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Tru Vue Blog: Using Practical Projects to Explore and Research the Language and Ethics of Conservation (Part 2)

Conservator Matthew Hancock  was recently awarded a Tru Vue grant to research different aspects of conservation relating to objects still in service. In this second blog, he gives us an update on the projects progress so far.

(Read Part 1 here)


Part 2: Lingo, Ribs, Steam and Making Varnish!

The plan was to attempt to generate some online discussion about how to use language in conservation and what conservation means on social media.

This project is conservation in that the form and function of the boat are being conserved but in order to achieve this treatments only described as restoration are required to make it float again.

From the responses received it was gleaned that most people believe there is no reason that it can’t be both conservation and restoration. 

1.jpgThe boat during the condition reports 

The second part of the language portion of this project was to try to develop a system of keeping the condition and treatment reports (e.g, proposals and records) as live documents as opposed  to one-off reports. This would enable the work on the boat to be continually recorded, giving a full history of treatments moving forward.

The solution was to use a spreadsheets to do the write the condition report, dividing the boat up into each part and taking a photograph to go with the relevant on each piece. Also using a traffic light system of red, yellow and green as a legend: red for major work or replacements, yellow for some work or recoating and green meaning no work required.

2_0.jpgThe ribs numbered with masking tape 

This involved numbering all the ribs on both sides - all 84 of them - and the same with the planks on the outer side of the hull. Also parts like the centreboard, rudder and tiller were added to another sheet with information and pictures.  It was discovered that this information could be placed in to a page layout system and expanded on creating a full traditional condition report.

This work proved critical as some of the ribs that looked in good condition but on closer inspection had split and required replacing. For instance, number 1 port side as well as 44 and 46 on starboard side. See the section on treatment.


This has possibly been the most challenging part of the project but also the most gratifying as the process of developing a varnish is both creative and technical. 

A decision was made to varnish the boat with a modern Tung oil yacht varnish which would allow the boat to be brought in to service in 2018. However, as this is a conservation project a traditional copal spar varnish would have been a more appropriate solution.  As such, it was proposed that a traditional copal varnish be developed and tested alongside the modern varnish, to see if it could perform to a similar standard to the modern varnishes. If the performance was close, we would change the modern varnish to copal. This would give the project a science element and be an interesting learning outcome if successful.

4.jpgCooking the varnish

To test this, I created the copal varnish and then painted on some marine plywood test squares alongside the modern varnish and a modern linseed based yacht varnish. The varnishes chosen are Epiifanes and Le Tonkiinois, and the test squares were coated with these varnishes at the same time as the hull in order to give a fair and equal test. The panels needed to be kept with the boat in the same environmental conditions, apart from when the boat is on the water.

Once the boat is sailed on the sea it will give an indication of how well the final formula of copal varnish performs against the modern varnishes and if its practical to switch to the traditional copal spar varnish for conservation reasons.   

5.jpgAn early varnish heating gone wrong   

Great progress has been made in developing a copal spar varnish, although this has proved to be more complex than anticipated for several reasons.

Varnish that works has been created but it’s still not of a standard that would be acceptable to use on a boat.  It was hard to find any detailed recipes and methods for a spar varnish and at the time this was confusing. It became clearer later why: achieving consistency was remarkably difficult and requires a lot of practice. For instance, getting the heating right is critical: too long heating, and it ruined the varnish. Not enough heating, and not and not all the resin will dissolve.

6.jpgA successful copal varnish

The varnish is still under development, as the formula is not at a stage where it can be produced consistently in large enough quantiles to varnish a boat. The plan is to produce 250ml at a time and then upscale to 1litre. The success of this idea will be reported in a future entry.

Conservation Treatments

Conservation treatments undertaken so far have focused on stabilisation and preparation for varnishing. 

A method of steam bending the ribs need to be developed. This was achieved by using an old wallpaper stripper and section of down pipe with end stops and release holes drilled into the pipe.

As some of the ribs are under a buoyancy tank, there needs to be careful removing as the screws will have degraded and corroded; a method of removal is still been formed. These more difficult ribs still need to be replaced if the boat is to remain in service. 

8.jpgClose up of the broken ribs that go under the buoyancy tank

The splits and cracks in the planks were stabilised using epoxy resin. These need to be fixed to ensure that the boat retains its strength and prevent movement in the wrong part of the plank. A crack or split can overlap in areas and this could cause water to enter under the planks and cause more damage. This is a time consuming process and requires a period of time for the resin to off gas before varnish can be applied. 

9.jpgConserving the cracks and splits in the planks

The rudder and centreboard and various other parts have been prepared for varnishing. The old varnish has to be removed as it could react with the modern varnish. The plan was to varnish everything at the same time but as the time of the project has increased, the varnishing of prepared parts had to be delayed.


Find out more about Matthew's work and project on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook: @images_matt 



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