Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Right Tools for the Job

Like many conservators, tools interest me. They allow my hands to execute very specific actions in a more exacting fashion than they could alone. On the whole, a knife, for example, makes a cleaner cut than the tear made without one. A spatula lifts a thin piece of bookcloth with more accuracy than a fingernail. It’s valuable to keep in mind that occasionally to tear is the better action than to cut—sometimes speed beats accuracy or the feathered edge is more appropriate.

In my conservation work I use a fairly small selection of tools, only venturing outside this basic set when the repairs stray from the usual. My basic hand tools:
Pictured bottom row, left to right: staple remover, awl, microspatula, Casselli knife (larger), Caselli knife (smaller), scissors, bone folder, bone folder (smaller), Teflon folder, needle, tweezers, Olfa cutting knife, glue brush. Top row, left to right: weight, rubber cement pick-up (crepe eraser), and 45-degree right triangle. Not pictured: 12” and 18” rulers, large scissors.

Tools for cutting:
A small pair of scissors that cut all the way to the tip and a sharp, straight-bladed knife are both very useful tools. Sometimes you want a quick rough cut, and scissors are the perfect tool for the efficiency. Other times accurate cutting is essential, and a knife is the best option. Change the blade frequently, as a sharp blade is a safe one.

Tools for sewing:
A staple remover (top) can pry staples apart for removal without causing paper damage. A bookbinding needle, whose eye is no wider than the body of the needle, will allow tighter sewing since the hole the needle makes will not be larger than the needle’s thickness. (The needle size should be in harmony with the thread size.) The awl (bottom) has a shaft of equal width its entire length allowing for piercing holes of a consistent size.

Tools for lifting:
The Casselli #4 spatula (top) is my usual tool for lifting leather or paper when rebacking a book, and it can also be used for spine cleaning. The blade is very thin, as is the blade on the small Caselli #2 (3rd from top), which easily gets into very small spaces. The microspatula (2nd from top) has a thicker blade, but still allows for the insertion of glue or paste in small areas. The tweezers (bottom), with their fine, pointed tip, assist with positioning Japanese paper in repairs and removing excess cloth in corners when making boxes.

Recently, the blog of the Preservation Department at Parks Library of Iowa State University had a detailed post on microspatulas, including photos of them in action.

Tools for scoring, folding, and pressing:
My small Teflon folder (top) has two very useful ends: one pointed and one chiseled. Both ends of the tool allow tight adhesion of book cloth to board when making boxes, especially in the corners. The entire length can help secure a spine on a reback, and the Teflon material does not cause burnishing of the cloth or paper as bone folders can. My larger Teflon folder (not pictured) gets pulled out for larger projects. The two other folders are made of bone, with the middle folder’s blunt tip and wider body being useful for most work, and the lower folder helpful for smaller, more detailed work. The bottom folder’s tip broke some time ago, but a bit of sanding smoothed the rough bone with no detriment to its function. (A word of caution about sanding: Do not sand bone or Teflon without adequate health protection, as the dust can be harmful if inhaled.)

Tools for gluing, measuring, and stabilizing:
Much of the work I do requires applying glue or paste to small areas; hence the small sizes of my glue brush (top) and paste brush (bottom). Both have brush tips about 1/2-inch in width. For box-making or gluing up large areas of paper or cloth, I generally use a foam paint roller for application (not pictured). A small flat weight (a piece of steel covered with book cloth) holds work in place while sewing or drying. A rubber cement pick-up (also called a crepe eraser) will often get a stray bit of glue off of book cloth or paper. The small metal 45-degree right triangle is essential for box-making. It is also convenient for trimming small pieces of material on the bench, without requiring a walk to the board shear.

If tools interest you too, then you may wish to follow Jeff Peachey’s blog. He writes about tools, as well as makes and sells them.

Tools for bookbinding and conservation are available from a variety of vendors, including local hardware, craft, and stationary stores, as well as those businesses catering specifically to the conservation and binding fields. Additionally, the vendor room at the Guild of Book Workers Standards of Excellence Seminar each year provides a great opportunity to see a wide range of tools and supplies, and to support the vendors who keep the specialized items available to practitioners. The vendor room is open to all, not just conference attendees. A list of past vendors can be found on the Standards website. A list of supplies and services for bookbinding and conservation can be found here.

Written by Stephanie Wolff.

1 comment:

  1. I can't believe I missed this when you first posted it, Stephanie -- thanks for the shout-out. Great post showing all the common hand tools for our trade and what they're used for! I know some folks prefer scalpels with various-shaped blades for cutting (most of our staff do), but I love the ease of the snap-off Olfa knife myself. I also prefer the Olfa from a safety perspective, since it can easily be slid closed before setting it down on the bench, while a scalpel remains a live blade. I do prefer a scalpel if I am doing any delicate cutting, though, such as intricately shaped tissue fills or trimming mends at the edge of a document.