Monday, May 21, 2012

Baren cover(s)

This is a close-up, without the cover, of a Murasaki Baren, the tool with which I print most of my woodblock prints. The Murasaki refers to the purple, knotted, nylon cord that provides the little bumps that transmit the pressure and push the pigment during printing into the damp washi/paper. These are made with a twisted, hard nylon cord instead of the carefully split and braided bamboo knotted cords that would be in a "HON" or real Baren. It is a concession to time and economics. A Hon Baren now takes almost a year to make and costs over $1200. This one being more easily and quickly made runs about $150 and works much better than the inexpensive, $4.00 plastic one I printed from for the first year I made woodblock prints (and which I still sometimes use). These come from the workshop of Mr. Kikuhide Goto who makes these as well as traditional and hybrid barens. They're great tools and I have two: a 12 cm fine for keyblocks and thin paper and a medium for most everything else. With time the bamboo-leaf wrapper, the takenokawa, gets worn and has to be replaced. New ones have to be shipped from Japan and arrive curled up and dried and have to be carefully dampened, opened, stretched, and tied to be of use.

My barens got quite a workout during my last few printing months and although they both have developed wear affecting their performance I had been putting off changing the bamboo-leaf skin/coverings as I had only two left and needed to finish printing my dragon prints before risking to be without--sometimes they'll split putting one on and it can't be used).

Here is the damage; the transparent concentric rings and and holes are defects in the sheath caused by wear. Held to the light one can see the holes in the baren sheath caused by gradual wear of the knotted cord as the pressure thins and then makes holes in the leaf covering. This will both leave marks or possibly damage the damp printing paper as well as allow moisture in and possibly damage the baren.

So I pulled out my two remaining new bamboo skins and changed the skins on the barens. This was now my third or fourth attempt and it is definitely getting easier--or at least--less tricky. I got them tight enough and fairly smooth and for the first time didn't tear or split the skins putting them on. They last less and less as I get better at printing; my first skin lasted more almost 2 years; these just a few months.

Here are the front/printing sides one with the skin off and one replaced:
Here are the backside with one leaf tightly wrapped and twisted to cover the cord and create a handle.
Here are the two barens with their new takenokawa (covers). This is redundant but I'm pretty pleased with myself for having covered both of them without mishap.
This instead shows the mediocre job I did with the handle; it is uneven, the two halves of the twisted handle are different thicknesses and lengths and I did a crappy job with the knot. Still so much to learn or do better.

Many printmakers make their own barens using thumbtacks, bead chains or bolt heads to create the slightly curved bumpy surface needed to print well held in place against a plywood disc with hot glue or epoxy resins. A google search of home-made barens will turn up good ideas for those wanting to make their own.
These Murasaki barens are available in the US thru the McClains printmaking supply website/catalog or from the Baren forum's supplies link (the Baren Mall:


  1. yours looks not so bad, I use a lot of duct tape to make mine work

  2. I am about to attempt my second cover. I've put it off as long as I could - even scotch taped over the splits. Yours didn't look so bad compared to mine! Last time it took me and my husband and my trusty Woodblock Printmaking book for reference to get the job done. I'm pretty sure this time it will be the same.
    Good job Andrew.

    1. Dave Bulls website has a pretty good video/still tutorial that shows how to do this. I have watched or looked at it each time before covering and it helps.
      This time I also ran the takenokawa under running water a bit longer to make it a little softer/damper and that seemed to help as did sanding the hard board I used underneath so it was very smooth.
      Good Luck---these were definitely easier than my 1st or 2nd...

  3. Thanks to those who caught and corrected my Japanese errors.

    The baren covering or sheath is called the takenokawa--while
    the baren wata is the oil-impregnated rag or pad it used to add a bit of oil to the surface during printing sessions.

  4. Looking good! I'd be proud of myself for sure.

  5. Great pictures too, Andrew! I think your efforts turned out great. My Murasaki keeps threatening to peep through as well so I'll probably have to tackle the same task in the near future.