Professor Seishi Ozakus' Toothpick Baren


This extremely simple device is nearly as effective as the palm press to transfer ink from a plate to paper.  I have tried to improve on the model professor Ozaku showed me as his was simply a paper cup with loose bamboo toothpick held inside. It worked like a charm because of the very small tips of the many toothpick points actually concentrated pressure in a tiny area although the area being printed was much larger.  Holding in the loose toothpicks was cumbersome and could produce more pressure from one point that would spoil the print.  It looked like an impermanent approach but had some promise for development.  Using a sheet of lubricated Mylar over the print greatly improves its' effectiveness. Thinner sheets of Mylar allow the points to produce greater pressure on the paper back.

A collections of barens made from cardboard tubes and one plastic container the toothpicks came in.


These are very easy to make and so inexpensive a whole class can have their own units. Use only pointed bamboo toothpicks usually available at an Asian grocery store for very little money. Bamboo is much harder than other woods being used for regular toothpicks. I have bought some packaged in a round plastic container with a cover. These were pointed only at one end, the other had a design and are basically flat.  Another batch had points at both ends, came as an assembly wrapped in thin clear plastic with around 200 toothpicks. There are probably many packaging methods as the one shown to me at Tama University came in a deep folded paper cup similar to bake cup cakes.


Placing toothpicks will differ depending on how they are packaged at the store. By gathering them in a similar container,

they can be slipped into the cup that has already been charged with epoxy or silicone.


If they come as loose items, I suggest finding a paper mailing tube or other similar product about 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter.  For more applied pressure and other uses, smaller sized tubes would allow you to experiment on which is best for you. Cut the tube to be shorter than the toothpicks, leaving about ½ inch (1.25 cm) sticking out.  Take scrap matte board and cut squares a bit larger than the tube, gluing them on to one end with Bondfast glue to make a leak proof container.  After the glue dries, cut off the excess, leaving a clean cup.

Make sure that the glue has set before proceeding with cutting and filling the cup with toothpicks.


You can use either caulking silicone or epoxy resin to fasten the toothpicks in place. Depending on whether the one end is flat or pointed will depend on how much adhesive is put into the cup.  The toothpick should be held in place with about a ¼ of it within the adhesive. Fill the bottom with adhesive and place the toothpick in place so they sit firmly against the flat cardboard.  As they can be hard to handle, I suggest you put enough toothpicks in another similar but empty container so they nearly fill the cup. By tilting both containers, the toothpicks can be slipped into the cup evenly and upright. Add more individual units to pack the cup to your liking, then press down on the pointed ends with a flat object so they are well embedded in the adhesive uniformly. Put aside for the adhesive to set.


Caulking silicone is another binder that will hold the toothpicks very well. The silicone is spread at the bottom evenly first.

Large barens of this size could be used for a gentler printing operation, even on woodcuts using Mylar covering.

Next day the ends should be evened by rubbing on a sheet of fine emery paper. Use 220 grit or finer and work
 down the ends until most have a little flat spot.  Depending on how tight the cup was packed, there should be
 reasonable rigidity to the assembled sticks.  I have used both silicone and liquid epoxy as the adhesive and
 find little difference in the units.
Professor Ozaku has suggested to me that the toothpicks should not be packed solidly in the container,
 allowing some play in their  movement. I have made up various packing and sizes to find if there is some 
difference about effectiveness but would have to reserve my opinion on this. I believe that larger sizes can
be used to print tints but smaller diameter ones will produce more pressure for flats. A piece of oiled 
Mylar should be used over the paper as the points will tear the soft sheet.

 Professor Ozaku is head of printmaking at Tama University of Fine Arts, Tokyo, Japan. This is just one of his many innovations

Published February, 2006