Myanmar Lacquer Ware

Myanmar Lacquer Ware Lackarbeiten & Tableware

This is perhaps the most distinctive and traditional of all Myanmar Burma handicrafts and the most widely produced and used. Lacquer ware was long a favorite of royalty for storing documents and precious jewelries. Common households employed lacquer ware for everyday use such as keeping betel nuts and leaves or as soup bowls.

Monks use a black lacquer ware bowl

known as thabeik when asking for alms. Lacquer ware – Lackarbeiten – from Myanmar Burma Birma was so highly treasured that Myanmar’s kings often presented lacquer objects as gifts to foreign emissaries. Little is known of how the making of lacquer ware – Lackarbeiten -started in Myanmar Burma Birma, although some believe that it may have been introduced from China’s Yunnan province. What is certain is that lacquer ware is a traditional Myanmar craft that dates as far back as the 13th century.Valued for its artistic beauty and practical qualities — it is light and watertight, for example — lacquer ware has many applications. One can find lacquer ware ash trays, bowls, water jars, vases, salvers for temple offerings, cups, jewellery boxes based on an ancient design that double as pillows, traditional betel boxes, plates, storage chests, tables and chairs.

Considering the time and work involved

it takes five to seven months to make even the smallest item lacquer ware is surprisingly inexpensive. Lacquer ware makes a wonderful memento of a visit to Myanmar. Lacquer ware manufacturing originally came to Myanmar from China. Actually to create lacquer ware is rather a cottage industry were lots of people, mainly young girls, making all kind of object. Either usable objects like lacquer furniture or decorative and art objects for the house.

lacquer plate
lacquer plate Lackarbeiten

Over the centuries, the designs, techniques and pattern creating lacquer ware have become distinctively Myanmar. To create lacquer ware handicrafts or other items is a booming cottage industry mainly at Bagan, they famous temple and pagoda city in central Myanmar.

The lacquer material is obtained from a tree which grows around the Bagan area of Myanmar. Today different base materials are used to create lacquer ware, the most common are bamboo and very thin wood witch is finally coated with lacquer.

Lacquer is a coating material

that brings a very hard and durable finish plus certain flexibility, its very difficult to destroy it, just like plastic.

lacquer elephant
Lacquer elephant

Lacquer Elephant Chiang Mai Thailand
Lacquer Elephant Chiang Mai Thailand

Lacquer is resistant to water, acid and abrasion to a certain extend. The “lacquer tree”, called the lac or varnish tree. When the tree has the proper size and age, cuts are made into the bark and the sap is collected, somehow similar to rubber trees.

China, Japan, Myanmar and Thailand produced lacquer items since hundred of years ago. Probably the most creative item like lacquer elephants, lacquer vases, tableware,

lacquer boxes, lacquer tableware, lacquer furniture and other all lacquered items come fromChiang Mai Thailand

lacquer vases
Lacquer vases

All other countries are rather conservative on lacquer creations in particular when the lacquer items are blended with other materials. In Indian lacquer is sometimes made from the secretions of a specific type of insect, rather than the sap of the tree.

Cinnabar lacquer ware is a very special type of lacquer ware. The lacquer is applied without pigments added, and results in the piece having a translucent finish. With Cinnabar lacquer, color is added to get the deep red color that is called Cinnabar, or China Red. The mineral cinnabar is ground into a pigment, added to the lacquer and give the lacquer ware a deep red color. Cinnabar is mercuric sulfide like it was used in thermometers years ago. Means it contains mercury and mercury is highly poisonous. But this days its only the which is left modern cinnabar lacquer ware is made with non-toxic pigments that emulate the color of the original.

The centre of lacquer ware manufacture is Bagan

It is a cottage industry and in the village of Myinkaba alone, some 600 households produce lacquer ware. Visitors are welcome to watch the process, a skill passed down from generation to generation. golden Cuckoo Lacquer ware in Myinkaba and Ma Moe Moe Family Lacquer ware in Ywar Thit Quarter, New Bagan, have English-speaking proprietors who are willing to demonstrate the processes step by step.

