Deep Listening and Bookbinding Practice

OK, at this point I feel I need to come clean a little bit and admit I have hobbies. I feel guilty taking time away from bookbinding which for so long has been the primary occupier of my mind and heart. But sometimes I find it’s healthy to get out of the studio, step away from the bone folder…  One of the side pursuits I enjoy is singing. For the past few years I’ve been fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of the good people of the Cornelius Cardew Choir, and sing with them in rehearsal and performance. Cornelius Cardew was an eccentric English composer of abstract music in the utopian vein. Readers of my blog may already know I enjoy and take inspiration from abstract, or sometimes called new, avant garde, noise, what-have-you, music… As you can tell, I don’t get too involved with labels, but ever since I was a teenager and discovered the radio program New Sounds, I have loved it. So as soon as I moved out to the bay area and discovered the Cardew Choir, I started attending rehearsals. The signature event of our group is the performance every year at the Garden of Memory. The Garden of Memory is an extraordinary musical event held in a columbarium every year on the summer solstice. Yes, that’s right, a music event in a building erected to store urns containing ashes of the deceased. Oakland has an unusual columbarium designed and built almost a century ago by a famous lady architect, and that’s where we perform in the event called Garden of Memory.

Circle of singers: some are regular choir memers, others are general public. This was very early in the evening; the circle is rather small at this point

Circle of singers: some are regular choir members, others are general public. This was very early in the evening; the circle is rather small at this point

Many of the urns are shaped like books, recalling a passage from Laurie Anderson: "When my father died, it was like a whole library had burned down"

Many of the urns are shaped like books, recalling a passage from Laurie Anderson: “When my father died, it was like a whole library had burned down”

It’s an extraordinary setting for an extraordinary piece: the choir invites participation from the audience, and due to the nature of the larger event in which we play a small part, audience members sift through the crowd and come and go as they like. The piece we perform was created by Pauline Oliveros and is called the Heart Chant. The general instructions for the piece are as follows: Rub your hands together to warm them. Place your right hand over your heart. Place your left hand on the back of the person to your left (thus a circle is created). Sing and hold a single tone for a full length of breath (though without strain). That’s pretty much it. The pitch we as choir members choose is often based on a practice our confounder calls “pitch shopping”: listening to the pitches of the rest of the group, and choosing one that is comfortable for your range (though you can initiate a new one if you feel it’s necessary). The performance can continue as long as the performers desire it; we generally perform from about 5:30-9:30 pm (phasing individual singers in and out to take breaks). Last year, the performance continued longer, since there were so many joining in; we even had to create a second circle to accomodate all who wanted to participate! As the performance continues, it evolves based on who is present at which time, and what tones they (we) are singing. We pick up on each others’ pitches and perpetuate them, provided they are within a comfortable range. As each note lasts the length of one breath, you need to choose something you can live with for that long. It is surprisingly harmonious. We all hear, or hear about, those singers who are always off pitch in a group, right? Well, this event/piece never ceases to amaze me in how closely people listen to each other, and how wonderful it always sounds.

There are so many great things about this piece, and practicing it at least once a year as I do, I learn something new every time. It is a powerful experience to practice listening to others in this era when most people seem to be wearing headphones alla time. In all vocal work, it is necessary to listen, since your voice is not like a piano where you press a key and the same note comes out every time. It requires a lot of focus and concentration, because you must listen and sing at the same time.

Bookbinding requires being a good listener

Thinking about this process, it struck me how similar it is to conservation, teaching, and bookbinding in general. In conservation, listening to the object is the first step in treating it. You must take pre-treatment photos that tell you the item’s history and what its weaknesses and strengths are. You inspect it further, and write about how you see it, and what your plans are for fixing the problems as you see them. As you treat the item, you are continually ‘listening’ to it: the thickness of the paper, the depth of the tear, the qualities of the original sewing, the nature of the boards and covering materials. What will hold and what won’t? You need to pay close attention to the item in front of you in order to achieve a harmonious result. Extending the metaphor, your work must also match the pitch of the item’s.

I find this metaphor to work in teaching as well. It’s important to meet each student where they are, so to speak. The results of being able to do this, when possible, are really satisfying. I’m so happy when my students find bookbinding to be something they can use and incorporate into their lives in meaningful ways.

Soon I will be leaving the bay area briefly to teach some conservation workshops in the San Diego area. It’s exciting, but there are always some unknowns involved in teaching far away. I’m excited to have this experience in deep listening to guide me through!

