; Cwyn's Death By Tea: Chip, and How I Fixed Him But Good ;

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Chip, and How I Fixed Him But Good

Nothing distresses a die-hard tea addict more than losing a beloved teapot. It's like losing an old friend when a teapot injury is so severe that we have no choice but to toss it. A cracked Yixing is particularly sad, the years spent steeping tea flavors into that clay. My tea pot "Chip" is fragile from the get-go. I found him on Ebay with a repaired handle already, rather badly with some sort of brown resin that I thought was painted glue. Still, the brown repairs added character, and old Chip seemed to cry out from the computer "rescue me!" You've seen Chip before on a previous post of mine, the photo just above is how he looked before his latest mishap.

The Ebay seller had disclosed the repaired handle, but failed to mention the inside of the yellow clay pot had been painted black. I don't mean schmeared with paint to appear tea-stained, I mean painted a matte black. And the paint had a chemical smell. How can a seller fail to notice this? Now I can forgive an ordinary joe selling stuff who doesn't know a hill of beans about their items. But this seller is an antique dealer in Japan, selling a lot of nice stuff, with 5000+ feedbacks and 100% sterling reputation.

Now, I've sold a lot of USA-made vintage items on Ebay, usually 1950s-1970s-era stuff. Sometimes I refinish or repurpose items to spruce them up, but I always disclose what I've repainted or resurfaced. Most of the time buyers like a fresh, clean vintage item, but an unglazed clay teapot painted on the INSIDE is a disaster. Well, one doesn't usually paint glazed clay either, but recently that notion got blown when I saw an old 1930s Red Wing stoneware canister at a thrift shop that somebody had lovingly, and horribly, covered with white acrylic paint and embellished in a nightmare of poorly rendered daisies. So I guess sometimes nice vintage ware can be a project gone bad for aspiring artists, but really a good vintage dealer can spot condition issues immediately. You'll probably draw the same conclusions I did about the seller, but I'm fairly sure most of the seller's goods are on the up-and-up, they are mainly mid-century vintage and not terribly expensive. Probably stuff that sits in secondhand shops the way mid-century might sit over here.

I still wanted to rescue poor Chip, he's just one of those pots with mojo. Besides, I wasn't about to pay the shipping to send him back to Japan which would happen if I filed a Paypal dispute. So I just dinged the seller's feedbacks with a nice, fat red Negative, and a juicy comment on failure to disclose a painted interior of a vintage tea pot. Seller got rather upset, and refunded my money asking that I change the feedback. I wrote back that I hadn't asked for a refund, was willing to keep the pot, but the sale is not perfect when a vintage dealer makes a mistake like this, deliberately or not. I said that I sell a lot of vintage USA made items, such as Harley Davidson parts and vintage Levi's jackets to buyers in Japan, who would be very disappointed and upset, rightly so, were I to fail to disclose serious condition issues. And no, I didn't feel guilty about the neg, with over 5000 feedbacks she can afford the ding to her ratings. Buyer beware.

I knew Chip's handle would fall off in a matter of time, and I could do a much better repair. I managed to remove virtually all of the paint on the interior, you can perhaps get a glimpse at what's left. A good cleaning after grinding off the paint with a Dremel rendered the remaining paint stains inert to smell and taste. I've been using old Chip for green leaf teas like rolled green oolongs, he's not a puerh pot. He is not of that caliber clay, he is too soft and sensitive. The handle finally fell off last weekend and I could spend this past holiday week making repairs.

Poor Chip
First, I sand off the edges of the old glue as much as I can, until gaps show when I hold the handle against the pot. What I will be doing is rebuilding the gap with stronger material, essentially adding to the ends of the handle. Simply re-gluing a broken handle will not work, I must actually add material between the pot and the handle. This same logic applies to fixing rim chips on ceramics, I don't want to actually glue the old chip back on because it will never sit flush where it broke off. Instead I will create a new chip using bonded material.

