For the first step, a newly skinned hide must be “killed,” a process known in Khmer as samlab Sbek. During this process, the cowhide is wholly immersed in ash to prevent it from rotting. Then the panel is removed and stretched out so that any remaining flesh can be dislodged with sharp knives. Afterwards,the hide is soaked in a solution made of beaten tree bark. The Kan-dol tree, in particular, which tastes strongly bitter, tart and sour, is often used to make this solution. The purpose of the soaking process is to obtain certain colors, durability, and protection from insects.After one or two days of soaking in the water, the hide is stretched to dry and then stored flat.
Before the cutting process, images such as characters, royal palaces,and others are drawn on the hide. Small holes are then cut into the hide . Nowadays, in some regions, a drawing on apiece of paper is placed on the hide, which is then cut by tracing along the drawing. The leather panels vary in size and contain different motifs, such as flowers, Neak (multiple-headed snakes) and characters.
After cutting out the image, the hide is attached to bamboo stick handles for performers to hold during a performance. For a smaller panel, a bamboo stick is attached in the middle to handle bigger panels with ease, two bamboo sticks are attached to theedge of the panel.The finished panels are stored in an appropriate place, such as abuilding of a Wat. If they are kept in a village, they should be storedin a separate place away from residences, because it is believed that these panels are sacred and possess magical power.
Source: Sbek Thom,Kong Vireak, Preap Chanmara, UNESCO Office Phnom Penh,