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How to wrap Japanese Baren with a Bamboo Sheath

Updated: Jul 2, 2023

Japanese burnishing tool "Baren" needs a change of Bamboo sheath every now and then. Here is my first time wrapping my Baren.

Japanese woodblock printing uses a handheld burnishing object called "Baren." It is made of layers of paper and coiled string/rope, wrapped in Bamboo sheath.

Baren top, bottom, and inside views
Photo: Michihamono

It is designed so the coil's bumps rub against the paper to burnish the ink onto paper. Baren can be used on other relief printmaking techniques. I use it for all of my printmaking classes with kids, as it is portable and lightweight. These can be costly, depending on where you are, but I find plastic baren can be quite effective to use with kids.

To avoid the bamboo wrapping from wearing off, we are supposed to slightly shift the inner disk as we use it. But it is inevitable that at some point, you will start to see too many tears and holes on it. And sometimes, like in my case, I had "Baren Suji" which are the unwanted lines left from uneven coil bump heights. These are the times you need to open up the Baren, fix the unevenness if needed, and replace the bamboo sheath. Below is my first time wrapping my Sosaku Baren.

Bamboo sheath is dampened to soften slightly, then rubbed against the grains to stretch and smooth, taking care not to split it. This took me a little while to do, but it is a crucial part of the process, so you do not end up with more unevenness in prints. Bamboo then is trimmed to size and twisted to wrap the disc tightly. It is 13cm in diameter and a little big for my hand, so it was tricky to hold the bamboo down. I used a hemp cord I had at hand to tie the both ends together to make a handle.

Now I had some bamboo offcuts from this, so I decided to make little brushes called "Hakobi," which is used to apply paint onto woodblocks.

A productive day. Baren handle was a bit thick (I needed to cut away a bit more), but for my first attempt, I'm happy to keep it.

I bought my baren from Japanese Tools Australia as I have not been able to import from Japan after the start of COVID.

My next step is to try and make my own using what is available here in Australia. To be continued...




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