1. Choose an epoxy compound.

For ceramic chip repair, I like to use a product called JB Weld, which is essentially an epoxy and hardener. My housemate uses products like JB Weld and Bond-o on car body repairs. Alas, as I get out my JB Weld tubes, I see that my housemate has used up most of the product on his past projects. But I have enough left to make my repairs. 

JB Weld Epoxy. Bond-o is another one to try.
Generally with epoxy/hardener products, we mix an equal part of each together. For ceramic repair, I prefer to use slightly more hardener than epoxy. The black epoxy you see here is a sticky, tarry substance, a bit too much of the black makes the compound runny, I want it more substantial like putty. So I'm using a tad bit more of the white than the black. 

The two products before mixing.
Mixing the two together with a toothpick gives a sticky gray.

2. Apply the bonded epoxy to the broken spots and layer a new gap.

I want to build a new gap, not just glue the spots.
I use the toothpick and then my finger to smooth the product as I go. This is an important step because the bonded epoxy will dry extremely hard, and I will need to sand the dried epoxy smooth. By spending the time now to get a smooth finish, I won't need to sand it so much after it dries to get it smooth. 

Epoxy is layered about 1 mm thick.
Luckily, JB Weld is very forgiving and dries slowly. I can scrape off what I don't like and start again. Also, for deeper repairs, I can layer the epoxy by letting a small amount dry for a day, and then apply more to build up the surface. Use a rag or paper towel moistened with a bit of water to help smooth the surface and remove any messes around the area.

3. Allow epoxy to dry for at least 24 hours before applying more or sanding.

Using my Liu Bao "candy" dish to hold my pot so the handle is helped by gravity to stay in place. 

Letting gravity help keep the handle in place.
The following day, I'm fairly happy with the results, but notice a little bump of epoxy along the top handle joint. I don't want to spend forever sanding that out, so I'll apply a little more JB Weld to smooth over that spot. I also apply thin stripes of epoxy along the handle on the top and bottom. This is to counter the new stress points created on the handle from the repairs. The pot is stronger where the original breaks are, but more stress will then be displaced to the handle around the stress points. With soft clay like this, I don't expect the handle to last forever, but I can delay it a bit by adding material to the rest of the handle.

Additional epoxy means another day to dry before sanding. My house is very arid right now, we have cold and snowy weather. Not great for unprotected puerh cakes, but perfect for my teapot project.

4. Sand the epoxy areas with fine grit sandpaper until smooth.

This epoxy sands easily to a smooth finish with 200 or greater grit paper.
The more time spent smoothing wet epoxy, the less time spent sanding.
I can tell when my sanding is done by running my finger along the repairs, I don't want to feel a seam where the handle is joined to the pot. This is mainly aesthetic. When I repair chipped pottery, I don't want to see where the chip was. If the seams are gone then I won't be able to tell where I did the repair.

5. Choose acrylic paint colors to replicate the color of the glaze (or clay).

Chip isn't a glazed pot, and for myself I wouldn't bother to hide the repair. But I can show how to match paint colors in case you want to know how to hide a repair. This is key for repairing chipped ceramics, how well you can match up the paint. Two principles apply:

All clay and glaze colors are based in nature.

Nature has a limited palate of pigments which form nearly every hue that we see in nature. We call these "pure" hues. Fired clay pots and glazes all utilize pure hues and mineral pigments.

Choose paints that contain only pure hues or mineral pigments.

You can create every color in nature's color wheel with 6 paints, IF those paints are pure hues. When mixing paint to replicate nature, such as nature's clay or glazes, do not try and purchase a paint close to the color of the project. We don't know what is in that paint tube, whether any chemicals created the hues in the tube. We cannot mix paint with chemical colors and accurately predict the resulting tone without knowing what minerals or chemicals are in the paint. Pure hues are predictable and easy to control. 
 Studio Basics Acrylic, or "Artist Grade"
If interested, you can purchase pure hues as a boxed set. These sets are used by art students in color theory class. If you are a painter, you can buy 8 tubes of paint and that's all you'll ever need. Unless you want to buy neon pink, which is a chemical color, not a natural color. Never buy pre-mixed paint except for your house maybe.

