A Minimally Invasive Strategy for Removal of Decorative Wrapping


Fig. 1 Before Treatment


This paper addresses a concern heard more than once from readers of Mortise & Tenon Magazine. The kraft paper and waxed thread wrapping has presented many a vexing conundrum: although anxious to explore the contents of the publication, they are hindered by the desire to preserve the physical integrity of the artistic wrapping. Several readers have commented that they even spent days perplexed by the matter until finally their desire for the contents outweighed the preservation of the pretty paper. This essay points out that, during original fabrication, shipping practitioners occasionally found need to safely disassemble said wrapping for adjustment, etc. Currently accepted opening practice is surveyed and a newly developed minimally invasive removal technique is presented as a preservation-minded alternative.


Although numerous comments about the desire to save the paper wrapping have been addressed to Mortise & Tenon Magazine staff, it was one query made on November 6th, 2016 in particular that initiated further research and development of removal techniques. This 21st-century customer wrote:

"I have a complaint about Issue 1 of [Mortise and Tenon Magazine]. It was incredibly difficult to open the packaging. Not physically difficult, but emotionally. How does a magazine dedicated to conservation techniques expect us to damage such a beautiful object each time we are blessed with a new issue?”

An appeal as earnest as that simply could not be left unanswered. It was deemed necessary to consult with relevant staff (and even one of the staff’s spouses) regarding treatment options. It was early on in discussion that an analysis of preservation worthiness was discussed.

Assessing Preservation Worthiness

For many readers, the Mortise & Tenon wrappings represent a time now long gone when attention to detail and craftsmanship was not only praised but expected. From the heavy kraft paper to the hand-stamped wax seal (certifying authenticity), this presentation connects with readers at a deeper level than mere visual delight. The wrappings teach us not only about who our ancestors were, but also about who we are in our present context. It causes us to ask the deep questions that all practitioners of wood craft inevitably explore: Who am I? What is the ultimate meaning of my creative efforts? How does my connection with the tools of…. Ummm. Anyways, as I was saying… This non-material aspect of the wrapping shows clearly that the original artistic intent goes beyond purely utilitarian purpose. Beyond the obvious protective quality, the paper, string, and wax seal themselves have become imbued with meaning and associative value. This raises precarious philosophical concerns when the purely decorative and artistic material of the object naturally impedes access to the utilitarian aspect. While it is true that the publication itself may have artistic merit, the educational value of its content cannot be ignored. Simply put, you’ve just got to open this thing.

A Brief Survey of Conventional Practice

Fig. 2 Damage Incurred During Conventional Removal

More often than not, readers simply rip it open without regard to any physical damage incurred. While this does satisfy the need to access the printed media, the destruction of the material integrity can jeopardize the emotional (associative) value we are inclined to preserve. Some readers (that give a rip) have been known to carefully detach the tradecard with wax seal before tearing open the paper and string. Other readers, unaware of original construction methods, may attempt to cut the string with scissors or other specialized edge tool developed for the purpose. Although these methods are progressively more preservation-minded, a discussion of original fabrication methods and in situ repairs made by 21st-century shipping practitioners can provide fresh insights into ways to mitigate material loss during disassembly.

Original Construction Methodology Examined

Not surprisingly, none of the published literature (with the exception of a few mentions on social media) discusses original methods for wrapping Mortise & Tenon Magazine. Despite the lack of textual evidence, consultation with the original wrappers was possible because we are them. I mean… we were the ones who wrapped them in the first place. Unfortunately, every time we go back to wrap more, we have to ask how ourselves, “How do we do this again?” It’s amazing how quickly we forget things.

Basically, we began with 18” x 24” brown craft paper. After centering the magazine, we wrapped the top and bottom into the middle and placed a small square of tape. Then, using a cardboard template, we folded the sides and made them meet in the middle of the back. Then we taped the sides to each other. The waxed brown string was attached via tape on the front of the package. This juncture was covered with the wax-sealed paper tradecard, glued on with an acrylic polymer adhesive stick. That’s pretty much it.

Developing a Minimally Invasive Treatment

Fig.3 String Securely Pinched

Fortunately, surviving still-wrapped examples exist in the magazine’s storage unit to facilitate treatment option exploration. After several options were explored, we relied on the one based on original shipping practitioner practice. In this method, the package was held with the front facing up. With the string pinched securely between the thumb and index finger, a firm pull on the string was given, pulling the it out from under the trade card.

Fig.4 String Safely Removed


Fig.5 Removing Tape

With one side of the string released, the back folds were freed from the adhesive tape holding them together. In some situations, the adhesion between the tape and paper was sufficiently weak to separate without tearing either the tape or the adherend. In cases of unrelenting adhesion, however, a razor blade was used to slice through the tape, being careful not to cut into the paper below.

Fig.6 Careful Incision with a Razor Blade

Fig.7 Sliding Magazine Out From Wrapping

With the side folds opened, the package was tilted on its side and the magazine slipped out safely.  The wrappings were then returned to their original placement with the addition of new tape (isolated by Paraloid B-67) to secure both string and flaps.

Fig.8 Returning Wrapping Back to Original Position



Fig.9 After Successful Treatment

Some things are worth saving and the success of this minimally invasive treatment was largely due to the ability to consult original practitioners. This case study shows that a rigorous attempt to merge traditional removal methods with contemporary conservation ethics proves to be a useful, if not revolutionary, effort. The methodology detailed here was designed for trained conservators and non-specialist custodians alike and it is the author’s hope that it has contributed to the preservation of our cultural woodworking media heritage.


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