Some of my recent work

I recently repaired a first edition of Twelve Years a Slave. While the repair of this book probably merits its own blog post, I will just briefly include a couple photos here. It was very important to save every tiny piece of the original cloth spine, which was quite a challenge.

The original front cover

The original front cover

The original spine. There was a lot missing, but I saw some potential here because most of the titling was still there.

The original spine. There was a lot missing, but I saw some potential here because most of the titling was still there.

The end result of the spine: I was able to harmoniously tone the material underneath the original spine material to blend in. It is still obvious that the book is old; no one is being fooled here. But it is all intact; the areas with titling have been preserved, and the integrity of the object has been maintained.

The end result of the spine: I was able to harmoniously tone the material underneath the original spine material to blend in. It is still obvious that the book is old; no one is being fooled here. But it is all intact; the areas with titling have been preserved, and the integrity of the object has been maintained.

The rest of the covers have also received some attention though kozo paper that has been toned to match. The cover boards will now be able to provide adequate protection for the text.

The rest of the covers have also received some attention though kozo paper that has been toned to match. The cover boards will now be able to provide adequate protection for the text.

More about my workshops in San Diego

More about Cornelius Cardew’s graphical scores

More about Pauline Oliveros and Deep Listening

 

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Books Are Round; and, My PSA on PSA

Many of the materials that go into the making of a book are flat: paper, board, bookcloth. Of course, all of these things, including the finished book, are at least three dimensional. But have you ever heard of a book being round? A-round, sure… for some of us more than others. But really, truly, round? In my work repairing old books, I have seen many a round book, meaning the book is no longer a book per se–it has become a receptacle. This is most often the case with family Bibles, but it happens to other books as well.

I recently had the opportunity to repair one such book for a class I taught in book repair. I usually shop for books for students to repair at Friends of the Library sales, and that was where I found The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar. I wanted to write about my work on this book for several reasons, the primary one being that people are often surprised at what I do for a living, and don’t believe that books can in fact be repaired. As you will see here, even when a book has so many problems that they can’t all be repaired at once, the book’s condition can be so vastly improved as to make a huge difference to the future of it. I also wanted to write about this book because my work on it brought up some interesting issues in conservation I thought worth discussing. Finally, there were some things I learned while repairing this book that I wanted to share.

The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar front cover

front cover

Inside front cover

front pastedown: some gummed kraft tape, early cloth medical tape, acid migration…

inside rear cover

rear pastedown…early pressure sensitive adhesive worthy of further study

title page and photogravure portrait of Dunbar

title page and photogravure portrait of Dunbar

These informal photos taken prior to treatment may begin to give you an idea of what I mean when I say this book is a receptacle. In these four photos, we already see six newspaper clippings. And as I continued to observe the book’s condition, I came across many more clippings, pamphlets, three small pages of handwritten notes for a radio address, a church directory, and so on.

Post-treatment: the book plus all the inclusions that weren't glued, taped, or nailed down

Post-treatment: the book plus all the inclusions that weren’t glued, taped, or nailed down

Paul Laurence Dunbar was born only seven years after the end of the Civil War. His parents had been slaves, so he was the first generation of free African-Americans in his family. He wrote poems, novels, and plays, some in dialect, some not. He died young of tuberculosis, dying well before the Harlem Renaissance gained steam. However, many writers from the Harlem Renaissance onward have cited Dunbar as an inspiration, and many feel that he was America’s earliest great African-American literary figure. It makes sense to me, in view of all this, that someone chose to place all their most important notes, desires for self-betterment, news articles on Wendell Willkie, and even Christmas greetings within this volume.

Something I happened to learn while I was repairing this book, through an unrelated string of concurrent events, was how a photogravure is made. Though common in image output generation in book production, I guess I never had the reason to study the making of photogravures before. Someone I know told me he had made some, and when I said I didn’t know what they were, he described them. At that point, I realized that the book I was working on contained one. A pretty nice one, I thought.

Photogravure Portrait of Paul Laurence Dunbar

A photogravure is basically a way of using a film positive to burn an image into a copper plate suitable for use in printing with ink, combining photography with intaglio printing.

http://photogravure.com/

I’m happy with how my repair of this book came out–the book opens well, and all the pages have been stabilized. I’m even more pleased with the repairs completed by my students in the class. The students did so well we even had time to create protective four-flap enclosures for our books, so in my case, all the inclusions now have a contained place to reside that does not compromise the opening and closing of the book’s covers. However, there is one topic that is not addressed in the limited time available in that particular class: tape removal. Tape removal often requires the use of toxic solvents, requiring a vacuum table, a fume hood, and/or a fitted respirator: equipment and materials we do not have at SFCB. The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar has several kinds of very old tape that are all causing various kinds of damage to the paper. The worst instance of this is on the reverse side of the lovely photogravure portrait.

