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.