Whether you choose to make your own, are lucky enough to have a woodworker who will, or decide that purchasing a Marudai is a long term investment your braiding history - there are some basics.
The purpose of this article is to give some basis for your choices in braiding stand and especially what makes a Marudai and why that difference - call it what you will, the scoop, the well, the bowl with a hole, or the hakomi what matters is that without, it is not a Marudai. The point is, there are many types of braiding equipment but not every stand is a MaruDai and not all braids are Kumihimo. Braiding has a rich history, across many cultures - after all, even Makiko Tada devoted Comprehensive Treatise of Braids II: Andean Braids - braids "not Japanese in origin".
There is nothing wrong with using improvised or self made equipment if that is what is currently in your budget. Many of us have and some still do use braiding stands, but flat tops are not Marudai.
So what makes it a MaurDai, perhaps the best answer can be found in two message threads in the FaceBook group: Kumihimo Braiders International in July of 2014.
On July 15, Michael Hattori, as part of the discussion related to his "announcment:" of his Youtube video,
Michael was asked : ... how important is the well in a mirror? I bought a Mauridai without a well ....
And he responded: ... we are talking about basics.
The "well" is one of my soapbox topics, and you asked for it! The well is one of THE most important features of a marudai, and in my opinion, any marudai without one should not be used. Its purpose it to provide a "free" space where the threads do not touch the marudai; this allows the threads to fall naturally into place. The depth of the well also causes the threads to angle down toward the point of braiding - another feature which helps the braid to form correctly.
If your mirror is completely flat, the threads move in a straight line to the point of braiding; this means there is friction on the thread almost all the way to the point of braiding, which impedes the formation of the braid. If you are doing just a Yotsu-gumi, you can get away with it, but once you start working with larger numbers of tama, it is absolutely essential.
I've said it a million times before, and I'll say it again: kumihimo has been around for centuries, and the Japanese are known for their ability to refine things to levels unprecedented elsewere in the world. So, you can bet that every single design aspect of a marudai has been thought out and trialed over hundreds of years and nothing has been left to chance.
It is the folly, unfortunately, of many people who try to make their own kumihimo equipment that this is not taken into consideration, and essential things such as the well are left out.
My advice is to either get a marudai with the well, or find someone who can put one on the marudai you have, paying very close attention to the width, depth and curvature of it.
Sorry for the novel, but you did hit on one of my biggest pet peeves about homemade kumihimo equipment! But I hope I've helped you to understand the importance of using a properly made marudai.
today, 2014-07-28 in KBI, Michael shared photos and this additional thoughts.
For ... anyone else interested in the "why" of the well on a marudai: a picture is worth a thousand words.
Many homemade marudai are missing this essential feature. These photos show the downward angle and the all-important free space created by the well, both of which allow the braid to "breathe" and form naturally at the point of braiding. The problem with a completely flat mirror is that the threads are then subjected to friction almost all the way to the point of braiding, which can impede the correct formation of the braid; the more tama you are using, the more important this feature becomes.
The marudai has been around for several centuries, and with the Japanese penchant for ultra-refinement, you can bet they haven't missed anything! So, in my humble opinion, if it ain't got a well, it ain't a marudai!
Once I had a "proper marudai with a well" it was definitely a case of "Never Again" when it comes to the all fiber threads of a Japanese traditonal braid.
Although this group is dedicated to the traditional styles of Japanese braiding and a small sprinkling of knowledgeable braiders of other styles and with that comes "other equipment". now that Michael has established the minimum criteria for "what makes it a MaruDai, Well, exactly" - it does not mean other equipment cannot be used, it is just not a MaruDai - Like Michael Hattori? I agree if it lacks a Well, then it is not a MaruDai, it is a Braiding Stand - and that tool also has an honorable history, but its roots are not in Japan.
I understand personal budget issues, so like many, it was quite a while before I could afford a Marudai that would "work for me". Well worth the wait. That does not mean my braiding stand(s) have not been used, only that I always knew my tradtional braids would be so much better when I had one.
Meanwhile, for some of the more non-traditional work, beaded braids, wire word and of course - occasional side trips into Victorian Hair work, the flat top continued to be adequate to those tasks.
Ready to Make Your Own?
In his posting Michael_Hattori gave his permission to share the information provided from his studies at the Kyoto school in Japan. This PDF required Adobe Acrobat or other PDF Reader to view
Although we have been known to help connect a Marudai Maker and Braider - we do not sell Marudai. Nor, do we profit from their sale other than the knowledge that you will have a tool to treasure.
With this in mind, we have begun collecting contact information about those we know who do make a Marudai that includes the essential Hakomi (well).
added 2015-Jan-09: Not sure if it is mentioned in the Measured Drawing PDF - there are different schools of thought on the height - as was recomended to me (and reinforced by learning the reality the hard way) the top of your mirror should be about the same when you arms are at straight down your side from shoulder to elbow and your forearm is at a 90-95 degree angle to your body. With good back support, this enables me to braid for longer periods
Where we have had an opportunity to use the artisans tools, we will share our experience - we are seeking "other opinions" -
Next step will be to see if I can find my notes on making a "flat top" while you decide if this is the craft you want to learn and make the investment of buidling or buying a true Marudai to enhance your braiding results.
with many thanks to Makiko Tada, Jacquie Carey, Michael Hattori, Carol Miller Franklin, Maryse Levinson, Shirley Berlin, Tim Hale (FiberArtistSupply, Carol Haushalter (Carolyn910), Janis Saunders (BraidersHand). Anita Clark and dozens of others for their permission to include their thoughts and illustrations. Not to mention their decades of patient willingness to answer all my questions about the details and delights of Kumihimo and all braiding techniques.