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CREATED BY: Stephanie Watkins, Initiated May 2014
CONTRIBUTORS: Sarah Barack, Ronnee Barnett, Nora Bloch, Tish Brewer, Kim Du Boise, Betsy Eldridge, Kathy Francis, Ann Frellsen, Eliza Gilligan, Roberta D. Gregor, Jan Hessling, Jamye Jamison, Katherine Kelly, Amanda Maloney, Terry D. Marsh, Carrie McNeal, Jeff Peachey, Nancy Pollak, Linda Roundhill, Susan Russick, George Schwartz, Katherine Singley, Renee Stein, Mark van Gelder, Stephanie Watkins, Gawain Weaver, Marc A. Williams, Lauren Streusand Zummo

Things to Consider When Seeking Weights[edit | edit source]

An assortment of weights used in a book conservation lab
  • Be creative, resourceful, and open-minded.
  • Think outside the box at what might work for your needs.
  • The sources are limited to your imagination and needs.
  • Seek variety: No one perfect weight, size or shape exists for all applications across specialties.
  • Making your own is the best value for the money.
  • Compare prices as there is a wide range of cost in pricing per pound or kg.
  • To be as green as possible, look locally, ask around for free items to re-use and repurpose.
  • Use local transport to reduce gasoline, oil, and carbon emissions.
  • If you have to ship, consider USPS flat-rate priority boxes. The smallest box size is US$8.45 per box online for up to 70 lbs/31.75 kg (as of June 2021).

Ready-to-Use Weight Sources[edit | edit source]

A variety of weights are used in many non-conservation endeavors and can easily be bought new from local stores. Besides the types of stores listed below, many used items can be obtained for free or found at reduced prices in a plethora of resale markets including garage/yard/jumble sales, flea-markets, second-hand and antique shops, construction recyclers and industrial surplus centers, Habitat for Humanity resale stores, Craig’s list local, Freecycle, Ebay, Etsy and Etsy vintage (look for local vendors then contact them via a “convo” email). Be mindful of avoiding products with lead because of known health risks. Please choose other metals for lab weights.

  • Magnets: From hardware and crafts stores.
  • Sewing supplies: drapery or curtain, dress, string or tape, pattern and tailor’s weights. From fabric, upholstery, crafts stores, art stores stocking “fiber art” supplies, conservation suppliers. Antique or older weights can be made of lead: please choose other metals.
  • Scuba weights: Scuba, diver and boat shops (Coasts or nearest recreational lake). Scuba weights are sold by the pound or kg and can be made of lead. Again, please choose other metals. By definition, scuba-weights are capable of immersion in aqueous baths. Pillow-style scuba weights can be made of Denier Cordura.
  • Fishing weights (steel types, please avoid the lead weights): Box stores, sport, and fishing stores.
  • Exercise weights: Box stores, exercise and sport stores. The best times to ask around for free exercise weights is when someone is moving or early summer when folks have given up the dream of fulfilling their New Year’s resolution or fitting into a bathing suit. Advantage is that they are made to be held easily. Wrapping the bar with a heavy removable cloth with Velcro or Mylar-type material makes for a barrier that can be easily cleaned if desired.
  • Car tire-balancing weights: From auto shops. Sometimes available for free from auto garages. Bring your own box.
  • Glass scraps, paperweights: Glass and auto shops. Architectural firm samples.
  • Flat irons, shoe anvils, door-stoppers, copy presses, rail-ties: From resale shops.
  • Counter-weight window sashes (cast-iron types, avoid those made of lead): Antiques are from resale shops, construction sites, recycling and industrial surplus centers, Habitat for Humanity and house construction resale stores. Modern, recently manufactured stackable square cast-iron weights for refurbishing old windows are also available. Weight amount often designated as a welded number on the side or ends of window sashes. Antique shapes are often cylindrical. Attaching sashes to a rigid board (hot glue, wrapped in sewn fabric straps or monofilament) , then encasing the unit in material, such as upholstery or boat fabrics, is an easy solution for rolling, cylindrical shapes. Some antique sashes are hexagonal reducing the tendency to roll.
  • Bases of torchiere lamps (often encased in thick plastic): From lighting/lamp and resale shops.
  • Calibration, old postal, old balance, electronic calibration weights: From resale shops, science suppliers, electronic equipment suppliers.
  • Book stacks: From your bookshelf, resale shops, including used book sellers.
  • Construction supplies, like bricks (good for making preservation boxes) or threshold molding (great for paper mends): From box companies supplying home improvement materials, hardware stores, recycling and industrial surplus centers, Habitat house construction resale stores.

