I am frequently asked
about restoration of surgical instruments like those in this collection.
In a word...don't. Don't even think about touching the instruments, wood,
velvet, or any part of the metal unless you are experienced in restoration of
historical artifacts. If you have any intention of selling the set at any
time, especially to me.... NEVER, NEVER alter anything about the set, not the
wood, not the brass, not the metal ....nothing!!! If you do, you run the
risk of decreasing the value and doing irreversible damage to a piece with
Against my better
judgment, I'm going to discuss some of the restoration techniques used
to clean surgical sets. The reason I'm hesitant to discuss this
topic is because there are people who will attempt a restoration and
totally destroy a piece of history or decrease the value of a set,
instrument, or case. Unless you are skilled at
restoring wood, metal, or antiques, do not attempt any of the techniques
Now, that said, there are
non-destructive 'cleaning' procedures that you can do if you want to 'preserve'
the wood and metal of a surgical set you own and want to keep, and you don't
care if you might ruin it....make that you WILL ruin it!
The most common
and easiest method to clean the wood of the case is with a damp towel
using warm soapy water. Do not use any ammonia products.
Personally I use Murphy's Oil and Cleaner for furniture. It
will take dirt and grim off the wood and leave a good surface for the
next procedure. DO NOT use anything
with a stain and never sand any wood or brass. NEVER clean brass.
It's the patina that makes it valuable.
If the wood is
dark, I prefer to use Tong Oil, which is made from the Tong tree and
will restore some of the original luster of the wood. I
don't use wax on the case if I'm going to use Tong Oil because it may
take many coats of the oil to restore the original surface.
Once the oil dries about three hours, I rub the wood to buff and polish
the surface using an old T-shirt. I don't recommend using
any shellac or lacquer.
If the surface of
the wood is in excellent condition then I use Min-Wax to preserve the
surface of the case.
NEVER EVER POLISH
THE BRASS. Brass should not be polished or brought back to
original shine. It should retain its patina (dark yellowed color
due to oxidation) which is correct for its age. NEVER ever polish
the brass!!!!! Don't remove the patina, it's part of the value.
I only vacuum the
velvet with a brush tip on the vacuum cleaner to remove loose dirt and
dust. I never try to restore the velvet. I have used scotch
tape to remove balled up velvet or to lift off stubborn lint. If
loose, I do re-attach the velvet where unglued from the wood. I
use Elmer's white glue brushed on in very, very light amounts to avoid ruining the
velvet. If the glue comes through the velvet, it's ruined.
There are other fabric glues which work very well for velvet and I strongly
suggest you research this topic.
Many fabric-lined instrument cases
still have a maker label attached to the fabric. If the label is loose,
a good-quality fabric glue in very small amounts applied with a
toothpick or other small instrument will solve that problem.
The partitions of
the case are frequently made of a heavy paper or wood covered with
velvet. If they are broken or displaced, you can use a tiny bit of
Elmer's white glue to tack the part back in place, but make sure it is
only the smallest amount of glue necessary to hold the part in place
because if you use too much, it will destroy the velvet. The
same goes for tacking down the velvet, only use the lightest amount of
white or fabric glue to tack the velvet down. I find using straight pins to
hold the part in place is useful while the part is drying.
I use Elmer's
carpenter's glue or Gorilla Glue to tack down wood parts , but not to glue broken case
sides. Gluing the frame of the case is a major project which
demands a craftsman and lots of tools to hold the parts in the correct
positions. Don't attempt repair of major parts of the case.
Find a furniture repairman and get some advice, because if you destroy
the case, you destroy the value of the case adds to the instruments.
I personally do
not touch any of the instruments in the case other than to wipe them
with a light machine oil like WD-40 or a high grade light gun oil.
After you wipe them with an oily T-shirt, re-wipe them with a clean
T-shirt rag to remove any excess oil. You don't want to return the
instruments to the case and stain the velvet. DO NOT touch the
instrument after you wipe off the oil. Finger prints contain fatty
acid and the acid will etch the metal.
Removing rust on
instruments, saws, or knives is a process best left to a specialist.
I am able to do it on a limited basis, with isolated instruments (not
part of a set), but I use only very light steel wool, and
polishing wheels on a lathe with iron rouge or whiting to polish the surface when damaged. I
don't recommend this to anyone because of the possibility of one,
damaging the instrument, and two, damaging your hand if you are cleaning
a knife or sharp instrument. It is very dangerous to use a lathe
under any circumstances. DON'T DO IT!
Knives and other metal
parts: If the set is Civil War issue or historically important, don't touch the
metal in any way. Use of these historically important pieces will have
marks and rust and they should never ever be cleaned in any manner.
rusted instruments is a major undertaking and the odds are you are going
to ruin the instrument if you try it. Same thing for the handles
and non-metal parts. Just don't do it. Antiques are supposed
to be old and grungy, and you have no reason to 'spruce up' an antique
unless you are just interested in destroying a piece of history.
Wipe off dirt, but don't go any further.
You are just the
temporary caretaker of any historical piece and you should treat it as
such...a piece of history which may or may not be important, but that is
not for you to decide. You are just the caretaker for the time