My Favourite Tool: Salvador Alcántara Peláez’s technical pen

Precision for perfectly undefined limits

Despite the arguably sound principle of avoiding interventive treatments unless strictly necessary, remedial action is still a major aspect of conservation practice. For those of us who cannot pass without adding an aesthetically pleasing finish to a just properly executed repair, a technical pen is a much-appreciated accomplice. Its steady and controlled release of water enables one to cut pieces of paper with a feathered edge, rendering them pretty much ready to apply without having to spend time in further trimming.


Feathered edges, expertly worked to the right width, provide not only a visually smooth – if not virtually invisible – transition between the repair and the original, but also a better joint due to the increased contact surface with the area to which the repair is applied, and/or the lower local strain exerted by a thinner edge on weak supports.

Isn’t it a beautiful paradox that a tool created for precise linear graphic design is equally efficient as a vehicle for perfectly indistinct limits? And yet, the thousandth adoption of a tool from other fields by us conservators – scavenger breed, even if ‘perverting’ its original purpose, may well be one of the few chances of survival for this species endangered by CAD for so long now. And further still, just to turn the whole thing baroque in its own right, let’s note that feather is what the Latin pinna – from whence ‘pen’ – means.

For me, this tool also represents that indefatigable endeavour of sticking to a certain ideal of impossible crafty perfection while efficiently responding to the pressing need for high productivity. Conservation is, more than ever, a battle against time (damn those Grey Gentlemen!), and time is, I must confess, the favourite tool I really wanted to write about…

Salvador Alcántara Peláez is Senior Conservator at Senate House Library, University of London. 


Have you got your own favourite tool? Then tell us and the rest of The Gathering’s followers all about it! Just drop us a line with either a finished piece or your preliminary idea, plus a photo or two, and we’ll be happy to share the love.

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