Elissa O’Loughlin’s Five Essential Tools for Paper Conservation

Elissa’s five essential tools for paper conservation. Center: Noribake paste brush. Left: Caselli #11 microspatula and bone folder. Bottom: 000 sable brush and a string wrapped Japanese chop carving knife.

Elissa O’Loughlin

Paper Conservator and Wren Haven Tools

Most paper conservators identify with all things Japanese. This is because we use so many Japanese-made materials and methods in our work. If there was a universal symbol for paper conservators, it would be the noribake or paste brush. This traditional tool is used in conservation for application of paste to linings and for making prepared repair tissues. It has goat hair bristles and is made of Japanese cedar, cherry bark, and cord. The care of these brushes is time consuming—long, careful washing and rinsing plus special drying technique—bristles hanging downwards! The brushes cost between $150 and $300. They are made by craftsmen in Kyoto and in Tokyo. Each city has its own style of handle. Kyoto has a rounded shoulder, but Tokyo’s is angled. Leave it to the Japanese to have different styles! I have had mine for 38 years.

The second tool is a very thin and narrow carbon steel microspatula. Made by Caselli, located in Milan. It is the number 11 Minarette – but don’t go looking for one because they are not made anymore. A colleague in Milan visited the shop only to discover that the one ancient venerable craftsman who was skilled enough to make them had retired. Their larger spatulas are still available and can be worked down to your requirements. Many sad instances of dropped Casellis have resulted in bends or breaks—Not to worry! The steel is wonderful and easily re-worked on a stone or slow rpm grinding wheel. Just don’t get the steel too hot! The picture shows several reworked versions.

Number three must be the bone folder I first got in 1983. It has no special characteristics except for the fact that I scratched the new year into it every year for ten years. Don’t know why I stopped! You probably can’t see the numbers in the picture, but rest assured the blue color was an unfortunate accident … poor old thing!

The fourth tool is a triple-zero Windsor and Newton Series 7 Kolinsky sable brush. No paper conservator can work without this trusty brush used for solubility testing. They are a miracle of craftsmanship!

The fifth tool is a Japanese chop-carving knife. This little knife is made from rectangular stock and is worked down to a puffy blunt-angled edge. It is used to thin paper and to delaminate Japanese papers for mending and filling losses and tears. The handle is wrapped in silk. They are hard to find any more.

I have always been particularly protective of my tools, but I won’t hesitate to put one into your hands for you to learn by. This surprises many students – but how else can the tool and its potentials be felt? Luckily, as a conservator, the students I’ve taught are overwhelmingly respectful and careful.

Woe be to the abuser of tools!

Julia Miller’s Five Essential Tools for a Book Historian

Julia’s five essential tools. Wait a second, are there six? Isn’t a book a tool?

Julia Miller

Book Conservator, Author, Book Historian

A Bone folder, Caselli microspatula, mechanical pencil, Clover brand awl, and tape measure. With an excellent reference for guidance (more always sought for), a few more simple tools, and the appropriate materials, I can take notes, think through, and model the early codex bindings that have and continue to teach me so much about early codex structure. Frustrating fun, don’t you know?

Erin Fletcher’s Five Essential Bookbinding Tools

Erin’s five essential tools. Since she is locked out of her studio, she had to draw some of them from memory!

Erin Fletcher

Hand bookbinder specializing in embroidered bindings

Herringbone Bindery

1. My oldest tool: a classic bone folder
I reach for this tool every day in the studio to assist in many aspects of my work. I’ve definitely developed an attachment to this specific bone folder and experience a mini panic attack if I can’t find it.
2. Pin Vise
I find my pin vise essential for both my bookbinding and embroidery work. As opposed to an awl, I appreciate the versatility of a pin vise. Switching out the size of the needle based on the work offers me more control. I talk up this tool every chance I get during workshops.
3. Embroidery Scissors
These small, slender scissors that cut to the point are great for snipping small stitches and getting me out of a bind when I make an error. Plus embroidery scissors come in a wide range of colors and designs, so they’re great for collecting.

4. Tracing Paper
After drafting the design for a binding, I reach for the tracing paper to use throughout the design and binding process. It’s perfect for determining the layers of a design. I also use tracing paper to place onlays and pre-punch for embroidery. And it comes in handy for tooling.

5. Olfa Snap-Off Blade Cutter
I think it’s important to use tools that feel comfortable in your hand. This particular style of Olfa knife is my absolute favorite. It’s slim and wide, but not too slim or too wide. I bought several replacements during a trip to Tokyo!