From time to time it’s been difficult to obtain quality takenokawa (bamboo husk) for recovering my barens. For some time I’ve wondered about alternative materials for baren covers, especially about using heat shrink tubing. I bought some six inch wide clear layflat PVC heat shrink tubing (12 inch circumference), cut a length about 2 1/2 times the diameter of my baren, trimmed the ends to make thinner handles and… It seems to have worked pretty well, actually! Covering a baren with takenokawa the traditional way requires a lot of practice and some dexterity. Covering a baren with PVC heat shrink tubing seems to require very little skill or dexterity — as long as you don’t over heat the material (or the baren!) it seems pretty fool-proof.
The particular PVC heat shrink tubing I acquired seems a bit too thin or light weight (5 mil) for a baren. Even so, less flexible than takenokawa but seems hardier. Hardiness is good because the shrink-wrapped baren is completely encased front and back so it’s impossible to rotate the baren during printing so all wear occurs where the high points of the coil press the shrink wrap against the paper and block.
When lubricated with camellia oil, the PVC covering glides over the paper with about the same ‘feel’ as takenokawa, though because it’s completely non-absorbent and glossy smooth, it seems to run dry of lubricant faster than takenokawa and then friction increases…
I think I’ll eventually be able to find a shrink tubing with more ideal characteristics — in the meantime, this stuff seems to work better than I’d expected.