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Contributions by: Robin O'Hern, Grace Johnson, Megan Emery, Jessica Chasen, Camille Ferrer, Emily Mercer, Lindsay Cross, Lorna Brundrett, and Meredith French. Your name could be here! Please contribute.

Copyright: 2021. The Objects Group Wiki pages are a publication of the Objects Specialty Group of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. The Objects Group Wiki pages are published for the members of the Objects Specialty Group. Publication does not endorse or recommend any treatments, methods, or techniques described herein.


Objects conservators use many kinds of equipment when doing their work. Some of these are hand tools, others are scientific instruments. Listed below are some of the frequently used hand tools. For additional information on conservation equipment, see the Book and Paper Group's page on Materials, Equipment, and Tools.

Bone folder image provided by Robin O'Hern

Bone Folder: The bone folder is a blunt edged hand-held tool. Historically, the bone folder was made from animal bones, including cow or deer bone. Today, the tool is often made from synthetic materials. The tool comes in a variety of shapes but commonly has one rounded end and one end that comes to a dull point. The bone folder can be used in treatments by applying pressure and running across a surface. The bone folder is often utilized to burnish surfaces, ensure adhesion, or to create crisp creases. Additionally, the bone folder is commonly used after treatments to create boxes and storage.

Color shaper tools image provided by Megan Emery

Color Shaper Tools: These come in all different sizes and shapes. Conservators use them when consolidating flaking paint with a heated spatula or hot air tool and while still using silicone release mylar as a barrier. The soft flexible tip is great for setting down the paint.

Curved Surgeon's Needles image provided by Meredith French

Curved Surgeon's Needles: Curved needles can be very useful tools for the conservation of objects. Some of the properties that make it an effective surgical tool are its resistance to bending and its predictable path, which requires less space and handling than a straight needle. It is designed to be as nontraumatic as possible. These qualities that are valued in surgery are also beneficial to the conservation and repair of objects. Curved needles can easily penetrate a textile and re-emerge with great control. Using a curved needle allows an added amount of control while reducing the amount of handling and manipulation of a textile.

Dahlia sprayer image by Grace Johnson

Dahlia Sprayer: The Dahlia Sprayer, made in Japan, is a popular hand sprayer that delivers an ultra fine mist of water, solvents, or other liquids. It is used in humidification and many other treatments. To operate the sprayer, simply fill the tank, and pressurize manually with the hand pump. The sprayer is made of chrome plated brass and is available in two capacities: Small (0.67 Pint), and Large (0.95 Quart).  The Dahlia sprayer should be kept pumped up when not in use to extend its working life. Some conservators have voiced concerns about the sprayer’s interior brass lining which has been known to corrode.

Glass Bristle Brush: A glass bristle brush is made up of fine glass bristles that are wrapped in cord. It is commonly used to remove corrosion and dirt build up from metals. The cord can be unwound as the tip of the glass bristle brush is worn down. The length of the exposed glass bristles can be adjusted by unwinding and winding the cord to allow for fine adjustments to the intensity of the brush’s abrasive tip. It can be held similar to a pen/pencil as it is usually around 7” x ó”. The broken glass bristles can cause skin irritation. Therefore, gloves are recommended when this tool is in use.

Image of microspatulas provided by Fran Ritchie. Brown spatula is coated in Teflon.

Microspatulas: These are used for pressing, smoothing, or manipulating materials. Some are made of stainless steel and others are coated with Teflon (in the image, the brown spatula is coated with Teflon).

Polyvinyl Alcohol Sponge: A Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) sponge is an open cell sponge. Its pore structure is smaller than that of a cosmetic sponge making it gentler and more appropriate for delicate surfaces. The pores are made using either starch or injected gas. Sponges made using starch will slowly precipitate starch over time so this should be taken into consideration when purchasing sponges. A PVA sponge is intended to be used wet and can be used with both water and solvents. It can hold up to twelve times its dry weight in fluids, making it useful for both cleaning and humidifying. PVA sponges are lint and static free and can be cleaned and reused many times.

Image of porcupine quills from South Africa provided by Jessica Chasen

Porcupine Quills: Porcupines from Africa, Asia, and Europe tend to have much longer quills (up to 20 inches) than those in the Americas (up to 4 inches) making them better suited for use as the perfect hand tool. Conservators use them for removing polish residue from silver objects, mechanical cleaning on delicate materials, and for rolling extra fine cotton swabs.