Papermaker Katie MacGregor’s structure of cellulose watermark. (C6H10O5)n rules!
Papermaker Katie MacGregor’s structure of cellulose watermark. (C6H10O5)n rules!
Modified 151 spokeshaves are used by bookbinders and leather workers for reducing large areas of the thickness of leather and are especially good at creating a long gradual bevel. They are also indispensable for working calf, which is difficult to pare using a Scharf-Fix machine. I’ve been experimenting with the somewhat new Lee Valley PM-V11 spokeshave blade. PM-V11 is a proprietary steel designed for woodworkers, and reportedly has the ease of sharpening of 01 steel and the durability of A2.
I’m glad they did some testing of O1, A2 and PM-V111 metals, but have some problems with their methodologies. Most importantly, the assigning of a 0-10 rating for wear based on subjective visual examination, rather than the industry standard CATRA testing machine. Then a deceptive XYZ plotting of wear testing, impact resistance, and ease of sharpening all together creating a three-dimensional triangle. Where is Edwin Tufte when you need him? They have developed a clever method of quantifying ease of sharpening, however. Oddly, at the bottom of The PM-V11 story page, they negate the need for testing, and lay on some aw-shucks folk wisdom, claiming that woodworkers don’t need an advanced degree in metallurgy or a scanning electron microscope to realize PM-V11 is a better blade.
In any event, I was still curious. In order to work effectively on leather, first I reground the blade to 20 degrees using a 2 x 72″ belt grinder. Then I hand sharpened an A2 and PM-V11 blade side-by-side. There wasn’t much difference in the time it took. The PM-V11 blade did feel a little gummy, which some woodworkers speculate may be due to vanadium in the blade. Edge retention seemed quite similar, though possibly the PM-V11 lasted a bit longer. PM-V11 did seem to have slightly better initial cutting performance (sharpness), however. Most importantly, PM-V11 was quicker to strop back into action than A2; it felt more like an M3 steel.
Even though PM-V11 and A2 don’t seem to be massively different, I will continue to experiment. Both of these steels are excellent. Yet, concentrating on subtle differences can reinvigorate interest in repetitive handwork, helping to stave off the inevitable boredom which looms at the edges of all professional craft work. Or, put another way, buy more tools.
In preparation for an upcoming workshop, I realized we could use an extra press. I wanted something slightly nicer than the a basic four carriage bolt type, but didn’t need another real book press. This version, which we will test out in July at the Winterthur Historic Structures Class, fulfills several basic requirements: relatively inexpensive, rock solid, the platen stays up so that you can accurately load it, and it is easier to use than carriage bolt style presses.
Most of the hardware for this came from Mc-Master Carr, including the Acme bolt assembly and aluminum platen reinforcements. This version fits books up to 9 x 6 inches and has almost 5 inches a daylight. I think this press could be scalable, using thicker aluminum, and possibly even four Acme assemblies.
Peter Verheyen is doing some fascinating research, beginning to delve into the history of bookbinding as rehabilitation. His post contains some shocking, truly bizarre, graphic images of German WWI era bookbinders equipped with prosthetic bookbinding tools. Imagine bone folders, polishing irons, hammers all screwed—”plug and play” as Peter puts it—into holsters strapped over their stumps. Yet, judging from the images of the bindings, their skill level would put many modern fine binders to shame.
His investigation provides a counter narrative to the all too common notion that bookbinders are just “good with their hands”. I still encounter this, most often in academic contexts, from someone who is “good with their head”. Sometimes it is said out of ignorance, but sometimes it is an attempt to belittle the multiple intelligences, hard work, experience and knowledge it takes to work with your hands. Peters research illustrates you can be good with your hands, even if you have no hands. But you do need a head.
The ability to dexterously manipulate one’s hands creates doubt in the minds of others about brain power, for some reason. Even in 2015, this is still a problem in the field of book conservation, where many of us work all day with our hands. The ranking of the hand below the head is linked closely to ideas of class, and is possibly more prevalent in England than here in America. I’d be curious to hear about other countries. This may also be part of the reason for the relatively low salaries in the field of conservation, when compared to other professions with similar training and professional development expectations.
I was also reminded me of an article concerning a blind bookbinder from the 1950’s, which I reproduced below. In some senses this blind bookbinder is working with his hands twice as hard as the rest of us: simultaneously binding the book while judging the tactile feedback on what he is doing, rather than having the additional advantage of visual feedback. Obviously, his head is still involved.
I tried this once, and recased a book while blindfolded. WARNING: it isn’t pretty. Images here.
I would have to rank the Cady Automatic Hand Micrometer as one of the most beautiful and well made tools I own. The E.J. Cady company is still in business, making this exact model which looks like it has not changed in design or construction since the 1950’s. It would not be out of place on the dashboard of a Bentley.
Like most people, I have a number of dial micrometers, or dial thickness gauges as they are sometimes called. A deep throat Calati is perfect for measuring in the center of large sheets of paper. A super accurate Ames #2 (.0001″) with a 6oz. weight on top is great for obtaining standardized results with slightly compressible material, like leather. A portable, hand held Mitutoyo is small and lightweight, perfect for taking on the road.
Since I only use micrometers these a couple of times a year, the batteries in the digital ones always seemed to be dead. The digital versions are handy, though, if you use them a lot, or need to easily convert between English and Metric systems. The mechanically geared hand on the dial face has a definite nostalgic attraction for me, like the VU meters on a stereo amplifier.
The Cloisters is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, located in upper Manhattan, quite near my studio. In fact, I think I might be able to see it, if I climbed up on my bench and peeked out the upper left corner of my window. Northern Manhattan is quite different from the rest of the city. It is where the Dutch purchased the island from the Native Americans and there is still even a farmhouse located on Broadway dating to 1784, which is now a museum.
The Cloisters was built (assembled?) in 1938, and consists of four medieval buildings imported from Europe. It is located inside the 66 acres of Fort Tryon park. There are also beautiful gardens, including a nice garden featuring plants used for making dyes and paints. Looking across the Hudson River, there is a stunning view of the Palisades of New Jersey which John D. Rockefeller so admired he purchased 12 miles of shoreline to preserve the naturalistic view from the park.
The Cloisters is not only my favorite museum, but it has my favorite painting, The Merode Alterpiece. Note to the impecunious: although the Met recommends a $25 entrance fee, you can pay whatever you wish.
In April of 2015, I decided to photograph 34 actual books and works of art which contain representations of books which were on display. This was also a great chance to try a lot of handheld, low light photography with my new Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7, which is proving to be the second best camera I’ve ever owned. There are higher resolution images for most of these on the Met site, searchable by accession number.
If anyone would like to visit my studio, we could take a short detour to the Cloisters and look at the works, discussing what we can — and can’t — learn from looking at representations of books in art. Or you can can use this as a virtual or self guided tour.
BOOKS AND REPRESENTATIONS OF BOOKS ON DISPLAY IN APRIL, 2015,
AT THE CLOISTERS MUSEUM, NYC
This virtual tour starts on the main level in the Late Gothic Hall, and follows a counterclockwise path around the Cuxa Cloister, then jumps to the Gothic chapel, Glass Gallery and the Treasury on the lower level.
LATE GOTHIC HALL
UNICORN TAPESTRIES ROOM
EARLY GOTHIC HALL
SAINT GUILHEM CLOISTER
LOWER LEVEL, GOTHIC CHAPEL