Tying the Baren Cover : Q&A
A Q&A session based on the procedure described on these pages)
Q: Couldn't the surface be any smooth hard surface? Like a formica table top, kitchen counter, etc. Is that smooth cherry block really critical?
A: The fact that it is cherry is not critical, but the general hardness/firmness of a typical cherry block just makes it ideal for this. If the wood is too soft, then when you rub firmly with the scissors or stone, it starts to rut the wood, and the resulting roughness will soon make the board useless. But a surface that is too hard (as is a formica counter) makes it too easy to crush the skin too much. As it turns out, with a smooth cherry block, and rubbing 'very firmly', the skin gets crushed just about the right amount. Sorry to be vague on the phrase 'very firmly', but I can't particularly quantify this.
Q: Blowing through the rolled up and toweled tube? Sounds like witch doctory to me. I have been soaking my sheaths under warm water for about 30 to 60 minutes
A: The problem with soaking is that the skin becomes far too soggy - and you can't use the stone on it with any kind of firmness without tearing the skin.
Q: Am I correct that there is no stretching or shrinking of the cover in the direction of the grain? Is there shrinking across the grain? If so, wouldn't shrinkage during drying tend to cause the cover to split?
A: I've never tried measuring any stretching in the grain direction; I would imagine it would be minimal ... As for the splitting, yes it does sometimes happen that five minutes after you tie the skin on, it splits as it starts to get tight. It was either a skin with a defect, or perhaps you rubbed or pulled too hard at one point and slightly split it. Nowadays I almost never encounter such 'post-tie' splitting, so my guess is that with experience - as you learn to select well, and to tie well - such trouble will be minimized.
Q: What do you do with the skins which are more brown? Just throw them away?
A: There is no 'absolute' here; I go through the pile looking for the 'best' one at any given moment. When it gets to the point where it starts to get difficult to find 'good' ones, I get on the phone and have another batch shipped over. But yes, once in a while (usually after getting a new shipment) I go through the pile and just toss out the ones I think I'll never use, or that have become too old and dry. (Actually they go in a box for my daughter to use for making the 'tokibo' brushes).
Q: ... regarding the grain ridges on the outside of the sheath... You try to eliminate them completely. I always had the idea that the grain ridges acted sort of like the bumpy coils inside -- they reduced the surface area of the baren actually in contact with the sheet so it had less friction and generated more pressure (lbs. per square inch -- or in Japan I guess that would be kg/m2 or something... That idea is incorrect?
A: My feeling on this is that the inside coil is the thing that is doing the work for you. The ridges just get in the way, and they certainly tear the paper. Make the skin as smooth as possible, and you can then really bear down and let the coil projections do their work ...