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Second, a discovery. In one of my other lifetimes (when I built custom furniture), I spent years learning how to put a good finish on my stuff; and I was forever looking for products and techniques to make things go more quickly. I tried everything I could think of from hand rubbed oil finishes to sophisticated spraying techniques, expensive rubbing compounds and so on. One especially useful product I came across was a thin, circular foam sponge impregnated with ultra-fine grit that attached to the base of a random orbit sander. The principle was the same as the Magic Eraser. I simply sprinkled some water on the sponge, and within minutes I had a velvety smooth, polished surface.

Using water on varnished or urethane-coated surfaces is fine, but on paper or cloth too many things can go wrong too fast because water soaks into the fibers, expands them, and exposes them outright to the abrasive. The trick, it seemed, would be to find a non-water-based lubricant to marry to the Magic Eraser. Well, another product I often used with great success in finishing (and refinishing) was a paste wax mixed with fine grit called Behlen's Deluxing Compound. It's applied with a cloth, rubbed in, and a very high sheen can result with little effort. Obviously, grit-impregnated paste wax won't work on books, but thinking about it soon produced an aha! moment: Deluxing Compound bore a striking resemblance to a product I'd been using on books for years - Clean Cover Gel.

Clean Cover Gel, manufactured by the Starkey Chemical Process Co., is a petroleum-based, book-friendly product that contains absolutely no water. I use it often to clean just about any kind of book cover, even non-coated surfaces like paper. One problem with it is that there are instances when it just doesn't get the job done. It's best at removing dirt, not as effective at removing stains or other markings. Introduce it to the Magic Eraser, however, and better things begin to happen.

Substituting Clean Cover Gel for water with the Magic Eraser accomplishes several things. First, CCG doesn't raise surface grain; instead, it introduces a lubricating barrier that adds a level of protection. This is especially important when working on non-coated surfaces. Second, it gives you considerably more control because it's slippery. The Magic Eraser glides. Used with water, on the other hand, it tends to dig in, and things often happen much too fast. Finally, CCG protects the Magic Eraser itself from rapid breakdown, and it lasts considerably longer.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The CCG/ME approach works best - and I'm strongly tempted to say only - on surface problems. For example, crayon or pencil markings are, in most cases, readily removed because they don't penetrate much; ink markings are not. Similarly, foxing can be removed if it's more or less a surface defect; if it's more advanced, forget it unless, in the case of text block edges, you can afford to be more aggressive in rubbing.

I can't emphasize enough that succeeding with this technique requires practice and, when used on books of value, extreme care. Even when used with CCG, Magic Eraser will sometimes reduce the sheen of polished surfaces, so this will need to be weighed against cosmetic issues - i.e., is the surface appearance bad enough to justify a partial loss of sheen, should it occur? Also, if you haven't already done so, look at this article for a discussion of book cleaning principles as well as some important cautionary notes about the potential damage CCG can, on occasion, cause.

Clean Cover Gel may be purchased here.

To read "Book Cosmetology - Part I: Cleaning" click here.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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