Safe and Simple Repairs for Wooden Artifacts

Although these tips should not substitute for a conservator’s inspection and/ or treatment, the following advice has been recommended by conservators in the event that circumstances (often lack of funds) prohibit conservation in the foreseeable future. Remember that as far as artifact treatments are concerned, less is usually more, and it may be best to leave the artifact alone, while documenting its condition problems. However, there are several preservation-appropriate materials and techniques that can safely prepare a wooden piece with distracting losses for exhibition when necessary.

  • cracks and splits in doors, floorboards, and window casings: Reid Thomas, Restoration Specialist for NCDCR’s Historic Preservation Office, recommends filling voids in wood with linseed oil putty. Unlike common wood epoxies which often contain polyvinyl acetate (PVA), linseed oil putty will expand and contract at a similar rate to the wood, consequently inducing less stress on the artifact. You can mix your own inexpensively or purchase pre-mixed from a few online suppliers.
  • failed joints or pieces and veneers coming un-adhered: The risks of dissociation or further loss (in the case of delaminated veneer) may outweigh the risks of gluing with preservation-appropriate materials. We’ve discussed this dilemma and a possible solution earlier in a post about high tack fish glue. Since that time we’ve also experimented with another type of liquid hide glue that many conservators use—Titebond. Given our trials of both of these products, Titebond has several clear advantages: 1. It can be purchased off the shelf at several hardware stores, thereby eliminating special ordering procedures and shipping charges. 2. It is less reactive to changes in temperature and humidity than the fish glue. Consequently its bond is more secure and longer lasting. This could translate into less reversibility than the fish glue has, but there is more of a chance that the broken or delaminated piece will stay with the whole.
  • scratches or losses with unfinished areas left visible: Sometimes there are scratches or finish losses in places that detract from the experience of the artifact. This can be especially true with framed pieces where a nick in the frame becomes noticeable and distracts the viewer from the central image. Never use wood-colored magic markers to “touch up” these spots. Somewhat less harmful is advice to use wax crayons to fill in areas of loss.  The safest option, recommended by Conservator Perry Hurt at a recent C2C workshop, is to use watercolors to in-paint the unfinished wood area and camouflage the loss by matching the paint color as closely as possible to the wood finish surrounding it. Watercolor paint is most likely to be reversible if a conservator is ever able to treat the artifact.

About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on October 25, 2012, in collections care, Connecting to Collections, workshops and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: