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How to clean a Tudor Log

Hello, I’m Johanna, one of the conservators at the Mary Rose Trust, and I’ll be taking you through some of the work that is happening behind the scenes at the museum. This particular post will cover a set of objects I have devoted a fair bit of my time here to – logs!

 

Tudor firewood recovered from the hold of the Mary Rose.

Over 700 logs were found on the Mary Rose, some probably to be used by the ships carpenter, but the majority of them would have been destined for fuelling the ship’s galley. The galley logs have all been cut to similar lengths – just under a metre long, to fit the galley firebox – and split in half or thirds, and most of them have been identified to be silver birch.

 

You may look at a log and think it’s just a log, but I find it fascinating that they are at least 500 years old, and part of the only collection of Tudor firewood anywhere in the world! Also, more importantly for me, they’re fun and challenging objects to work with.

 

A lot of the logs still have their bark intact, and when drying the wood tends to shrink ever so slightly more than the bark, so after treatment and freeze-drying we are often left with a jigsaw puzzle of bark to fit back onto the log! Fortunately, most of the logs are covered in netting before going into the treatment tanks, and they are kept in the netting during the drying, so when it comes to the finishing stage the bark is still with the same log as it was always on, even if it is sometimes loose inside the netting.

 

Immediately after conservation, you can see that this log has not been surface cleaned and has traces of dried Polyethylene Glycol, which is used to stabilise the structure of the wood

The bark can often be quite fragile, and needs to be handled gently. In some cases, where the bark has detached completely, it is possible to lift it straight off the log, taking a photo so I know where to put it back. Taking the bark off also gives me a good opportunity to consolidate any particularly fragile parts, and to clean it with less risk of damage.

Here the bark has been lifted off for cleaning and consolidation, and it is resting on a piece of fabric to maintain its shape during the procedure.
There is a picture behind it illustrating the original position of the bark to help me put it back in the right place.

More often, though, I’m left with a log that is partially covered in bark, with several pieces of bark loose inside the protective netting. A good start with these is usually to try matching broken edges of the fallen off bark to the edges of the bark still remaining on the log, although this takes a lot of patience and a good eye for detail. Sometimes it is easy to match the shapes of the log to the shape of the inside of the bark – there might be knot-holes, healed up old damages to the wood, or simply the natural curves of the log, which are all mirrored on the bark.

 

Although it is usually straightforward to replace the bark, it quite often won’t fit back perfectly onto the log due to the difference in shrinkage so we have to fill out the remaining gap underneath. We make a gap filler by mixing conservation grade adhesive, pigments and glass microspheres – tiny hollow bubbles of glass which produces a lightweight paste that is easy to shape and handle when mixed with adhesive.

 

Here the log has completed cleaning, and the bark has been replaced, and is tied down to make sure it adheres properly to the adhesive filler.

A number of logs will eventually be placed in the museum context gallery in the lower decks, representing the large amount of stored firewood on the ship.

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