Commercial and Hand-crafted weights[edit | edit source]

Ready-to-use pre-made weights tend to be the most expensive options.

  • Steel bar weights (1" x 1 1/4" x 10" length) with felted bottoms: From Elissa O’Loughlin's [: Wren Haven Tools]
  • “Volcanos” and “ravioli” steel weights of various weights (from 4 ounces to 4 pounds/113.4 g to 1.8 kg) and sizes: [Inherent Vice Squad].
  • Many commercial conservation suppliers and distributors, such as Conservation-by-Design, Gaylord, Hollinger Metal Edge, Talas, and University Products, sell ready-made weights.
  • Many art, fiber-art, and craft supply stores also sell ready-made weights.
  • Antique letter, copy, and small book presses can be used to hold pressing stacks, and can also be used as heavy weights themselves. Found through second-hand resources online and in shops. Presses are becoming increasingly harder to find and expensive when found.
  • Antique irons. Non-electric, also known as "flat" or "SAD" heavy irons can be made with or without handles. Some handles are separate, detachable pieces. Once commonly found and very inexpensive, current prices can vary considerably. They can be a challenge to locate through second-hand and antique seller resources online and in shops, Ebay.

Materials to Make into Weights[edit | edit source]

  • Heavy metals including scrap metal, steel bar: From recycling (e.g. Habitat for Humanity) and industrial surplus centers, shooting ranges, machinists shops. Again, any of these might be lead.
  • Steel BB shot: From shooting ranges, gun and sporting goods stores, Ebay.
  • Used scalpel shards: From lab refuse.
  • Nails, washers, mending plates, ball bearings: From recycling (Habitat for Humanity) and industrial surplus centers hardware stores, Ebay.
  • Coins: From coin collectors, your wallet, out-of-circulation travel souvenirs.
  • Glass and resin beads (easily replacing rice and beans): From science and craft suppliers.
  • Stone materials, granite, marble: From quarries, stone, garden center, pet-stores, kitchen-floor samples. Kitchen and bathroom “sink holes” and design room sample squares are often available for free if you ask. Likewise, samples and pieces of "replicated stone" counter top material (brands include “Silistone”, “Corian”, or “Formica”) can also be used.
  • Stone Materials, river rocks and pebbles: From local streams (if your community has legal rights to do so), garden centers and landscaping and rock/gravel suppliers, recycling building suppliers.
  • Washed sand (sand-box sand): From garden centers, landscaping suppliers, hardware stores, box stores, pet stores.
  • Limestones (lithographic printing): From Antique stores, second-hand shops, old printers. Becoming harder to find and prices are rising as manufacture of new stones for lithographic printing is waning.
  • Epoxy-coated aquarium gravel, or aquarium-grade natural pea-gravel: From Pet stores, box stores.

Modifying Materials to Make Weights[edit | edit source]

To modify these materials to make suitable conservation weights:

  • Seal unpolished stone edges with sealants:
    • Topical sealers (polyurethanes, acrylics);
    • Penetrating sealers to anchor material to surface (siliconates, fluoro-polymers and siloxanes); or
    • Impregnating sealers (silanes or modified silanes).
  • Polish rough stone edges.
  • Use steel instead of lead.
    • Please "get the lead out" of your labs and studios. While traditionally used because of low cost and hefty mass, it can be far, far safer for people to use other materials when making lab weights. The health risks for lead are well documented. Lead is absorbed rapidly through the skin. Lead dust is small (<10 microns). (Rossol) Few practitioners notice mechanical failure of containment materials encasing lead and meant to contain lead dust, therefore they unknowingly, potentially chronically, expose themselves. Unintentional transfer of dust from work spaces to home is also possible. Please avoid the unnecessary exposure by modifying and using other materials.
  • Isolate metal scraps, shot, and crumbly stones in:
    • Tips of rubber-gloves for small weights.
    • Heavy plastic sheeting or bags. Note metal shot eventually rubs holes through even the heaviest of plastic sheeting or bag layers, so expect to periodically service your pillow weights to replace the plastic.
    • Embed in inexpensive poly (vinyl acetate) emulsion, e.g. “white glue”, within sealed, rigid, plastic containers (if you drop them, small beads will be contained). Slide containers with curved (versus sharp) edges work well as filled weights for mending and hinging of flat paper items.
  • Add smooth boards or thick non-colored felts to the bottom of containers.
  • Add handles for easier, safer pick-up and transfer on and off.

Making Your Own Cloth-Covered Weights[edit | edit source]

  • First determine your need: “Form follows function”.
  • Determine the size needed, the interior weight material, then the exterior material.
  • Hand-sewing is possible if you don’t have a machine. If you can sew a button, you can sew a weight.
  • Heavy-weight upholstery, mono-filament, and leather sewing threads available.
  • Many free pattern instructions and tutorials are available in sewing blogs on-line.
  • Cover weights that are meant to go directly against art and manuscripts with soft fabrics that won’t harm. Examples are velvet, velveteen, chenile knit, ultrasuede, or charmuese.
  • Choose natural fibers for better pictures.
  • Choose medium range colors to hide handling marks.
  • Cover weights with leather or heavy fabrics such as buckrum (book and box cloth), mattress ticking, upholstery, and Denier Cordura.
  • Reinforce the fabrics on the back (interior of pillows, snakes, or worms) with heat-activated adhesive liners that create stiffer, longer lasting cover for better wear, provides further rigidity, and blocks weaving holes.
  • Offset double sewing lines by differing the stitch length.
  • Large nose funnels are helpful for filling bags.

Making Your Own Tyvek-Covered Weights[edit | edit source]

Instructions for Making Weighted Bags for Special Collections Reading Room by Eliza Gilligan and Nora Bloch.
For complete instructions with illustrations, see Gilligan and Bloch reference below.

Tyvek coated weight Gilligan Bloch.jpg

Materials and Tools:

  • Tyvek
  • #4 steel BB shot
  • PVA (Polyvinyl Acetate) emulsion
  • Brush
  • Scale
  • Small dish and scoop
  • Ruler
  • Wastepaper
  • Bone folder (optional)


  1. Cut Tyvek into strips measuring 40 cm (height) x 8 cm (width) for inner pouch to hold steel shot.
  2. Make a 1 cm wide fold along the length on one edge of the Tyvek.
  3. Apply PVA, 1 cm wide, lengthwise along the other edge of the same side of the Tyvek.
  4. Adhere the 1 cm folded portion to the other side with the PVA to make a tube. Use your fingers or a bone folder to apply pressure to attached area.
  5. Apply ~1 cm of PVA to the inside of one end of the tube. Press to secure.
  6. Apply ~1 cm of PVA to the outside of the same end of the tube and fold over to create one end of the pouch.
  7. Measure 150 g # 4 steel shot into a dish and carefully pour into the tube.
  8. Repeat steps 5 and 6 to the other end of the tube to enclose the steel shot within the Tyvek pouch.

Optional Sectioning & Covering

  • If you want to keep the shot from pooling at one end of the tube, you can sew seams across the width of the tube. We used three seams to create four roughly even sections.
  • We also covered the Tyvek tubes in white stockinette to make a softer covering and as an extra layer, just in case the Tyvek breaks and the steel shot gets loose.

References[edit | edit source]

  • Brewer, Tish. 2014 (April). “Weights Repurposed: DIY Weights.” Guild of Bookworker’s Newsletter. [[1]]
  • CIPP group list <cippnews-request@cool.conservation-us.org>, vol. 44/8 through 44/13. 17-20 March 2014. "Weight Sources" inquiry by Stephanie Watkins and subsequent responses.
  • Gilligan, Eliza and Nora Bloch. 2017. "Instructions for Making Weighted Bags for Special Collections Reading Room (PDF)."
  • Quandt, Abigail B. 1996. “Sources for Three Kinds of Weights”. The Book and Paper Group Annual, (15); AIC: Washington, D.C. [[2]]
  • Morse, Elizabeth. 1994 (October). “Supplies and Suppliers.” Abbey Newsletter (18) (Listing of the Metal Processing Corporation, commercial company in Baltimore, MD, that would make custom weights.) [[3]]
  • Rossol, Monona. 2021 (May 27). "Recognizing Lead-Hazards Including Lead-Based Paint in Conservation." AIC Health and Safety, AIC Virtual 49th Annual Meeting Session.
  • Stockman, Denise. 2014 (June). AIC Blog on 24th annual meeting, BPG Tips Session moderated by Emily Rainwater. [[4]]
  • Watkins, Stephanie. 2014. "Studio-Lab Weight Sources", The Book and Paper Group Annual, (pending), AIC: Washington, D.C.
  • Watkins, Stephanie. 2014 (May). Studio-Lab Weight Sources in the BPG Tips session of the AIC 42nd Annual Meeting.
  • Yoder, Dean, column editor. 1994 (Sept). “Weights” (Stephanie Watkins reporting on soft-pillow scuba weights). Technical Exchange, WAAC Newsletter (16:3) p. 11 [[5]]

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