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Making Delrin Tools

Regular readers of Preservation Underground know that we spend a lot of time thinking and talking about tools. The variety and sometimes repetitive nature of our work requires a great many of them and we regularly experiment with new designs or materials to find implements that are more effective or ergonomic. Tool collecting can also be a little addictive.

A bone folder was probably the first bookbinding tool I ever purchased and remains one of the most used items at my bench. I’ve acquired or made many folders over the years of different shapes, sizes, and materials (like Teflon, metal, or nylon) and was amused to read that Jony Ive included a bone folder in his list of top 12 tools. It’s also the only reasonably priced tool on that list.

We have been using Delrin lifters in the lab for a few years now and Delrin folders have been growing in popularity in the bookbinding and conservation community, so I have been interested in making one. Luckily, during the pandemic, Rachel Penniman was able to attend a virtual workshop taught by Jeff Peachey on making Delrin and bamboo tools. We were able to set aside some time recently so that she could share what she learned in the workshop and we could all try making our own.

Delrin is a Dupont product that has a number of helpful properties for conservation work. It has a low coefficient of friction, but is stiffer than Teflon. It exhibits chemical and fatigue resistance and can also be very flexible when shaped to a thin tip. Peachey has written a great deal about the advantages of delrin folders and lifting tools.

The material can be purchased in a variety of sheets and bars, so there are many options for creating tools of different shapes. We started the day by looking at existing tools from our personal collections to discuss the features that we like or don’t like and how we might be able to make a better version from the Delrin stock.

Some of our starting tool blanks.

Delrin is easily shaped with cutting tools or abrasives and doesn’t come with the same health risks as shaping Teflon. A facemask and proper ventilation should still be deployed to avoid inhaling the dust.

Pictured above: box cutter, file, cabinet scraper, wooden bench hook, various grit sandpaper.

We were lucky to have good weather, so we set up an outside work space by the library loading dock. Views of the nearby Chapel were a bonus.

Shaping takes some time, so it was helpful to have clamps and wooden bench hooks on hand to support the work in progress.

Can we call this a Delrin “preform”?

After sawing, filing, scraping, and sanding for a few hours, we had produced a number of new tools. The nice thing about this material is that if you don’t like the shape you have produced, you can always shave it down some more or cut off the end and start again.

Now that I’ve gotten a feel for working with Delrin, I’m looking forward to experimenting with some larger, more rigid tools.

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