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  1. Conservation Conversations // About Equipmemt

    December 30, 2014 by Jeanne Goodman

    Book conservation labs are an interesting hybrid of a paper conservation lab and a bindery. Much of the equipment in a bindery you could find in a book lab, but not necessarily the other way around. Book labs can also be divided by activities, when space allows. Some processes are dirtier then others (such as sanding, red-rotted book repair, mold vacuuming) and need to be kept separate from clean spaces (washing sink, paper repair areas).

    Of the many considerations when deciding which equipment should be acquired and in what order, I would say the first is to identify and prioritize the needs of the collection you are conserving. If there is a large collection of over-sized maps, the documentations washing sink should be of a size to safely accommodate slightly bigger then the average size of those maps. Some equipment, such as a leafcaster, are highly specialized and you may not acquire one until much later when the right project or the funds become available. Other considerations to muck up the works are: square footage of the space available to you, budget, floor neighbors, budget, space infrastructural needs (water source, ventilation, outlets, noise suppression), availability of equipment…..and BUDGET.

    Just for fun, I am going to ignore all that annoying stuff and just give you the coveted lab equipment that made my list. This is by no means an exhaustive list and I stuck to things that you would find in a lab but not a bindery.

    Encapsulator. Used to create custom polyester sleeves for flat paper items. Not air tight as to create a micro-climate, the sleeve protects a fragile item by giving it support from both sides by a clear polyester film and leaves all physical attributes and information completely visible. Unique to the conservation world, this machine was invented by Bill Minter, another book conservator. How it works: an ultrasonic welder attached to a brace bar with a motor that it allows it to travel back and forth along the bar as the welder welds two sheets of polyester film together around the paper object. The item/polyester sandwich is held in place on the table by a blanket of magnets which also pushes out any air and keeps the item flat.

    Suction table. For controlled use of moisture and/or solvents to a localize area of flat paper during conservation treatment, especially useful with items that have friable or fugitive media. Invented by Marilyn Weidner in 1972, another clever and inventive conservator, this unique piece equipment will be found in most paper labs. How it works: The table work surface is a perforated aluminum top which draws air down providing a uniform suction over the entire work surface. Clean, dry blotter is placed between the item and work surface as treatments are performed.






    Vacuuming mold from books

    Fume hood. Used to protect workers from solvent fumes and exposure to mold spores. Conservators will place  mold contaminated items inside to vacuum and for treatment. Also a place to perform small treatments with solvents if you do not have a fume trunk. Not unique to conservation, fume hoods and trunks are found in chemical and bio labs that use solvents. How they work: fume hoods (or cabinets) are typically enclosed on five sides and have a sliding glass opening at about standing work height. They can be either ducted or recirculating, but both work the same by drawing in air from the open side of the cabinet and expelling the air outside the building or made safe through a system of filtration and recirculated into the building. (wiki answer)

    Documents Washing Sink. Just how it sounds, a giant sink for washing paper. The sink is typically custom sized to the space and standing working height with a special water filtration source. The large flat area is necessary for not only washing and humidifying large paper items, but can also be used to hold multiple trays to wash and humidify smaller items.






    Before treatment

    Photo documentation. The equipment used for photo documentation vary from extravagant use of space (separate room with multiple copy stands, backdrops, dedicated lights and tech) to more humble situations (plexi glass on stacked crates and roll of grey paper mounted to the wall), but all will have a dedicated camera, typically a high quality DSLR. Photos are taken before and after treatment and are included in the written treatment report that accompanies all conserved items. Documentation of items being conserved is an industry standard and a dedicated photo documentation area in the lab helps streamline the process to make it less time consuming.

  2. Conservation Conversations // Leafcasting

    March 20, 2014 by Athena Moore


    Leafcasting is magic. Well, it at least LOOKS like magic. A not-oft-used conservation method, leafcasting helps to strengthen paper by filling areas of loss with pulp. Experimentation with this treatment began by hand in the 1950s, but was made considerably easier and more efficient with the advent of the leafcasting machine in the following decade.

    There are only a small number of institutions that have leafcasting machines and an even smaller number that use them. At the Northeast Document Conservation Center, where I work as an assistant book conservator, we’re lucky enough to have one (on semi-permanent loan from the North Bennet Street School – thanks, Jeff!). Before coming to NEDCC, I had no idea what this machine was or what it did. Kiyoshi Imai, who has been with NEDCC’s book laboratory for over 20 years, is something of an expert on this treatment. He was kind enough to teach me the process (and re-train my brain on the intricacies of arithmetic) and I’ve been somewhat obsessed ever since.

    The leafcaster is essentially a paper-making machine. A document or folio (or multiple folios, as is sometimes the case) with losses is measured to determine the weight and full size dimensions. The areas with losses are measured and subtracted from that. There are a few more math steps in there, but essentially what you come up with is one number – this is the amount of pulp needed to fill the losses in grams. Leafcasting pulp can be made out of cotton and/or hemp fiber pulp or handmade paper. It is often necessary to use a combination of both, as one of the issues a conservator is attempting to address in the process is finding a good color match for the object.


    The material that is chosen is blended with water to form a slurry. The object is placed on a sheet of spun polyester (which makes for easier handling and allows water to pass through) in the “casting area” of the machine and is held down by a screen while water is poured in. The pulp slurry is added to this water, distributed evenly and finally removed from the casting area by a pump located below. The pulp is pulled to the areas in the object with losses. If the conservator has done their job well, the new material will appear even and well matched in thickness and color.


    The cast object is removed from the leafcaster with a second sheet of spun polyester and can be sized on a suction table, which helps to improve the strength of the original object and the adherence of the new cast material to the original material. The object can be dried either in a press or under blankets, depending on the intended result – drying it in a press can often augment the size, so in the case of casting just a folio or two from a bound volume, it may be best to allow for a slower, more gentle form of drying. If the object is a one-off, it can be slightly faster to dry it in the press.


    While it isn’t the appropriate treatment for all items, leafcasting can be a great option for some. Volumes that have large amounts of insect damage, for instance, often require a huge amount of mending time. Attempting to hand fill losses at that scale is daunting. Because the damage is usually fairly consistent, it is relatively easy to use the same math on large sets of folios. It’s also very likely that the same pulp would be used, so the biggest time commitment is just the initial set up. When an object is well cast, the strength and stability of it is greatly increased. Objects that have been cast are protected against further damage in weak areas and can be handled much more safely. Because it is essentially just handmade paper pasted to the object, it is also reversible.

    It’s easy enough to create your own losses in sample materials, so if you’ve got access to a leafcaster, try it out!

    leafcasting illustration

    I am currently working with Helen Bailey, Library Fellow for Digital Curation and Preservation at MIT, to develop software that can use digital images of objects with losses to determine the amount of pulp needed and will be leading a leafcasting demonstration and lecture for SUNY Buffalo’s art conservation graduate students this spring. I have also created a user’s manual for the Model 0901 Leafcaster, so if you have any related questions, please feel free to send them my way! 

  • Visit My Bindery
    My name is Erin Fletcher, owner and bookbinder of Herringbone Bindery in Boston. Flash of the Hand is a space where I share my process and inspirations.
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