There are many types of tape, and they all age in different ways and at different rates, causing different effects to the paper they’re stuck to. Some of the adhesives dry out and flake off or can be gently scraped off, as was the case with the opaque white tape on the inner front pastedown. Others melt into the fibers of the paper they’re stuck to and create an inextricable bond, and an irreversible stain. This process can take decades, but once it happens, there is not much to be done about it. Holding this page up to the light shows where the tape on the reverse side of this page is located, and where the stain might be headed.

Tape StainLet this be, then, my one and only Public Service Announcement on Pressure-Sensitive Adhesive. Just say no, okay? It does not matter if the product says it’s archival. ‘Archival’ is an even vaguer marketing term than ‘organic’. Believe me, I understand the challenges of possessing an item in need of repair. The temptation to use a quick fix is strong. There are many book repair manuals out there that instruct on the use of tape–unfathomably. But, as common sense dictates, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Books are really amazing. The more I repair and make them, the more respect and awe I have for the ones that stick around. I have seen and repaired many fine and treasured books, but the ones that amaze me most are the ones that seem the least likely to succeed. The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar, despite all appearances, has “good bones”: it was sewn through folds and was printed on decent paper. And despite the copious use of tape by one of its previous owners, I was able to put it back together and give it a gentle push down the road. When things slow down, I may be able to give it some attempts at removing the tape, but for now, the tape will have to stay where it is, unfortunately.

New beginning

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The Literature of Bookbinding

Today’s post comes out of some thoughts I had after “reading” a book with no binding at all: an audiobook version of Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of audiobooks while I work and really enjoying it. (By the way, did you know that many public libraries offer free downloadable material through their websites? ‘Tis available 24/7 as long as you’re square with your library– that is, you have a library card and don’t have excessive fines.  People are often surprised when I tell them that libraries offer these kinds of services. Actually, my librarian friends are some of the more tech-savvy people I know! Another resource for free downloadable audiobooks is the Internet Archive.)

Anyway, there is a scene early in Flow My Tears when the main character visits Cathy, a young woman whose function in life is to falsify ID cards, and while he’s in her workshop, sees what he takes to be a page from a medieval illuminated manuscript on her wall. Actually, it is something Cathy copied herself– in addition to copying official documents, Cathy is skilled at calligraphy and illumination with such a heightened sense of paper and ink that (by her own admission) her piece would “fool a museum”.

The placement of her character in this alternate-reality novel of flying cars, ultrasurveillance of private citizens, and a society at least an arm’s length from itself was startling to me. Being the kind of person I am, it made me wonder a moment that a lot of the authors I really like include references to fine books, calligraphy and printing.

Another author I love who often includes references to fine books is Joe Frank. Most of his shows that have aired on the local public radio station lately have had some mention of his love of antiquarian books, and old books occasionally figure into his plot lines also! It’s difficult, if not impossible, to find free Joe Frank content on the web, so many people don’t know about him, but you can find him at http://www.joefrank.com.

Studs Terkel included an interview with a bookbinder in his book Working. I just found out, too, that he spoke at the Guild of Book Workers conference in Chicago in 1998. (-sigh- Why wasn’t I there??) But I can still read and re-read the entry in Working, which in many ways still accurately describes the life of a freelance/self-employed bookbinder.

Another work of fiction pertaining to bookbinding is The Journal of Dora Damage. A bit rough around its proper Victorian edges, this is a rambling tale of a woman whose husband is a bookbinder and her consequent involvement in the trade, which becomes rather significant through the course of the book.

Pretty often these days I run into people who are interested in what I do for a living, and are fascinated that someone is still doing what I do. Occasionally I get bogged down by how tedius bookbinding can be: lots of manual labor and sore joints, administrative tasks that take me away from the bench, etc. Of course, I have always maintained that bookbinding shall be my profession, not a hobby or pastime, and I know that’s just the nature of work. It is nice, though, to read stories in which bookbinding and related crafts capture an author’s imagination. I am drawn in again to the exciting aspect of what I do and once more begin anew.

