Hot tip: washing smoke sponges

One of the students recently blew our minds when she came back from an internship and told us that you can wash and re-use smoke sponges. They're vulcanized rubber blocks designed for removing soot from walls after a fire, a pretty similar application to removing surface dirt from paper, so we've adopted them in conservation for that use. Only I was taught to cut them in increasingly smaller blocks to expose new surfaces as the old ones get dirty, until I'm left with a pile of tiny black sponges that just can't be cut anymore. There's an art to this as well, because of course the thing squishes between the scissors, making it difficult to cut a flat plane. Each new smoke sponge is a game to cut into the most efficient bits possible. Used to be a game.

Smoke sponge in action on a dirty album: we often can't remove all the dirt, but it's definitely better than it was. The longer you leave it, the more it gets embedded in the paper fibers, so don't let it get this bad! This book gets a pass, as it made it through WWII in London, known even in the best of times as "The Smoke" at least through the 50s)

Smoke sponge in action on a dirty album: we often can't remove all the dirt, but it's definitely better than it was. The longer you leave it, the more it gets embedded in the paper fibers, so don't let it get this bad! This book gets a pass, as it made it through WWII in London, known even in the best of times as "The Smoke" at least through the 50s)

The student learned on placement that all you need to do is wash the sponge in soapy water in order to make it pretty close to clean and reusable many more times! No more careful cutting, no more holding onto tiny bits of sponge. I was so incredulous that I ran off and did it right away, and then felt pretty stupid for not having thought of it before. Rest of the world, did you know this and not tell me, or is this going to blow your mind also? Check it out:

New PTFE folders from Dennis Ruud

A small thud in the hall this morning turned out to be a little envelope from Dennis Ruud with two Teflon (polytetrafluoroethylene) folders inside: the small spatula and microspatula offered here. I think I'd been given one of Dennis' microspatulas by my first supervisor in conservation, and had left it behind by accident when I left New York, never to be seen again. I didn't know where it came from originally and never got around to tracking another one down so it was such a delight to see it appear, with another one to boot. I've been working on the box for my herbarium this morning, and the package came just in time for laying down the inset vellum panel. Lovely tools, highly recommended.

Tools of the Trade

There must've been an old clause in airline travel that let you take otherwise contraband items through, as long as they were "tools of the trade," because those are the words my bookbinding instructor, Maureen Duke, always uses when she talks about bringing paring knives through airport security. It stuck with me because of the smirk she used when she said the term, like it was the magic phrase that would suddenly defeat the intimidating security guys. "Tools of the trade, boys!" and she saunters through with her knives. I can picture it.

The tools within reach at my desk

The tools within reach at my desk

With the new academic year started, and students starting to build up their own collections of tools, I gathered my favorites.

Tweezers, largely "borrowed" from my dad, who used to be a doctor. The pale green one is the best; pointy but not too pointy, flexible but not too flexible, sleek. Regine, epoxy-coated stainless steel.

Tweezers, largely "borrowed" from my dad, who used to be a doctor. The pale green one is the best; pointy but not too pointy, flexible but not too flexible, sleek. Regine, epoxy-coated stainless steel.

Tiny scissors also borrowed from Dad. The big ones from Maureen, and the middle-sized ones from another bookbinder. 

Tiny scissors also borrowed from Dad. The big ones from Maureen, and the middle-sized ones from another bookbinder. 

More bone folders than I need: I only ever use the one to the left of the PTFE (white) one, and the tiny one. Tiny one came from a manicure set, and has a little curve at the tip. The wooden one is a replica 18th c. French folder that Tristram made me.

More bone folders than I need: I only ever use the one to the left of the PTFE (white) one, and the tiny one. Tiny one came from a manicure set, and has a little curve at the tip. The wooden one is a replica 18th c. French folder that Tristram made me.

The thin spatula is the one I can't live without, and use daily. The large one is nice for scraping spines. The wooden-handled ones are feeler guages so nicely adapted into little spatulas for me by  Tomoyuki Uemori .

The thin spatula is the one I can't live without, and use daily. The large one is nice for scraping spines. The wooden-handled ones are feeler guages so nicely adapted into little spatulas for me by Tomoyuki Uemori.

The essential dividers , mostly inherited and the top two purchased, a little loose to be so useful as the others, but too beautiful to leave behind.

The essential dividers, mostly inherited and the top two purchased, a little loose to be so useful as the others, but too beautiful to leave behind.

The middle one a gift from Tomo, and my favorite. 

The middle one a gift from Tomo, and my favorite. 

Not anywhere close to all of the brushes accumulated between conservation and the old art school days, but an assortment of paste brushes, paint brushes, cleaning brushes, consolidation brushes, glaire brushes. I've had the big glue brush since I was 16, if that excuses the rust. The only one I ever had, until I was gifted the tiny one (more useful that you might guess) and inherited a massive one about four times its size, that doesn't even fit on my desk.

Not anywhere close to all of the brushes accumulated between conservation and the old art school days, but an assortment of paste brushes, paint brushes, cleaning brushes, consolidation brushes, glaire brushes. I've had the big glue brush since I was 16, if that excuses the rust. The only one I ever had, until I was gifted the tiny one (more useful that you might guess) and inherited a massive one about four times its size, that doesn't even fit on my desk.

Maybe bookbinding tools next time.

New press!

We found it with three different chipped coats of paint and a lot of rust in the southwest. The man we got it from had images of it as a garden ornament when he bought it at a local auction, until he lifted it and realized how massively heavy it was. "What are you going to do with it," he said to me curiously.
— Well, to make books.
— Is that what it's for??

After dragging it up the stairs, cursing each one, we scrubbed the rust off, waxed the platens, shined up the brass nameplate, primed & painted it dark glossy blue-grey. Now we have to think of a name for him.