LACQueRBOXES                 more       LACQueR ITEMS


lacquer bowl
lacquer tableware

Selling Lacquerware in Bagan
Selling Lacquer ware in Bagan

The lacquer tableware

manufacturing process begins with the making of a bamboo frame for the lacquer ware item, a bowl for example. For objects of the highest quality, fine horsehair, taken from the tail, is woven around the frame.

lacquer plate
lacquer tableware

Lacquerware round Box with Gold Leaves

Lacquer ware round Box with Gold Leaves

Bamboo - Wicker Frame for the lacquerware item
Bamboo – Wicker Frame for the Lacquer ware item
Coating of Lacquer is applied

Coating of Lacquer is applied


You can tell if horsehair is used by pressing the sides of the bowl together — they should touch.

Lower quality bowls are made completely of bamboo wicker woven around the frame and are very stiff as a result.

Bamboo wicker or horsehair are traditional materials employed for lacquer- ware products. Nowadays, cheaper and more durable wood ‘ mainly teak or mango plywood ‘ is sometimes used to make bases for objects that are not round in shape, trays, boxes, treasure chests, screens, tables and chairs for example.

Lacquerware round Box with Flower
Lacquer ware round Box with Flower
Tratitional Lacquerware Items
Tratitional Lacquer ware Items


After the frame is made and bamboo wicker or horsehair has been woven around it, the first coating of lacquer is applied. The lacquer paint used is black and it comes from a resin of a particular tree found around Inle Lake in eastern Myanmar.


Coating of Lacquer and Paint is applied
Coating of Lacquer and Paint is applied
Lacquer Paint is applied
Lacquer Paint is applied

The lacquer paint

is applied by hand which makes an even coating. The object is then left to dry for a week in an underground cellar; drying in the sun in the early stages causes pockmarks.

The object is then taken out for a second coating of lacquer. It is left to dry for yet another week in the cellar. The next stage involves covering the object with a paste made from a mixture of pulverized buffalo bone, teak sawdust and lacquer to fill up any nooks or crevices.

Myanmar Lacquerware Items
Myanmar Lacquer ware Items
Native Style Lacquerware
Native Style Lacquer ware

It is left to dry for a week. The object is then polished with pumice stone to remove rough surfaces. Lacquer paint is again applied and the object put aside to dry.

After another week, the object is polished again, both on the inside and outside, using a mixture of clay and stone. The polishing is done three times before the object is stored underground for one month. Then a long process of painting and drying begins.

First, the inside of the object is painted with lacquer and left to dry for a week; then the outside is painted and the object is again put aside for drying.

Lacquerware Plate
Lacquer ware Plate
Colour and designs are worked onto the lacquer object
Color and designs are worked onto the lacquer object


At that stage the object is polished again with water and stone, dried in the sun for two hours, another coat of lacquer is applied and the object is dried underground for a week.

For the next seven weeks, a layer of lacquer is applied at one-week intervals. The result is a shining lacquer product made even glossier by careful polishing with a buffalo chamois soaked in sesame oil. At this stage, the desired color or colors and designs are worked onto the object. Usually traditional designs are etched onto the surface by very fine instruments.

Lacquerware Drying and Polishing
Lacquer ware Drying and Polishing
Creating Lacquerware
Creating Lacquer ware


Then one color is applied, the Lacquer ware is left to dry for a week, it is polished with rice husks, washed with water and painted with acacia glue to fix the color.

Lacquer Bowl and Lacquer Table
Lacquer tableware and Lacquer Table
Lacquerware Paravent Room Divider Furniture
Lacquer ware Para vent Room Divider Furniture


If another color is required,

more details are etched and coated with the second color, left to dry for a week, washed and then fixed with acacia glue again. More etchings are made and a third color is added and this time, the object is left to dry for a month. Later, it is polished first with teakwood ash and water and then with a piece of cotton cloth. It is washed and dried again for ten minutes in the sun and finally polished with a powder made from pulverized petrified wood. That’s not all. The object is painted once more on the inside with red lacquer, left to dry for one week and is finally ready for sale.

It takes five months to produce lacquer cups, seven months to make betel boxes and at least a year to produce tables and chairs. But the final result is without a doubt, a thing of beauty and a fine testimony to Myanmar craftsmanship.

Lacquerware polishing
Lacquer ware polishing
Colour and designs are worked onto the lacquer object
Color and designs are worked onto the lacquer objec
Traditional Lacquerware design is etched onto the surface
Traditional Lacquer ware design is etched onto the surface

 Lacquerware designs are etched onto the surface

Lacquer ware designs are etched onto the surface
Lacquerware designs are etched onto the surface
Lacquer ware designs are etched onto the surface