Any bookbinding literature you’d like to share? Please feel free to leave your recommendations in the comments area.

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Workshop and Interview with Lori Sauer

I recently had the opportunity to take a class with Lori Sauer here in the bay area. The topic was stub bindings, or bindings which use  narrow hinges, flaps, or concertina folds to attach signatures and/or plates (images printed as single sheets). She is a fine bookbinder working in the U.K.,though she is originally American. Her work is highly skilled, her designs are subtle, and she teaches workshops established under the name BINDING re:DEFINED. You can see some of her recent work here.

I am always interested in meeting other bookbinders far and near, and the topic of her workshop intrigued me. In the past I’ve been frustrated by stub bindings, since I most often see them as books coming into my studio in need of repair.  Puzzled as to how to put these books back together, I study the interlocking stubs, trying to reverse engineer the sewn and glued areas laboriously. I also vividly remember my utter bewilderment about the set book for the Designer Bookbinders’ Water competition. So many plates! Some folded, some flat, and intermingled with folded text signatures; what to do?

In the stub binding workshop, we all discovered there are many ways to construct bindings needing stubs. Stubs can be glued or sewn; concertinas can be glued, sewn, or even nested. Stubbed structures can have hard casings for covers, or can be laced into their covers, or can use traditional binding techniques and be purely decorative. What drew me to the workshop was the possibility of looking directly at the problem of stubs and seeing what solutions would present themselves. There is very little written about stub bindings, possibly because they often seem to be made on an ad hoc basis to resolve the truly odd structural situation.

The class was very well-organized, with plenty of well-documented methods and techniques to try. It was fun for me to construct all the different models Lori demonstrated, and come up with potential design challenges each could solve. We did not make any finished books in the class, but getting to see the finished models she brought was inspiring. In particular, I was struck by the incorporation of fine binding techniques in her models. I will continue to puzzle over stub bindings, but now in a good way.

Some serve a purpose such as attaching plates; some are decorative

Some serve a purpose such as attaching plates; some are decorative

Lori was gracious in agreeing to answer a few questions for my blog about the practice of making stub bindings and about her new appointment as President of Designer Bookbinders UK. I’m so grateful for what I learned from her, and if you are interested in taking one of her workshops, I encourage you to check out the website bookbindingworkshops.com.

What got you interested in stub bindings?
I was asked to speak at a Society of Bookbinders conference a number of years ago on a structure and stubs was the suggested topic. I knew very little about them but accepted, thinking it would be interesting and a challenge. I discovered there was very little written about them so talked to as many people as possible to get information. I only located one article from the 1950’s by Thomas Harrison. The remainder of my lecture consisted talking about and showing experimental work and books I had made from descriptions or photographs.

How do you decide whether and how to use stubs in your binding work?
As with all bindings, a text-block is assessed individually before deciding on the appropriate binding. I will decide to use a stub if there is a narrow gutter margin or if the sections are especially thick, printed cross-grain or if I have plates in the book that need a full page spread across the centre fold. I also like using it because the pages will always open flat and this appeals to me enormously.

Have you been able to study any historical examples of stubs used in bindings?
I’ve only been able to look briefly at historical bindings while visiting some private libraries in the UK. I’ve also been able to have a close look at an old atlas binding lent to me by a friend. Others I’ve been able to take apart and reassemble in work that’s come in to me for repair. My plan is to spend time in the British Library doing some research specifically on stubs. I think there is a lot to be discovered.

What are some of your favorite paper stocks to use as stubs? What are the characteristics that make a particular stock work well?
I can’t say that I have a favourite paper stock, I tend to choose as I go. It needs to be a paper that folds well and is strong. Conventionally, stubs are discreet so the papers were often lightweight and folded many times, they are meant to be tucked away. For modern usage a stub can be used decoratively as well as structurally so choice of paper gets more complicated. It’s a book-by-book decision for me.

Are there other binders doing similar bindings whose work you admire?
There is a lot of contemporary fine binding in Spain that is done on stubs and some of the results are stunning. I sadly don’t know any of the names.

You are the incoming president of Designer Bookbinders UK (congratulations!). Do you have any goals for your term that you’d like to share?
I’m looking forward to my time as President of Designer Bookbinders. We were formed around the premise of being an exhibiting society with the members there as support. I feel things have moved on and we can do more than just put on great exhibitions. DB has a highly respected international position in the bookbinding world and I would like it to be more actively involved with its international counterparts. This might involve an exchange of lecturers, workshops, demonstrations or articles in newsletters. With screens and keyboards at our fingertips it is so easy to give and get information and it’s important that we all share in this craft that we love. This not only benefits us as binders but also benefits the members who support us, domestically and internationally.

