Lesson #9: Using 'shims' in the baren ...
(contributed by David Bull)
In my early days of woodblock printmaking, I tended to accept without question the tools as they came to me, assuming that they were being sold in a form suitable for use. This is generally true, and most of the tools can be used right 'off the shelf'.
But with developing experience, I learned that most of the tools, simple in structure though they are, are really quite 'adjustable'; they can be altered in ways to make the work easier, or for the purpose of producing different effects.
The baren is very much a case in point. Inserting 'shims' under the bamboo coil to change the curvature of the baren surface is common (and is discussed in a separate Encyclopedia entry: Printing Equipment - Breaking in a new baren), but it is also possible to change the baren by using shims on top of the coil, just under the bamboo sheath covering.
This is useful for those occasions where the baren is just too strong for the job at hand, and unwanted streaks are coming out in the finished impression. Ideally, one would have a wide selection of barens at hand, of varying sizes and strengths, and could choose the exactly correct one for each job, but few of us can afford such a luxury ...
Cut a circle of washi of medium thickness, and place it over the coil before tying on a new bamboo cover. Rub the finished baren against the 'meko-ita' (the smooth board on which the bamboo skin is stretched when tying) to 'break it in', turning the inner coil now and then. After a few minutes, it should have settled in to its new condition. You have complete control over how much to 'weaken' the baren, by choosing thinner or thicker paper to insert.
As the printing progresses, the paper insert will gradually be softened and perforated by the pressure, and the baren will gradually return to its previous state. A new sheet may have to be inserted if a lot of printing must be done.
So one baren can thus easily serve as two or three. And with current prices for new hon-barens running at about 60,000 yen ... this can be a very valuable tip ...