Conservators use a lot of different tools and equipment when treating objects and artwork in the lab. This blog post from us at the Ford Conservation Center will be about the humidification and suction table. Over the next couple of months, keep an eye out for more blog posts from us about our different tools and how we use them!
It may look like the cross between a space ship and an incubator, but this table is one of the most useful tools in the Paper Conservation Lab. It is a humidification and suction table. An ultrasonic humidifier, which uses vibrations instead of heat to produce water vapor, increases the relative humidity within the chamber when the lid is closed.
A time-lapse video showing a tightly rolled panoramic photo being humidified before being flattened.
The high relative humidity helps the fibers in the paper relax so the object can be flattened. This works for paper objects that are heavily wrinkled or have been rolled. Once the object is taken out of the humidification chamber, it is placed between sheets of blotter under a sheet of glass and weights are placed on top to flatten it.
This table is a multi-tasker. It not only acts as a humidification chamber, it is also a suction table! The suction can be used to flatten paper pulp into a loss. It can also hold pieces of paper together when doing repairs. But most importantly, the suction can pull solvents through the paper to reduce stains. By pulling the solvent through the paper, the stain is drawn through the paper instead of spreading outward through the paper fibers. A very small area can be cleaned without disturbing the surface or media around it. This means a stain can be removed without disturbing a signature or part of a drawing nearby.