Creating small toys and spinning tops in bright shiny colors, the lacquer ware craft of India is based on the unique raw material derived from the secretions of the Lac insect. Available vernacularly in the surrounding forests, it is mixed with dye and wax to give the products a rich glossy finish.

Raw Materials

Lac : Crimson red, plant eating, tiny insects such as Laccifer Lacca, Carteria Lacca and Tachardia Lacca colonize the branches of selected species of host trees and secrete a natural scarlet resin known as Lac. Later the different layers of resin residue on the coated branches of the host trees are scraped off as long sticks known as 'Stick Lac', crushed, sieved and washed several times to remove impurities till it shows up in natural red color. 
The highest quality Lac is referred to as 'Button Lac' as it is in the button form. It is light and golden colored and can cost up to Rs 400/kg. The second is a medium brown color and sells for Rs 350/kg. The third, poorest quality Lac is dark black and sells for Rs 250/kg.
Wood :  Sourced from the surrounding forests. Sagwan/Teak was used earlier but since the availability dwindled, the craftsmen shifted to locally available 'Dudhi' wood, which is much softer. Others are Bija, Gamir, Sarai and Kadamb.
Keware ka patta: These are leaves of Talegari or Screw pine which are used for polishing.
Natural dyes: These are used to impart color to artifacts, Sheopur Laquer ware is known for its striking colors.
Artificial colors or acrylic paints: Due to easy availability of artificial color imparting substances, craftsmen also use them at times. They can be procured from the local market easily.
Chapdi/Wax: The wax procured from Rajasthan and Balrampur is called Chapdi, this wax is utilized for better finish.
Chandrak :  It is the local varnishing agent which enhances the sheen of artifacts. 
Kewda oil : Locally procured oil is used for better fragrance and finish in the final product.

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Waste

The craftsmen rarely let anything go waste during the process; the wooden ships resulting from turning are either used as fuel or traded as fillers. 

Tools & Technology

'Patris' is the local name for Lathe machines. The hand lathes consist of a stone and wood piece, which acts as the object holder and a bow string attachment for rotation. This is the traditional method, which the older craftsmen find easier to operate than the powered modern lathe machines. The power lathe has a head stock that consists of a revolving axle attached to two belt pulleys. The belt runs over a pulley mounted on a revolving shaft that is driven by an electric motor. These are useful for mass production. Matna, Barma, Aari, Naria, Thikra are local tools which are used for basic operations. 

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Rituals

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Process

Preparing the Lac: The women make the Lac sticks while the men prepare the wood. Raw Lac is bought and put in boiling water for melting. It is usually light brown in color.  After melting, it becomes sticky and elastic and is handled using long wooden sticks. When it becomes soft after cooling for a bit, it is put on the ground and is battered till it turns thick and solid. This takes around 15-20 minutes. This is then converted into usable sticks by cutting. The Lac with no extra color pigment gives natural color to the wood. If colored pieces of Lac are required, then pigments like oxides of iron, zinc and magnesium are added while the Lac is being battered. 

Preparing the wood: The logs are cut and seasoned by storing them away from sunlight and heat, with good air circulation. The amount of time for which they are seasoned depends on the moisture content of the wood. After seasoning, the superfluous wood is removed and edges are chiseled out till the piece becomes cylindrical in shape.

Shaping the wood: The cylindrical pieces are then kept on the lathe machine and shaped using the various cutting tools to make desired grooves and shapes. When the desired shape is attained, the pieces are smoothened using sand paper. 

Coloring & Painting: 

Lacquering: The piece is turned on lathe and the Lac sticks of desired colors are held against it. The friction heats up the sticks and melts the color over the wooden piece. After this step, a final buffing is done using Kewra leaves which lend a translucency to the product. The piece is then cut and removed from the lathe and more ornamentation is done, if required. 

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