How did it come to this? Last week I decided to get down to business in the tiny bindery and put in some hours on old projects, but when I opened my container of glue I found the above. An eighth of an inch of glue residue, settled depressingly at the bottom of the tub. Rookie mistake. There was even a hair sitting in it, accusingly. That was the end of my binding ambition for the day, and effectively put work in the bindery on hold for three weeks since I am off to Michigan on Saturday for the Paper and Book Intensive. But I’ve taken steps.
Five, count ’em five, kilos of (fragile?) PVA arrived yesterday from Ratchford and I am back in the game. If you are a bookbinder who runs out of glue without warning, you are a bookbinder who needs a new system. I took this opportunity to invest in some matching, translucent tubs which will replace my haphazard jumble of leftover vessels.
Benefits of new system:
*Clip on tops instead of screw tops so that the tubs won’t get glued shut
*Multiple small tubs, perfect for taking to workshops
*Best of all, a new round-tub/square-tub system makes it easy to distinguish between PVA and mix
Half of you are nodding to yourselves and saying “hmm, yes, mix. Of course.” and the other half of you are perhaps thinking “mix? mix of what? what are you even talking about?” High power bookbinding friends, feel free to skip this little foray into adhesives 101, but don’t give up on this post! I promise to include a photo of something gruesome I discovered today on my walk home. To those of you who may not know what mix is, here is a brief explanation:
Adhesive Basics: Bookbinders generally use one of two adhesives; Paste, which is made from starch, is a high-moisture adhesive that dries very slowly. Glue, which historically was made out of animal hides in smelly pots but has thankfully been replaced by Polyvinyl Acetate (PVA), dries very quickly and introduces less moisture. PVA is a handy adhesive and takes a lot less time to use than paste, but the quick drying time makes it difficult or impossible to use for many processes. A mix of PVA and something that will slow down its drying time is much easier to work with. Many people simply mix paste into their PVA. Bookbinding suppliers like Ratchfords and Shepherds Falkiners here in the UK sell a paste/PVA mix. There is a lot more to say about paste and PVA but I want to talk about methyl cellulose now.
I prefer to mix methyl cellulose into my PVA. The paste/PVA mix is just a bit too fluffy and stiff for my taste, probably because I trained as a bookbinder with loose, wet methyl/PVA mix. What on earth is methyl cellulose? If you’ve ever had a McDonald’s milkshake, you’ve eaten it. Often used as a food thickener, methyl cellulose is a white powder that becomes a translucent gel when dispersed in water.
Here is a huge bag of it that I bought from Talas ages ago. I expect it to last me a hundred years. After my enormous 5 kilo tub of Fragile PVA arrived, I realized that I had also run out of my supply of made methyl cellulose. So it was time to get out the kettle and the whisk.
Here is the recipe for making methyl cellulose as I learned it from Anna Embree at the University of Alabama:
Methyl Cellulose is combined with water in a 3% solution: 970mL of water to 30g of methyl, (for methyl cellulose from Talas, 30g works out to roughly 4 1/2 tablespoons.) Boil a third of the water. Add the methyl and whisk. Add the rest of the (cool) water and keep whisking, stopping when the solution starts to thicken. Walk away and occupy yourself elsewhere (perhaps by writing your blog) and return to stir the solution 4 or 5 times over the course of the next hour. The solution should become gloopy and a bit revolting, the way you might imagine ectoplasm to look. (Now think about a McDonalds milk shake. This is why they don’t melt.)
While I wait for my methyl to thicken up, I must digress and say that about an hour of my day was spent looking for a whisk. I know I have a whisk because I have made methyl here before. I also have a distinct memory of making meringues about a year ago, (which were awesome, by the way.) But the whisk was nowhere to be found today and so I had to venture out into the world again to look for one. I dare you to find a whisk in the photo below:
Am I crazy? No, right? There is not a whisk to be seen. In fact, there is not even a hole where a whisk should be! I checked. It took me ages to find a shop with a whisk, so long that I feel it necessary to mention it to you now. And on the way to Tesco, where I finally located one, I spotted an ill omen:
And there you have it. A total adhesives makeover. Before: