So, I got in a tiny pissing match on an internet list with someone who doesn’t know me (big surprise) It wasn’t really about what I was advising someone to do to their book, but more or less because I didn’t warn them that what they were about to do was inherently dangerous. Agreed, perhaps I didn’t dumb it down enough. Okay, okay . . . what it was was this. . . . the inquirer’s book was ‘spotty’ and all the non-invasive and ‘safe’ methods for cleaning the cover hadn’t work, but they were still looking for a magic bullet to make the spots go away. My reply was that if you really want to go that far, try washing the cover surface with a dilution of an All Purpose Cleaner. My assumption, ass that I am, was that anyone would understand that you have to live with the results that an application of a detergent is going to have on book cloth, regardless of the spots. My bad.

One of the 1st pieces of advice I ever got regarding book repairing or binding was “if you can’t eat it don’t use it,” which has served me very well – books are made of certain items, paper, glue, cardboard, leather etc . . . all items that don’t have much nutritional value won’t kill you if consumed in moderation. All of the ‘approved’ materials for fixing books: wheat paste, tissue papers, even ph neutral polyvinyl acetate are basically inert and non-toxic to your digestive system. What you should shy away from are things like electrical tapes, super glue, non watercolor-paints, etc. I can’t get more specific then that without offending some of my closest friends – but when in doubt ask yourself “would I eat that?”

What does this have to do with the price of tea in Latvia? nothing. What does MSDS mean to me? a lot. MSDS means “Material safety data sheet” which are generally designed to provide the proper procedures for handling or working with a particular substance, it also may tell you the exact contents and reactions with other materials. They are supplied upon request by vendors and many are already out there on the internet – the National Institute of Health has a Household Products Database, which provides most of data one could ever want for – INCLUDING the ingredients from MSDS/Label.

Biblio-geek that I am, overtime I have looked up everything in my smelly chemistry set. I know which things I can eat and which I should save for my dotage and decline. And whenever I stumble over something new on the market, I look it up before I play with it. That’s how I know that Armor-all’s Leather Care contains basically the same silicone emulsion found in all their products with multisterol extract, a moisturizer – not entirely edible – but I’d say good enough for a new bonded leather bible.

Another thing to note are proprietary ingredients – now I am all for keeping the Colonel’s Secret secret and not posting the Coke Syrup recipe on a Myspace page, but if the manufacturer won’t tell you what’s in their goop, don’t use it. Look for ingredients you recognize and can pronounce and then look up the other ones. Typical leather recipes include water, glycerine, mineral oils, lanolins, waxes, alcohols etc . . . so lookup anything over 30 points in Scrabble. I wouldn’t get too anal about things present under 5 percent, these are usually stabilizers and perfumes.

In conclusion, I would like to say use common sense, but it seems we have a dearth of that these days with everyone shedding personal responsibily and insisting on being lead around by the nose. If one is lead into the odd lampost we retaliate by unleashing the litigators. As you would research a book on in internet, take a few minutes to look up anything you consider applying to the book. Capisce?

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