Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Making a twisted-cord Baren

How to make a home-made, inexpensive Baren:

(Disclaimer:  I have 2 Murasaki Barens made by Goto Kikuhide (purchased from McClains) .....;  In this line of barens; he has replaced the traditional braided bamboo filaments (8-16 strands braided to make an uneven, knotted cord) with a hard, purple synthetic coil.
They are great tools and I have both a fine and a medium and I use them every day when I am printing.  I highly recommend them and I think they are a great value and a great purchase if you are already printing in earnest.).

I gave a class recently and when I needed Student-grade barens--I knew the students who were just  beginning were not ready to invest in a good baren but I wanted them to have an option beyond the cheap plastic or paper coil barens currently available at art supply stores.
I wanted something that would be:
Easy to put together from readily available materials

 It was a good friend years ago who showed my two sons how to make a cord by twisting string together until it "jumps" twisting back on itself making a stable cord.
The idea is that when you twist a long string until it is very tight, the torque developed and the stored energy in the twisting will cause it to twist again upon itself along it's length forming a stable cord that is 2-4 times the original diameter--anyone who has tried to coil a common garden hose and found it keeps trying to twist on itself will have experienced this. The kids both made short lengths of cord and used the end loop to attach a key ring or piece of colored cloth.
A few weeks ago when I last covered my Murasaki baren, I remembered vaguely that it looked a lot like the cords he had showed my kids how to make--only much harder.So I picked up a little kite twine and made a 24" loop and twisted it using a pencil and looping the other end around a broom handle. Twisted tightly and then folded and let go it immediately twisted back on itself forming a tight, twisted cord; I carefully made it into a little coil and the little bumps were pretty hard.   Hmmmmm.

About a dozen types of twine and string later I was ready to try making a little baren.

I cut this to size using a sharp blade. and sanded the edges to a bevel.

Disc of plywood or cardboard; I used a canvas-primed circular canvas 13cm diameter and the base of a cake platter (I got it from the local craft store) made of sturdy 1/4" dense cardboard. I cut one down using a sharp knife (Toh)
I sanded the edges to a cambered shape to try and make it more concave and so the edges wouldn't damage the skin/covering.
I painted acrylic medium over both sides to make it smooth and waterproof.

Acrylic Medium (It sets and dries fast) to use as glue to hold down the cord.

Twine or string; I tried hemp, cotton, and nylon. The harder the better.  Not too thick; the thickness will come from the twisting.

Cover : leaf, shelf paper, primed canvas, shrink wrap are all possibilities.

Make the cord: (worth practicing a few times on shorter pieces) a loop 2-3m long will allow you to get a feel for it and can be used as an outer border if you use a thinner kind of string.)

This had been twisted pretty tight, any tighter and it will start to form little bumps/knots that will make the later cord uneven.

I used a long loop about 7m long (21 feet) so the twine length was double that (14m or about 40 feet). I tied the ends together to make a loop and set the knot over a vertical post--I used a broom handle propped against a door.

Then using a wooden spoon or pencil, twist the loop, like a toy-airplane propeller.  With this much length it will take a while (I spent about 10 minutes twisting); as it twists it will get shorter by about a meter but keep twisting until it is tight but smooth (you don't want any bumps yet).

Using a helper. Have them grab the twisted string/twine at about the 1/2 way point and carefully use that person as a fulcrum to fold the twisted string in half keeping them separate and a little taut. Once the end you have been twisted is next to the other end held up by the post or broomstick have the helper carefully let go of his end (holding it a little bit away and it will begin to twist back on itself and you can walk it down to the other end letting it twist. If it is a little uneven or loose from the other end you can tighten it up (twisting the new cord in the direction that tightens the cord).

 I use a little piece of duct tape to tape up the two ends that were loose. Form the new cord into a spiral (If you do this now it will tend to stay in the spiral shape.

Assemble the Baren Base;
I used a cheap brush and thickly applied matte medium to the surface the cord will sit on (I wanted it to hold the cord firmly. Do this over a piece of wax paper so it doesn't go on your table.
I slipped my premade spiral right onto the wet glue, adjusting or tightening it as necessary (I had already cut it to lenght so there would be about a 1/8th-1/4 inch border of backing (the cord coil was a little smaller than the backing disc).
Then carefully holding the end and disc down, press and hold it into the glue/medium until it sets (4-5 minutes). Once it is set you can set it to dry with a piece of wax paper and a book to hold the cord flat against the glue.

Let it dry overnight.

COVERING the Baren.

For this I recommend looking a the various sites for how to cover a baren.

The Bamboo leaf definitely works really well and learning how to tie one is worthwhile.
Bamboo leaf (Available via mail order from Japan(Woodlike Matsumura catalog) or McClains catalog in the USA; Work great; take some practice to do well; but even badly will work.

Shelf paper--I used a small piece of commonly available shelf paper; but I carefully stuck onto the sticky side a piece of glassine paper so that the shelf paper wouldn't stick to the coil (glassine side to the baren/shelf paper side out).

Simple primed cotton canvas (sanded a bit smooth/gesso side out) (*This tip from Maria Arango Diener of 10000Woodcuts)

The yellow one is shelf paper.

These were all tied the same way a baren would be;
The cover was placed face down; the baren was placed on top, cord side down and the cover was carefully pleated over the back and twisted to make the two twisted pleats that would make the handle, once it was tied with cord.


They work pretty well as a student-grade baren--but better than the cheap plastic one that I used for a year and better than the cheap $10.00 paper coil ones.
I spent about $5.00 in materials ($10.00 for the one covered with a bamboo leaf cover).

My Murasaki Baren is still definitely a better tool--works better and provides more concentrated pressure. They feel better in the hand and definitely provide more concentrated pressure.
I think they use a much harder cord and do a better job making the surface a bit convex.
Future ideas:
I will try making my next baren a little smaller (the 13cm size means the pressure is less as it is spread over more surface area--My Murasaki Barens are both 12cm and I think that makes a difference.
I'll try to use a thin plywood and sand the printing side a little more into a convex shape and see if I get more pressure--the one I made prints well--no dips to cause splotches--but not with enough pressure to get good coverage on thicker papers.
I will also try to treat the cord with acrylic medium after before making it into a coil/spiral to see if it stiffiens/hardens the coil enough to increase the strength....
(I'm also tempted to try the plastic cord used to make weed-wacker filament........and see how it twists).

I will keep trying to refine this and post results if they are better.
Anyone who tries this please or has suggestions please use the comment box to add your input.


  1. I will definitely try it.

    Great tutorial, thank you!

  2. I have made a few adjustments to this method that I think make them work better. 1. I treat the finished, twisted cord with matte medium, coating it uniformly and letting it dry. This makes it harder and resistent to the oil and moisture used during printing. 2. I glue a few concentric rounds of paper on the coil side to make the surface slightly convex so that more pressure is given in the center...this offsets the tendency for the baren to flex and makes it a little bit stronger.

    1. The rounds are glued onto the cardboard disc before the coil gets glued on top of it.

  3. Thanks for this post. I'm going to give this a try!