Can I repair my bowl which was broken into 21 pieces?

Hi everyone!

It is now summer in Japan and it is actually the best season for kintsugi lovers.

Japanese summer is known for being very hot and very humid, which creates the perfect conditions for urushi lacquer to harden quickly. 🙂

Today I’m gonna talk about my experience repairing a bowl broken into 21 pieces. I hope my story will help other kintsugist who have started or are thinking to start a similar repair project.

A bowl broken into 21 pieces

The big red bowl my French friend kindly gave to me

As I was learning kintsugi with a Kintsugi master, I started looking everywhere for ceramics to repair so that I could practise my skills.

One day, I received a huge red bowl broken in many pieces from a French friend. His son had broken it by accident. The diameter of the bowl was 25 cm (9.84 inches).

My friend told me that he had bought this bowl for very cheap in France so it did not really have much value. However, he thought that it would be great to have me repair it and show the result to his son. He was convinced that it would be a really good surprise and a great way to introce eco-friendly initiatives to him.

I accepted to repair this bowl for my friend, for free. At the time, I had not idea that this repair project would take me over a year…

Kintsugi can encourage children to repair and reuse broken items instead of throwing them away

my friend’s son (and baby)

I heard that, when my friend’s son broke this large red bowl, he started crying very badly. He probabely thought that there was nothing to be done about the bowl and that it should be thrown away. I really wanted to do my best to repair the bowl and show to my friend’s son the magic of kintsugi. With kintsugi, broken items are not only repaired, they are turned into new pieces of art. I really liked imagining my friend’s reaction when he would see the repaired bowl. I was pretty sure that he had never seen real kintsugi so that was very exciting and I was determined to make his encounter with kintsugi as memorable as I could.

FAQ1: How many broken pieces can we repair with kintsugi?

I’m often asked what is the maximum number of broken pieces that can be put back together with kintsugi.

My answer is pretty straightforward: there is no limit !! As long as you have time and patience, you can put back together as many broken pieces as you like. \٩( ‘ω’ )و /

However, please note that, as the number of pieces increases, the level of the difficulty of the repair also rises. The reason behind this is that, when we put back several pieces together, there is always a risk of creating a gap between them. The most basic but important step of kintsugi is putting the pieces back together seamlessly, without gap between the different pieces.

FAQ2: Should we stick pieces one by one or all at once?

Another question I’m often asked is related to the technique used to put back the pieces together. My students often ask me if they should put back all the pieces together in one go of if they should proceed piece per piece and let each time urushi lacquer harden in between.

I would definitely recommend to do the latter.

The reason for this is that, if you stick all together, there is a higher risk for you to touch mugi-urushi (the natural adhesive which you make by mixing flour, water and raw urushi lacquer) and stain the surface of the item you are repairing. If your piece of ceramic is glazed, it is possible to scrape off the stains afterwards, but it is not possible for unglazed ceramics.

Repairing your items piece by piece allows you to focus on one breakage point and make sure that you do know make stains all over your item. Moreover, this approach also helps you to ensure that not to leave any gap or uneveness between the repaired pieces. If you try to put back together several pieces at the same time, the fragments are likely to shifts due to they weight. Masking tape is usually used to make sure that repaired pieces do not move until lacquer has hardened, but it may be complicated to secure several repaired cracks at the same time.

When I was repairing my friend’s big red bowl, it was actually quite a challenge to secure the repaired pieces with masking tape because they were very heavy. It would have been impossible to hold all the pieces in place and repair the bowl beautifully if I had put all the pieces back together in one go.

My advice is to repair an item broken in many pieces is to repair two pieces at a time with mugi-urushi, and then put back together all the other pieces with scotch tape until the urushi has completely hardened. Once urushi is dry, you can repair another crack and repeat this method until all the pieces have been put together. Please have a look at the two pictures hereunder.

It is also important to note that you should make sure to leave the item perpendicular to gravity in order to avoid any unwanted movements while the urushi hardens. Please use the photo hereunder as reference.

The reason is that air pressure goes up and then down because of gravity and its weight. It is especially important for long items. Please see a few examples below.

YouTube video shows how I repaired this bowl

I wish I had even more detailed footage of the time I spent repairing this large res bowl, but I hope you will nonetheless enjoy this video, and maybe learn a few things about kintsugi. 🙂

My YouTube channel has many kintsugi tutorial videos in English. Do not hesitate to have a look if you are looking to get started with kintsugi.

Here is a video of a kintsugi workshop I held especially for a Canadian friend living in Japan. 🙂

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