Because of my issues with getting smooth color, I decided to purchase a more expensive baren to see if it would make a difference. So now that I have the new baren I decided to do a little “scientific” comparison.
The barens being compared are the Standard Quality Baren purchased from McClain’s (medium 11cm, twisted paper coil, $8.95) and the Murasaki Baren purchased from McClain’s (12cm, hand-twisted synthetic cord, $130.00 – note: this is by no means the most expensive baren on the market as one could pay as much as $650 or higher).
In terms of physical differences, the Murasai baren is more nicely made. It is wrapped more tightly, with more attention to detail. It is heavier than the Standard Quality baren and has a black lacquered back (ategawa) as opposed to a black cardboard back. The Musasaki also has what I would call a “new car smell” which some people may like, but personally I am hoping it goes away with time.
The Standard Quality baren feels much smoother when rubbing over the paper, while the Murasaki feels quite rough which, I assume, is due to the courseness of the cord.
I did an experiment here by printing two pieces of uncut shina with the same amount of pigment (Holbein artists’ water color – mineral violet) and nori on the Shin Torinoko white paper. I used the same amount of pressure and time in rubbing the paper.
As you can see, the results are quite different. the Murasaki baren prints quite a bit smoother than the Standard Quality baren although you tend to loose the woodgrain. Depending upon the desired effect, both of these barens have their place. Was the Murasaki work $100 more than the Standard Quality baren? This is hard to say. Since I made the investment, I know I have a bias toward thinking that it is worth it. I think it is good to experiment with different tools and find what works best (within your budget limitations, of course).