of the situation skew that sort of precise repetition toward ‘meditative’ or ‘taylorized hell’.

One tends to presume the former when thinking about traditional crafts; but there is plenty of repetitive, precision, fine tolerance, work in the world that has less romantic associations; and all it takes is deadline pressure and tight QA demands to push something into the latter category.

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I don’t know if it’s economics. The lacquer box is a very specific craft that involves lots of artistic expression and solo dedication. I don’t think people would do it or develop skills to this level if they didn’t find it satisfying. Assembling iPhones requires a lot less dedication to craft and offers a lot less creative reward.

I don’t doubt that, in at least some cases, the person involved is very much in it for the artistic element. When I referred to ‘economics’ I was thinking of situations along the lines of the vibrant industry in incredibly low cost reproduction(and some original) paintings that sprung up in China. Oil painting is very much something one thinks of as an artistic activity that people go into for creative reasons; but one also suspects that an operation that can get a handpainted oil-on-canvas of my choice to me on relatively short notice for under $50 is probably a bit of a sweatshop operation.

In this case, while I hope they’ve avoided it; I could easily imagine sufficient demand for lacquer boxes(that don’t necessarily have to be unique, just come in enough variations that a given customer has their choice and doesn’t end up having to buy duplicates) and inability to command high prices based on existing fame as an artisan could easily lead to going from doing it for the artistic expression to toiling over as many units in parallel as you can endure(since each one takes so long; that would be the only way to make quota) with a bare minimum of variation; which would not be pleasant.

I don’t know one way or the other; which is why it was in the form of a question; but we have examples of both precision labor that doesn’t get ‘craft’ status and of artistic labor driven by demand into something as close to assembly line production as the nature of the medium allows; so it seemed like a definite possibility; especially for someone without the reputation and/or very high end skill to command relatively high prices for works of art; rather than piece rates for “handmade lacquer box”.

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