There are some other things in the pipeline and they all take time. In the meantime, like everyone else, I want to put my head down and make bindings.

Stubs close up

Incorporating end sheets, sewn signatures as pamphlets, glued concertinas, and hybrids involving all of the above

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Wow! CODEX 2015

I was fortunate to make it to the CODEX festival this year. Very fortunate. It was amazing. There was something for everyone! Fine print, artists’ books, suppliers to the bookbinding and printing trades, book dealers, individual artists, everything you can imagine and more. I was not able to make it until the last day, but as a friend assured me who went on the first day, “There is so much to see, don’t worry about missing anything if you go at the end.” She was absolutely right! My buddy Annemarie and I spent pretty close to five hours there, and it went by like the blink of an eye.

One other great thing about CODEX was the people. So many fantastic people involved in elevating the making of books. I saw lots of work I enjoyed very much, and was able to strike up meaningful conversations with the makers right there, on the spot. Positive energy in abundance!  My CODEX buddy and I stopped for lunch and sat down with Jeff Altepeter, and had a great chat with him about how things are going back east at the North Bennet Street School. Sounds like the new building is wonderful and things are going well. He had gone to the Antiquarian Book Fair the previous weekend, as had I, and we talked a bit about how great it is to see beautiful old books that are not in need of repair. How unusual! Ha.

Anyway, in case you were not able to attend this year’s CODEX festival, here are some snapshots I took. Scroll over the photo to see a caption, or click on any photo for the slideshow. I must warn you that this is only a tiny, tiny slice of what was there! These are just the things I saw that I wanted to photograph, so this is my bookbinder’s-eye view.

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Teaching and Learning

Everyone has his or her favorite cultural icon, right? I do too, and mine is John Cage. He grew up in southern California, lived most of his life on the east coast of the US, and was a composer, among many other skills and specialties. His music is sparse, abstract, noisy, at times loud and harsh and at other times perfectly quiet and peaceful. In some ways a product of American culture and history, in others a radical departure, Cage was at all times a hard worker, completely devoted to creating music and bringing sounds together. He brought this same focus to his side pursuits, such as mushroom gathering and macrobiotic cooking, as well. His whole life, as a synthesis of all of these dynamic activities, went into his compositions and recordings.

Cage's mycological collection is at UC Santa Cruz!! Let's go!!

Cage’s mycological collection is at UC Santa Cruz!! Let’s go!!

We also have just a few books containing his lectures and poems, such as Silence and Indeterminacy. There is so much more to explore about Cage’s life, music, and philosophy, but this is a bookbinding blog. What I wanted to share about Cage is one of his writings I happened across, very much in chancy Cage-like fashion, at the Prelinger Library. Cage had mixed opinions about formal schooling, having dropped out of Pomona College as an undergraduate, though he was valedictorian of his high school class. I think it can be comfortably said that he continued to learn, study, and teach throughout his life, and that the concept of lifelong learning–questioning assumptions, gathering data, and growing and adapting–was central to his thinking. I wanted to share the following piece in light of the classes I will be teaching soon, as well as the classes I have been taking lately. The past year has been a very active one for me, filled with growth and change. It has been over eleven years now since I received my diploma in bookbinding, and so I have had nearly adequate time to begin to practice and reflect on what I learned there. But now, it is time for me to resume my pursuit of learning, growth, and adaptation. Last summer, I took the Design Binding Intensive class from Dominic Riley. I think Dominic is a very Cage-ian instructor: eccentric, with unparallelled skill, completely engaged in his classes, often taking us on field trips and giving us lots of concrete information.

Dominic demonstrates board chamfering

Dominic demonstrates board chamfering

I also taught some classes, some at home and others further afield.

P1010993

Creative interpretation by a student in one of my classes. Brilliant!!

 

This summer, I will be taking some classes at the Campbell Center for Historic Preservation in northwestern Illinois. And last weekend, I took a class in finishing with gold leaf taught by Gavin Dovey to refine my skills. I believe there is always more to learn in any field, but especially in a field like bookbinding, and I am grateful to have found a profession for which there is always room for expansion.

