Tools of the trade December 17, 2018 By Harry Ransom CenterConservators Olivia Primanis and Kimberly Kwan of the book and paper lab and Diana Diaz of the photography lab talk about the tools that make their work possible, from the esoteric and vintage to the commonplace and modern. Brushes This is a pounding brush, made of fibers from the hemp palm tree. The wooden paddle of this sheep hair brush allows us to hold it in a specific way to apply paste. The tiny, stiff fibers on the smaller brushes are useful for mending photographs, helping spread and align the paper fibers and strengthening the paper layers. Agate burnisher This agate burnisher is used in the process of gilding the edges of a book. The stone helps to polish and blend gold leaf applied to a surface. It’s soft and doesn’t scratch the gold leaf. Optivisor It’s a wonderful magnification tool for seeing how the fibers of a tear overlap when we’re mending paper. In making a repair, we might have to change the direction the fibers lie or apply adhesive in a tiny area. It’s also great for examining photographs. Spoke Shave This is actually a woodworking tool, but it’s used for thinning leather when repairing bindings or making new covers. Kitchen tools This is a ceramic saucer for soy sauce! It’s black, so we can easily see the white paste used to mend tears in photographs. Other common kitchen tools we use sometimes are oyster shuckers, spatulas and graters of different sizes, and chopstick holders like this fish. Loupes To mend photographs, we usually work under microscopes or while using this magnifying loupe (an old photographer’s tool for reviewing negatives). Knives English binders typically use a paring knife and a spoke shave to thin the edges of a piece of leather. If a spine is missing and the covers are detached, we add a new piece of leather to the spine and tuck it underneath the material on the front and back cover. Thinned edges reduce lumps. This one is a rounded French-style blade. French binders don’t use a spoke shave; the rounded blade does the work. All conservators learn to shape and sharpen knives in their training. We test whether the blade is sharp enough by shaving off some arm hair. Scalpels, Dental tools We also use surgeon scalpels and dental tools from standard dental supply stores. The one with the spoon edge would be used for dental fillings, but we use it to precisely press the adhesive during a photographic mend. Lifter This wood tool is made from lignum vitae, a hardwood tree that grows in South America. It’s quite thin but still flexible. We often use it to separate layers of board. You don’t always want a sharp edge, which can cut into the area you’re trying to lift. Brass rolls These brass rolls are used for decorating leather book covers with gold. You’d make an impression, add a special shellac, then add the gold using a heated tool. Dividers We use spring dividers for measuring. They are much more exact than a ruler.