Tying the Baren Cover (continued from previous page)
Now that the skin has been prepared and is nicely softened up - it's time for the main event.
The skin may be properly softened, but it has not yet been properly stretched. The finished baren must have a skin stretched as tightly as any drumhead. A loose skin causes a number of problems:
- the baren is difficult to hold, as the 'handle' is too loose
- a loose and carelessly folded skin has 'bumps' that project down from the bottom of the baren; these are a major cause of blots in the print
- the proper 'power' cannot be applied through a loose skin
Nothing in this whole tying process ... nothing ... is as important as getting a good tight skin!
This next photo isn't part of a normal tying session, but I would like to illustrate something important, so before stretching the skin I'm making two marks on the skin - exactly 10cm apart ...
Now, the stretching begins ... this next part is going to be a bit hard to illustrate for you - the photos will be difficult, as will the words. A bamboo skin is just a big blade of grass, and like any grass, although it is strong in the long direction, it will very easily split along the fibres. The challenge here is to stretch the skin as wide as possible - without splitting it. Pressing the skin face down onto the board, my two hands push in opposite directions to stretch the skin wider.
If the hands separate, the skin will split in an instant, but if they rub and push while pressed tightly together, the skin will hold. Sometimes I slip up, or run into an unseen crack, and the skin splits wide open, sending me back to step one (with a new skin). But if you are careful, the skin can be spread wider than you would believe.
After a minute of pushing like this, let's inspect our measurement:
Eleven and a half centimetres - 15% wider than before. And I'm not particularly trying too hard on this one - not with the camera watching! Please try and get your skins stretched as much as possible - nothing in this whole tying process ... nothing ... is as important as getting the skin stretched as widely as possible!
The next step in the process is to 'kill' the strong fibres that run along the length of the skin, crushing them down so that they do not abrade the rear surface of the paper during printing. A variety of tools can be used for this - printers here in Japan these days commonly use the back end of a pair of shears (like the ones you will see on the next page). I used to use those too, until one day I heard a printer tell me a 'secret' about the 'old days'. It seems (I have no idea whether this is true or not) that at one time the common tool for this job was a smooth black river rock. Well, hearing that story was enough for me; I headed out and searched around the jumbles of stones until I found one that fit my hand perfectly!
Laugh if you will ... but it works perfectly! (And it's not only me who does silly things like this - I've seen Gosho-san the baren maker using exactly the same kind of stone!)
So choose your tool - scissors or rock - and start to work on the skin. It is the outside surface that is most important here, but put your skin face down on the board and work on the inside first:
It is not necessary to rub all over the entire skin - concentrate your efforts on that circular patch in the middle that will become the 'action' part of the skin. After the inside has been rubbed for about a minute, flip the skin over and start on the outside.
How hard to rub, and how long? Plenty hard - work up a sweat! Rub - in short sharp strokes - as hard as you can without splitting the skin. Keeping the skin pressed down to the block with your free hand helps to avoid splitting, but sometimes the skin does give up and you head back to step one.
I mentioned earlier that the plank must be smooth, without dents or nicks. If there are any rough places on the plank, they will cause the skin to become torn during this procedure ...
How do you know when you are 'done'? Drag your fingernail across the skin - if it catches on the ridges, or makes a 'zipping' sound, you haven't rubbed enough. Your finger should slide smoothly across the skin.
Nothing in this whole tying process ... nothing ... is as important as getting a good smooth surface on the skin!
We've spent so much time on this (what with posing for the camera) that the skin is beginning to dry out. Run a bit of water over it (both sides) and wipe off excess with the towel.
Almost ready to begin tying ... almost!
Move on to the third page ... and what's your guess on how many pages are still to come? :-)