Gum Sandarac

Just a quick post before Shabbos about a very useful tool that we've recently been discussing in the context of another post.  As R' Avraham said, it really does deserve to be better known and more widely used among sofrim.

Gum sandarac is a resin derived from the juniper like tree tetraclinis articulata, native to many parts of the Mediterranean basin.  The resin exudes from cuts made in the branches and is collected for use by scribes, varnish makers and woodworkers.

The lumps of resin are generally small and brittle and can be easily reduced to a fine powder using a mortar and pestle or a spice mill.  The powder is then placed in a small, loosely woven, cloth bag made from a square of fabric.  

By scribes, gum sandarac is used as an initial preparation for writing on parchment.  It's use accomplishes several important things:
  • prevents ink from spreading on porous surfaces
  • makes the ink appear blacker
  • improves the sharpness of the writing
  • gives a degree of tooth to the parchment making it easier to write on 

To use gum sandarac simply dab the bag across the parchment lightly, then rub in, and brush excess away.  It's important to not apply too much sandarac or your writing will spring back in the middle.  If you are using it for the first time, perhaps test the correct amount on a scrap of klaf.

Finally, sandarac has been used for hundreds of years, if not longer, by professional scribes to achieve superior results in their writing.  It really makes a dramatic difference in the quality of the ksav. I personally never write anything without it.

Sandarac is available from Talas in NYC, John Neal Books, Kremer Pigments and many other mail order artist supply companies. If you happen to live in Eretz Yisrael, you're in luck because it can be found growing everywhere.  In Hebrew it's called טטרקליניס מפריק
It looks like this:

Tetraclinis articulata


  1. Wow, very informative. The way I learned to prep the klaf was to work it over with some very fine sandpaper right before. Would the Sandarac work in tandem with that?
    Also, would you use sandarac after erasing (instead of white chalk/pastel or something else)?

    1. I'd say use your normal pre-writing prep, fine sandpaper, pumice, what have you, then apply the sandarac. I've found if I put the gum down first then sand that the sandarac builds up on the paper and leaves sanding marks on the klaf.

      Yes, I'd definitely say to use sandarac after erasing, it's much less visible than chalk, which almost advertises that a correction has been made.

  2. Any sources for it in Israel?

    1. Well, I know that in Hebrew it's called טטרקליניס מפריק and that the tree grows all over Israel. In fact you've probably seen it many times. I'd say if you can't find the resin in an art store, pack a picnic lunch and a picture of the tree and go for a drive. The resin is found on the trunks and branches oozing naturally from cracks in the bark.

  3. This is very informative. I'm ready to search out the tree in Israel! Please re-post the 3rd picture, as it did not come through.

    1. you can right-click on it, and choose download, and you will get it, its just a picture of how it looks like in a cloth.

    2. hmm...I still can't see it - and I'm really curious about how this product looks at the end process.

    3. Hi Shmuel,

      I reloaded the image, hope that makes it visible.

  4. BInyomin, I just got in some Gum Sandarac, it is truly unbelievable how well it works, thanks for the info!

  5. how much gum sandarac should be in the bag?
    how often do you need to replenish the bag?


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