Images and text by Garry
Head, Circulating Collections Conservation,
University Libraries Preservation Department
The primary manner in which we use the chisel in our lab is
an innovation of our own. It is used to remove plastic adhesives from the spines of the sewn text
blocks of books needing high-level treatments. Plastic adhesives present a problem in that they are
insoluble in methyl cellulose. The conventional options for removing plastic adhesives (heat, solvents)
both pose health concerns. The safest environment for using these methods is to either work
outdoors, upwind from the hazard, or to work within the confines of a fume hood. Working outdoors is
often not possible and for years we had no fume hood, so we cultivated the technique of removing the
plastic manually, using a razor-sharp chisel as a hand-guided low-angle plane. The chisel is used in both bevel-up and bevel-down positions, depending on the need. This technique of adhesive removal requires great care and is definitely an acquired skill.
The chisel is also used for routing trenches in binder's board. One purpose of this is to make flush the tying tapes of certain portfolio-type enclosures. Another is for creating a recess in the front board of a new case, into which is inlaid a title- or illustration-bearing section of original cover material, after covering.
There is nothing special about either the type or quality of the chisels we use for this work. They are ordinary wood-working chisels of inexpensive make.
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