Monday, July 21, 2014

A Quick Guide to Document Repair


by Rachel Dworkin, archivist

Despite being made out of trees, paper is fragile. With age and rough handling it can be torn.  So what do you do when this happens?  Like medicine, the first rule of document repair is do no harm.  While most people reach for the scotch tape, tapes can actually be very harmful.  They yellow as they age and lose their stick and can often end up damaging the documents they’re supposed to help.  
Damage caused by tape
When I have to repair a document, I reach for my Japanese paper and wheat paste.  The Japanese paper is an acid-free paper specially designed for document repair while the wheat paste is a water-soluble, fast-drying glue.  Both are available through archival and library suppliers.  So, how does it work?

Step 1: Remove any old tape and carefully align the damaged areas.

Step 1: Remove tape

Step 2: Flip the item over.  All document repairs should always be made to the back so as to make repairs invisible and easier to fix if you mess them up. 

Step 3: Tear strips of the Japanese paper to cover the tear.  Tear pieces that are wider than the tear but not too much longer.  Use multiple pieces so as to line up over the curvature of the tear. 

Step 3: Lay out the Japanese paper
Step 4: Lightly apply the wheat paste to the pieces of Japanese paper.  Never do it on the actual document.  I usually use a plastic plate, piece of glass or other non-absorbent surface.  Make sure to remove any excess paste.

Step 4: Apply paste
Step 5: Place the now paste-covered paper over the tear and gently smooth it down, dabbing away any excess liquid.  You should always work from the center to the edge, laying each piece at a time until the entire tear is covered. 

Step 5: Make the repair

Step 6: Let air dry for a bit and then place a piece of absorbent paper, glass and a weight over the repair.  As paper dries it tends to curl and this will ensure that the repairs actually dry flat rather than curling.

Step 6: Set it to dry
Step 7: Admire your work or fix it if you messed up.  The great thing about wheat paste is that you can easily reverse your mistakes just by adding water. 
Step 7: Admire your work