Weird and wonderful tools

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. 

a variety of paper conservator tools on a table

A snippet of the wide range of tools selected from a paper conservators toolkit.

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.

Bandaged Book

After the leather spine had been consolidated and repaired, it was bandaged to be held in place securely while drying.

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.

Teflon and bamboo spatulas and Bone folders

A wide range of Teflon and bamboo spatulas, each individually shaped and carved by hand, one of these was originally a bamboo ruler! Various bone folders also shaped by conservators in the lab.

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.

Wooden book cradle and sofas for your books

 A range of book supports used throughout the Library including a wooden book cradle for tightback bindings and bean bags for everything else.

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.

Heated spatula and heat pen

The heat pen, or miniature hair dryer (left), and heated spatula, or miniature iron (right).

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.

 Cooking starch paste

Cooking up our weekly supply of our most commonly used adhesive, starch paste.

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 used for parchment repairs

Gelatin in different concentrations being kept warm for easy use by warm water surrounding the beaker containing the adhesive. This adhesive is being used for parchment repairs in this instance.

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.

Comment: 
This is really nice information
Comment: 
Thanks Michael, glad you like it!
Comment: 
Are those bone folders a plastic, if so what sort? Polyoxymethylene? (POM Delrin?)How are they formed? They seem quite straight, are they done by hand? Are machines used? Are they machined with guides?
Comment: 
Hi there, most of them are actually made from animal bone (cow, elk, or deer), which are machine cut to a certain point where we purchase them and can sand them down and shape them ourselves. The Teflon spatula can be purchased in various forms and carved or sanded by hand to the desired shape underwater. There are one or two plastic bone folders which, yes, are made from polyoxymethylene (Delrin) which is stiffer than Teflon and great for a sharp point, but feels a little more like bone. These can be bought in either a solid block or thin bone folder looking shape to be carved, filed, scraped and polished down.
Comment: 
thanks!
Comment: 
How fascinating. Thanks for the insight.
Comment: 
Thanks Fiona, good to hear you enjoyed it!
Comment: 
Thanks, this is interesting in its own right. As a library student, it is even more so!
Comment: 
Thanks Jane, glad to hear it!
Comment: 
What a lovely collection of tools. I love the mini hair dryer. It is great to have a glimpse into a conservation workshopI have worked for 40 years as a paper conservator (Western Art on Paper) and in that time have found lots of objects which I've adapted to make tools, for example, a dental probe which I sharpened to make a tiny scalpel for working under a magnifier and a broken Victorian bone shoe horn fashioned to smooth the edges of mountboard.
Comment: 
Isn't it fabulous?! We use it all the time. That is so great! That is an amazing amount of experience and knowledge. Oh I'll have to keep that one in mind, dental tools are wonderful! One of our staff uses a shirt collar straightener (made from bone). There are endless amounts of tools we can find...the little old toothpick has been a recent favourite for book conservation. We love to hear of new ideas!
Comment: 
facinating
Comment: 
Thanks Gary!
Comment: 
Hi what's the name of the shoe polish cream you use ?
Comment: 
Hi there! It's called SC7400 and made in England for conservation applications
Comment: 
It is admirable to see how work on paper, parchment or vellum is restored. It is hard work and every piece a different story and procedure. Patience, skill and knowledge have its rewards. My congratulations and admiration.
Comment: 
Hi Gloria, thank you for such high praise! It is always so interesting to see what insight into history each item has to offer and where the value in the object lies. Yes you're right! Each item has to be considered and treated differently, whether it is for ethical reasons or simply understanding the materials and techniques used to create the item, and then identifying the environmental influences that have caused it to deteriorate in various ways so we can figure out a way to reverse or at least prevent any further damage from occurring. Thanks again Gloria!
Comment: 
I'm really happy to find the info related to conservation. Thank you very much for sharing. Cordially. Sylviarce@yahoo.com
Comment: 
Hi Sylvia, so glad you enjoyed it!
Comment: 
A great read, very interesting to see the skill and ingenuity that goes into the valuable work you do. It must give you all immense pleasure to bring these books back from the brink of degeneration to the point where they can agitation take their place in retaining our knowledge, history and enjoyment. Job well done, you must be congratulated. Thank-you for this insight.
Comment: 
Hi Kevin, thankyou so much. Great to hear that you enjoyed it! It is always a wonderful experience to work with the beautiful objects that we do, and give them a bit more of a chance to survive the ages and tell their story to future generations! Thanks again Kevin.
Comment: 
Wow, how interesting. Wish I had looked at book binding for job when I was younger. I've just started learning about bookbinding and have fallen in love with it. I actually made my own bone folder from a piece of bovine bone. Thank you.
Comment: 
Hi Sharyn, thankyou! That's wonderful that you are interested in bookbinding, it is never too late to start something you love, and maybe we will see you at the upcoming bookbinding conference in Canberra! Thanks again.