You can distinguish an amateur painting by an overuse of white or black mixed into the colors. An experienced painter will create a correct lighter green by adding cadmium yellow, not white. This is the trick to art faking. The Impressionists taught us how light penetrates color, and is made matte or flat by adding white or black, reducing the vibrancy of sunlight through color. In China and Japan, scroll painters skillfully utilize white parchment or rice paper, creating washes of color so that the white shows through in the light, rather than adding white to the paint. The result is multi-dimensional and ethereal. Porcelain painters allow the white clay to show through the color washes, creating a delicate and refined result.

So, you can mix any hue you want from this basic paint set. I can complete my project with this set of paints if I want. But my project is unglazed yellow clay, not a ceramic stoneware which is painted and then glazed. I can use mineral paints which are natural earths to match my unglazed clay.

All fired or unfired clays and glazes are made from mineral earths.

We can purchase paint made from the same minerals as clay and glaze. You can recognize these by mineral names on the tubes. They should be called something like Raw Umber, or Burnt or Raw Sienna, cobalt or cadmium. Make sure a natural mineral is the name of the color.
Mineral-based acrylic paints are more expensive.
Here are the colors I selected, you can see that Chip fits into this color palette.

Use pure hues to mix the colors you need or find real mineral pigments.
For more brown pots, adding a cadmium red to my palette could correct these colors toward a more reddish hue. You can see the Sienna has a yellow undertone which is tricky, but Raw Umber brings Sienna closer to Chip's base color. You can see from the photo I am using water with the paint to layer light washes. The best color is the one that seems to disappear into your project. However, I must also correct a little of the old resin glue which is dark brown, to blend that in, and I don't want the paint to look flat, so I use the other colors in the palette to add more natural variation. 

Mix water in to create and layer light washes of color.
And there we have it. If you want to repair a glazed stoneware item, after the paint you can brush a little bit of clear lacquer over the spot to replicate the glaze. I use basic clear nail polish for that. This will also protect your paint work from moisture. I won't do that here but I also won't be pouring tea water over the pot any longer. I can use the interior as usual, but I won't want to slop the pot with water on the outside due to the repair. 

Chip still has his lid chips.
Chip won't last forever, but I get to keep him around for awhile yet. With any luck he'll outlive me.

Requiescat in Pace


  1. Very nicely done, apparently Chip chose his new home quite well. Yes I know, you believe that you chose him and you can continue to believe that if you like.But you know, the pot doesn't just choose the tea :D

    Seriously now, well done, both the repair and the article. I got a Banko-Kyusu whose lid I dropped some years ago, it broke in two clean pieces. Still isn't repaired because I don't trust the epoxy with a piece that will see so frequent exposure to hot water, both as far as leaking substances is considered as well as falling apart in general. But since you know you way around these things, how would you fix it?

    Best, Michael

    1. An epoxy fix is like the difference between a water resistant watch and a waterproof watch. Epoxy and the paint will resist a little water but they are not waterproof. For a broken handle or exterior rim chip, this type of repair is fine. But I would not want to use a pot that has an interior crack repair. Having said that, a beloved piece is always worth fixing as a decorative collectible. I use small kyusu and gaiwans to rest tea samples. The tea is out of the open air, protected from dust etc, but in a clean vessel until ready to drink. If you decide to go for it, let me know how it goes.

    2. Thank you, thats an interesting proposition. Thats how my Gaiwans ended up which I rarely use anymore :)

      Actually, I'm tea nerdy enough to have some backup tea stuff stored at my parent's house so I can drink tea when I visit them for a week or two. There, the Kyusu serves green tea with a makeshift glass lid from anther pot - it does the trick, but of course it would be better to have it complete with its own lid.

      Well, as we say here: "Kommt Zeit, kommt Rat" - things are gonna sort themselves out, sooner or later the solution will come my way. I'll keep you posted :)

      Take care and best wishes,


  2. Inspired me to fix the broken lid of my favourite Jian Shui teapot. Sadly no longer usable as the resin is only water and heat 'resistant' but at least it looks good again.

  3. Very cute pot, looks Japanese in origin actually