Weird and wonderful tools
A sneak peek into the toolkits and materials used in the Preservation lab
27 May 2016
Hidden away up on the fourth floor of the Library, the Preservation lab is always using weird and wonderful tools to undertake conservation treatment on our wide range of collection material.
Our toolkits range from the humble paint brush for applying adhesive or in-painting losses, to dental and surgical tools like the ever faithful septum elevator (featured fourth from the left in the image above), originally designed for nasal surgery which now has a new use second hand to a paper conservator.
Of course we can’t leave out the medical bandages used to wrap up our books and hold their spines in place while they dry after treatment. If we can’t find a suitable tool we often create and discover our own, for example shaping Bamboo and Teflon spatulas to suit various different requirements.
Not only do we shape and create tools to work with but also for our objects to sit and relax on while we repair them! Our team have built wooden book cradles of all sizes that suit our fragile tightback bindings, and created bean-bag sofas that books of all shapes and sizes can rest on during treatment, handling, or display to support the often very delicate bindings.
As we are always working on a relatively small scale, we even use tools that resemble and function like miniature irons and hair dryers, these help us to remove tape and other heat sensitive material.
Household air humidifiers are also used as a great way to create a fine mist of adhesive that settle around things like delicate friable pigments on medieval manuscripts, for example, securing them in place to prevent them from being lost during handling or transportation.
We regularly make our own adhesives to suit the needs of the object on the operating table. Starch paste is made every week as our go-to adhesive for book and paper repairs.
Gelatin, derived from animal by-products and commonly used in cake or desert creations, is used to repair animal skin books or documents such as parchment or vellum, or even photographs, as they are highly moisture sensitive. We even use a particular shoe polish cream to make our paper repairs on books appear like leather. This week in the lab we have been using Kitty Litter to create absorbency sachets that absorb odour and off gassing by-products produced by the degrading adhesive of various maps.
Conservators are constantly investigating new tools and methods which can assist with the stabilisation and treatment of our priceless collection material to prevent it from deteriorating any further over the years and be accessible to the public for centuries to come.