How to do Rubbings on Headstones

    Without question, when it comes to recording inscriptions, one of the most demanding 
    problems is when the stone has become so weathered over time that the lettering 
    becomes almost impossible to read. Tombstone rubbings have been commonly used 
    for many years as one of the primary methods for the preservation of a stone's 
    inscription.  The following information is designed to show how to do a tombstone 
    rubbing safely, and when to use an alternative method of documentation.
    Soft-bristle brush
    Metallic brushes are entirely too harsh, can cause damage to the stone, and they 
    also leave particles on the surface of the stone that can rust. You should use the 
    softest bristle brush possible. 
    At least one large sponge
    Used for among other things, soaking up excess water when washing a stone. 
    Cleaning Water
    You may also want to bring a small spray bottle of water for gently cleaning dirt 
    and debris from the stone. The spray bottle, should contain only water and not 
    detergent or chemicals of any kind that would  damage and further erode the 
    stone's material. You might want to use Photo Flo, which  is made by Kodak 
    and used in photo developing. Mix one cap full per gallon of water. Wash stone 
    with solution, then rinse stone with clean water.  
    Kneeling Pads
    Can be found in most nurseries, garden supply stores or department stores 
    such as Target. 
    Towel or old rags
    Used to kneel on or clean polished granite stones. Launder them first, but do 
    NOT use fabric softener. The softener will affect their ability to absorb liquids 
    as well as cutting down on the "magnetism" for dirt and dust. 
    Hand cleaner
    Bring along a sample size of antibacterial waterless hand cleaners or wipes. 
    Masking or drafting tape
    Keep in mind here that most, if not all tapes - duct, masking, strapping tape, 
    etc. all leave adhesive behind. You want to try to find a way to attach the 
    paper to the stone that will leave nothing behind. As an alternative, you may 
    want to hook together several rubber bands to make a long rubber band that 
    will go around the grave stone, using one at the top and one at the bottom 
    of the stone to hold the paper in place.  
    Scissors or retractable razor knife
    To cut paper or trim tall grass around the base of a stone 
    Hand-held grass clippers 
    For  trimming grass and/or weeds close to the stones. Do NOT use weed 
    whacker type trimmers as these  can scar the stones. These are quite 
    likely the single most destructive implement to ever be introduced into 
    a cemetery, and there are hundreds of examples of the damage that 
    these tools have sauced to stones by people that use them to clear away 
    grass and weeds by base of the stone.  For site clearing/cleaning, a pair 
    of pruning shears or hedge clippers is also helpful for brush that is too thick 
    to rip out or cut with grass clippers, but not thick enough to bother with a 
    chain saw. 
    Rubbing Surface - Paper
    Most monument companies will supply you with a special blue paper. It 
    contains wax in it and is designed for doing rubbings of gravestones. The 
    important thing about this paper is not to let it get hot,  as the wax will melt 
    and then the paper will not make good rubbings. There are some who have 
    expressed reservations regarding the use of this paper and advise against 
    using it, saying that "it leaves the wax behind and thus creates a barrier 
    for the natural transpiration and absorption of water. It will also melt and 
    turn dark or "waxy" with age and ruin the natural color and patina of the 
    stones". If you cannot find this paper,  plain white paper, newsprint, butcher 
    paper, rice paper will work.  
    Rubbing Surface - Pellon
    Pellon works well, never is brittle and you can even find it in colors in many 
    cases. Pellon comes in a variety of stiffness. The thickest which is 
    specifically made for heavy fabrics. The lightest, or thinnest, is made for 
    lightweight fabrics and works best for rubbings. Look for plain with no 
    iron-on dots on it.  Once your rubbing is finished, and you have returned 
    home,  take out your iron, foil, wax paper, and ironing board. Set the Pellon 
    on the ironing board with the crayon side up, put foil under the Pellon to 
    protect the ironing board and wax paper (waxy side down) on top of the 
    crayon. Iron on a low setting, just high enough to melt the crayon into the 
    fabric. The end result is a very sturdy and frameable rubbing that could 
    last many lifetimes.  
    Rubbing Surface - Newsprint
    Blank newsprint paper can be purchased at larger craft stores or art supply 
    stores in large pads, or also can usually be purchased as roll ends from 
    a local newspaper for a very modest price. Some printers will even give it 
    away. They do however usually need the spools returned. One drawback 
    with using newsprint is that it is extremely acidic. Because it's dry when 
    you use it, it shouldn't hurt the stone or leave residue, however, the newsprint 
    will disintegrate and turn yellow and brittle over time.  
