The Living Masks of Bali: Chapter 04

Faithful Tools of the Mask Maker.. All artists and craftsman have their tools of their trade. I am not sure if it is the same in every case, but from personal experience there is certainly a unique relationship that we form with the tools of our craft. A certain comfort and familiarity builds up sometimes right from the start and other times over a long period of time. Musicians certainly have such a bond with their instruments. For artists and artisans, perhaps it is similar.

In the Living Masks of Bali, we are exploring the traditional masks of Bali. Through a more intimate view of its processes. We are able to do this together with Ketut Sukerta, a veteran mask maker with decades of experience.

tools of the mask maker
Ketut working in Sawidji Studio, here with the Barong Landung Mask.

The tools in Ketut Sukerta’s possession have been with him and some in regular use for up to 30years

Chisels in the image above, named from top to bottom..

Bahasa Indonesia on the left and English on the right.

  • Pahat Pemuku. Membuat lekukan
  • Pahat Pengancap . Membuat garis garis lurus
  • Pahat Pemuku,. Paling kecil. Garis rambut, extra small
  • Pahat Pemuku , membuat lekukan kecil, small
  • Pahat Pemuku Medium
  • Pahat Pemuku Large
  • Pahat Pemuku (kakak) Large, Pemuku L shape, untuk garis siku.
  • Pengancap, Small.. untuk garis lurus yang kecil
  • Curved Chisel, to make curves
  • Straight Chisel, to make straight lines
  • Curved Chisel, extra small to make hair lines
  • Curved Chisel, small to make small curves
  • Curved Chisel, medium
  • Curved Chisel, large
  • Curved Chisel, large L shape
  • Straight Chisel, small to make small straight lines
Translation notes…

In writing this post, Tools of The Mask Maker, the conversations with our team were interesting. Although slightly frustrating. To get the correct translations for the names of each chisel seems not so straightforward as translating from Bahasa Indonesia to English. We decided to go with the English translation that is the most straightforward.

However, in the Balinese language, as one example, the name Pemuku has different nuances. In addition, if you go to different areas (due to linguistic differences that are common) the spelling and pronunciation for the same tool may differ. Pemuku is a word that does not translate to ‘curved’ but it is a specific word that is attributed to this tool that makes curves. Some associate with the word ‘kuku’ which translates to ‘nail’. Following the reasoning, as the fingernail is curved, so is the shape that this chisel makes…

This is by no means a complete set of tools. It is a select few that Ketut brought on the day he worked on the Barong Landung in our studio.

Top four in image, top to bottom;
  • Pengotok Palu,  memukul pahat, smua pakai palu.
  • Setengah Pangot setengah mutik, untuk mencari ke samping dan ke kanan untuk bikin lekukan.
  • Pangot, membuat garis lengkung, like scooping out for ice cream
  • Mutik, membersihkan garis lurus saja.

  • Wood Hammer
  • Half Curved Half Straight blade chisel. Used to go to the side and to the right as well as to make curves.
  • Cutter Chisel. Two sided blade chisel. To make curved lines and to gouge. A type of gouging chisel
  • Straight Chisel, to clean straight lines.

There are obviously similar chisels and tools for the mask maker and carvers in other parts of the world. We have presented them here untampered and introduced their names and uses, exactly how it would be referred to here in Bali. To see the tools through very much our local perception.

Setengah Mutik Stengah Pangot (Half Curved half straight blade chisel). The most unique thing, as observed by Ketut about this chisel is its ability to comb through curves moving upwards as well as downwards. It is also comfortable on the flat areas as well as the most difficult corners. This is what he likes about this chisel.

Ketut commented that this blade is most notable for shaping the nose. The difficult nostril areas.

This particular chisel has been with him for over 20 years.

tools of the mask maker

Mutik, the Straight Chisel, Ketut uses to make the straight bridge of the nose. For straight lines that are a little pointed as well as to smooth flat surface areas. This straight chisel has been a regular companion for 10 years.

tools of the mask maker

Pangot, the Curved Blade Chisel, is used to make the eyebrows, give definition to the eyes and eyebrows. Often used to better define the curvature and lines of creases in the face. Give cleaner and better indentations. This chisel has been with Ketut over 15 years.

tools of the mask maker
The one on which all the tools rely..

The Wooden Hammer as shown here has a very strong personality. Perhaps that is very appropriate considering its job. All of the other tools are rendered useless without the hammer.

This type of hammer for a mask maker is made with special personalised measurements. It is the same length as ‘asta tangan’ which is from wrist to elbow of the carver. If you use a hammer that is not made to measure, the likelihood of injuries is very high.

The Right Wood for The Wooden Hammer

The head of the wood hammer is made from ‘Kayu Asam’ from the Tamarind Tree. The fibres of the Tamarind Tree Wood criss-crosses each other, making this a very a strong wood. The handle is made from the Kayu Jaka’ (Arenga pinnata ) a type of palm tree.

This tree is an extremely useful tree. Its fruit can be eaten, its water made into a spirit (arak Jaka) and the middle of the trunk mixed into the food for ducks. It is the bark of this tree that is used for the hammer’s handle. The fibres of the wood is again, very strong. This particular hammer has been with Ketut for over 15 years.

Special Attachments

I asked why he has not gotten a new hammer. Ketut changes only the head of the hammer if it is necessary, but the handle always remains the same. Because he has bonded very well with his hammer, the measurements are just right, when using a new handle, he often experiences mishaps and work does not go as smoothly.

Generally, the Mask Maker and other traditional carvers may have a complete set. The standard set has 35 chisels. The Senior Mask Maker or Carver, like Ketut, may have a larger set, which is made up of 45 pieces.

Special Care for Artists’ Tools

The same care is taken with the tools of the Carver as with making the masks. To repair, one looks for the right calendar and on Sacred Days like Tumpek Landep, for things that are made of metals, they are cleanse and have a blessing ceremony as well.

The art of Mask Making is rich with history and displays intricate skill. The care taken with the tools of the Mask Maker shows the same richness and care that is inherent in Balinese culture.

Coming up next in The Living Masks of Bali: Chapter 05..

The Topeng Babad Performance. A closer view of the dance and local atmosphere here in Ubud Bali during one recent Official Ceremony. Seeing Old Man Mask and King’s Mask still gripping the attention of young and old alike is remarkable. What is it about this Dance that proves that they are indeed our Living Masks?

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An exercise of the deepest empathy through the wisdom of Topeng Tua


    1. Thank you! as much as we know about wood, we are also learning something new. Hopefully we will build up more of this kind of interesting information.

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