I have been teaching bookbinding for years, and feel that I often learn more from my students than they learn from me… Perhaps these few lines from Cage explain why.

 Some Rules and Hints for Students and Teachers
John Cage

RULE #1: Find a place you trust and then, try trusting it for a while

RULE #2: GENERAL DUTIES AS A STUDENT
Pull everything out of your teacher
Pull everything out of your fellow students

RULE #3: GENERAL DUTY AS A TEACHER
Pull everything out of your students

RULE #4: Consider everything an experiment.

RULE #5: Be self disciplined.
This means finding someone smart or wise and choosing to follow them.
To be disciplined is to follow in a good way.
To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

RULE#6: Follow the leader
Nothing is a mistake.
There is no win and no fail.
There is only make.

RULE #7: The only rule is work
If you work it will lead to something.
It is the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things. You can fool the fans but not the players.

RULE #8: Do not try to create and analyze at the same time.
They are different processes.

RULE #9: Be happy whenever you can manage it.
It is lighter than you think.

RULE #10: We are breaking all the rules, even our own
How do we do that?
By leaving plenty of room for ‘x’ qualities
HELPFUL HINTS:

Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read everything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully and often. Save everything. It may come in handy later.

 

…and speaking of “Come or go to everything,” here is an event not to be missed for anyone who was ever curious about how fine bindings are made:

HBC Codex Event

It is sponsored by my local bookbinding organization, and will be a great way to begin the festivities relating to Codex and the Antiquarian Book Fair. I’m hoping we will record it in some way, but the best way to experience it will be in Cage-ian fashion: be there.

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Cleaning rusty dividers

One of the things that keeps me interested in bookbinding is how it encompasses so many different fields. Before working in bookbinding for too long, I quickly realized I needed to learn a little about woodworking, metalworking, tool and die making, fabrics and textiles, graphic arts and typography, materials science, and so on. These days (at least, for the past century or so), if you want to do a good job at bookbinding, you need to be able to service your own tools. One frequent question/complaint I hear from my students is about dividers. What are they? Is this a dividers? How about this? Well… those may be listed as dividers, but they’re not exactly what you’re looking for. Using a dividers is, to me, one of the more important steps in one’s development as a hand bookbinder. A good set of dividers can make your work more accurate and efficient. It’s important to get the best tool you can afford, and certainly a decent pair of dividers is affordable; you just may have to do some hunting. I have a considerable amount of brand loyalty in this area, and Starrett is the only kind of dividers I like. Though they can be expensive to purchase brand new, it is relatively easy to find Starrett dividers at flea markets and on ebay. The down side is they will often have a considerable amount of rust.

Removing the rust is a quick and easy way to make your new find your own. All you need is a little citric acid, some metal polishing compound, and a light machine oil such as 3 in 1.

I have seen bookbinders perform experiments in removing rust with Coca-cola (which contains citric acid), but I don’t usually have that around. I do keep some citric acid (available in natural foods stores in the preserving/canning section) on hand for making jam, to balance the acidity of low-acid fruits in order to properly set the pectin. After doing a little web scouting on the topic I turned up this Wikipedia article on pickling metal which I found fascinating, and made me feel a little more confident in removing rust this way. One thing to note is that even though citric acid is safe to ingest, it is still an acid, and how strongly you mix it determines its safety to use. I used about 1 teaspoon for a 9×9″ square pan filled to about 2-3cm deep with tap water.

Visible rust starting to create pits in the metal; citric acid available at natural foods store

Before: visible rust starting to create pits in the metal; citric acid available at natural foods store

After only an hour, much of the rust has lifted off

After only an hour, much of the rust has lifted off

After soaking another hour in the citric acid, then wiping down with a metal polish, rubbing with a light machine oil, then drying off.

After soaking another hour in the citric acid, then polishing any pitted areas with a metal polishing compound such as jeweler’s rouge, rubbing with a light machine oil, and finally wiping dry.

It is a really satisfying feeling to clean up an old tool like this. Using a light acid bath instead of scratching away at the metal with a steel wool or brillo pad is much better, in my opinion: the acid removes the rust only, not the unaffected neighboring metal surfaces. The acid bath also removes rust easily from threaded parts of the tool and other hard to reach areas. Just be sure to dry the tool completely afterward and don’t hold back with the oil. Let the tool stand with the oil on it for at least a few hours at warm room temperature to let it seep in, then wipe it completely clean with a soft cloth. The dividers pictured above now works smoothly and is ready for adventure.

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