Chris Brown’s Five Essential Book Conservation Tools

Chris Brown

As primarily a conservator, the majority of the time, I set a book on the bench for conservation and repair, and immediately gather my primary tools.
In order of reach are:
The bone folder which was gifted to me by my mentor, when I started my apprenticeship. I have since been gathering folders that I like, but are not as married to as this one, so that I may give a bone folder to those I teach, should the time arise. This is tradition for me, more so than an immediate need for the folder in the first part of the conservation work.
Next is the Olfa 9mm, with Ultrasharp black blades. They’re worth the relatively minor increase in cost, as they last far longer than the regular blades, for my work needs. When I switched to the retractable from an X-acto knife, I stopped bleeding by about 90%, per book. I have to have sharp blades, good visibility and dexterity without sacrificing safety, as I disbind a book, open hinges and trim leather to fit.
Third is my my large steel spatula. This assists me with most lifting, as I can feel far greater subtlety in the process of lifting a delicate page, than I can with the lifting knife my sensei taught me to make. When I need good, old-fashioned horse power and material removal, I go to the hacksaw based blade. When I want to feel the difference between lifting paper and the first layer of board, this is what I need.
Fourth, will be the dental scraper/pick. When the proteinaceous glue on the spine, is cantankerous after three applications of wheat paste or Metyl Cellulose, the fourth application of glue removal compound is coupled with detailed work to keep as much of the fold integrity as possible, while removing as much old glue from the crevasses as can be.
Finally, the fifth tool I wouldn’t be without is the Peachey Delrin folder. I chose this shape because I needed to be able to smooth down larger sections of leather or end-papers, fold and manipulate leather and paper and generally be able to work with straight PVA in some areas. The Delrin doesn’t feel as flimsy in my grumpy fingers as does a folder made of Teflon. It also has the tendency to stay out in my hand and not go flying around the table like a watermelon seed violently pinched between thumb and forefinger. From paste to PVA, this folder provides me with the ability to smooth no small range of cloth, leather and papers to provide an aesthetically pleasing finished product for the client.
If I were to add anything to this list, I would add two types of brushes, and a one meter long, non-cork back straight edge, with millimeter gradations.
The two types of brushes: Good natural bristle paste brushes, and a good set of artificial bristle brushes of varying size, for PVA application.
With the first 5 tools, I can conserve most things.

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?