    Rubbing Surface - Pellon
    Tissue paper transfers easily, however, it is very fragile. A interesting 
    alternative that can be used is a very thin chamois or a thin fake leather 
    feeling cloth. 
    Rubbing Surface - Butcher Paper
    Can be found in most Butcher shops or grocery store meat departments. 
    If you wish to accommodate any size tombstone, you could take a 
    (partial/whole) roll of butcher paper,tearing off what you need for each 
    Tip - You may want to take your rubbing papers of choice, already cut to 
    size, with you from home at the start of your trip, carrying them in a 
    mailing tube. 
    Transfer medium
    These include rubbing wax, black crayon charcoal and similar products.  
    With either charcoal or chalk, insure that a fixative is used.  Be sure that 
    your medium will in no way leave any residue on the stone. The  Oregon 
    Historic Cemeteries Alliance offers the following instructions on making 
    your own rubbing crayons. Gather all the leftover crayons from the kids 
    (all those little broken or remaining pieces) or go buy a new box--cheap 
    ones may be best. Melt them in a can. Place the can in a pot with just 
    a few inches of water and bring the water to a boil. Stay with the crayons 
    until they are melted. Use an old muffin tin (big muffins--not the tiny 
    ones) with a muffin paper (makes it easier to get out of the tin when finished)  
    and pour the melted crayons into the tin. Let stand until crayons are 
    completely solid again. The muffin paper will leave ridges in the sides of 
    the crayon, but these will wear down quickly. By using this method, you 
    can reuse the leftovers of these rubbing crayons, again and again. 
    A carpenter's crayon can also be used, and while somewhat more expensive 
    they will not melt in a hot car. 
    Fixative, such as Tuffilm Final Fixative made by Grumbacher, can be 
    purchased at any crafts store.  Try to use a matte finish if possible. 
    Make sure it is NON-YELLOWING.  
    Cardboard tube or art portfolio  
    Used for storing clean paper and finished prints. 
    Pencil and Notepad  
    Used to record information about the stone or cemetery location. 
    In addition, you will want to also look at taking along the following safety 
    Drinking water  
    Plan to bring at least several quarts of water with you for drinking , apart 
    from the water you use for washing the stones. 
    Both work gloves and rubber gloves. 
    Work Boots 
    Long-sleeved shirt 
    Insect repellant  
    First Aid kit 
    Snakebite kit 
    Bee and wasp spray 
    Cellular phone 
    Safety goggles 
    Antibacterial liquid soap and or waterless instant hand sanitizer  
    Protective hand lotion  
    For poison ivy, oak and sumac. 
    A word of advice, DON'T use shaving cream, flour or anything else on 
    tombstones!. These have many ingredients harmful to tombstones (like 
    butane) and in some cases can be abrasive. There are a number of 
    websites that promote this method, with one going so far as to assure 
    that the shaving cream will not harm the stone. Please do not attempt this 
    as you WILL be causing a great of damage to the stone and even by 
    washing it after you are finished you will not remove all of the material 
    that you have placed on the stone. 
    In the case of flour, Daniel H. Weiskotten [] states 
    that "introducing a starchy organic material to the stone is a death nell 
    for it. it not only will feed the lichens that are there but will introduce 
    new ones which will have little natural competition. Also, wheat paste, 
    which the flour essentially becomes when that first rain pours down (or 
    the first dew forms) is a great adhesive. Just because we can't see any 
    of it doesn't mean that it is all gone. Those little fungi and microbes 
    love that sort of stuff and it is best not to introduce anything to the 
    surface of the stone."
    Practice on a rock at home, or check with a local monuments store to see 
    if you can practice on one of their tombstones, before going to the cemetery. 
    As mentioned at the top of this page, before you start check with the 
    cemetery or with the state or local Historical Society to learn if tombstone 
    rubbings are permissible.  This practice has been banned in some states 
    and cemeteries due to the damage it can cause.  In the case of cemeteries 
    located on private property, remember that you are doing rubbings on 
    someone else's property. It is ALWAYS advised to gain permission by 
    attempting to speak with the property owner, and explain want you want 
    to do,  BEFORE you begin. We have put together a sample permission 
    form for your use in attempting to gain permission, with instructions.  If 
    you do not get permission, please respect the wishes of the cemetery 
    and ask if you can take a photograph to record the information and condition 
    of the stone. If you find that a gravestone is severely damaged, please 
    notify the property owner or supervisor of the cemetery. 
    Be sure that the tombstone that you have chosen is completely stable.  
    If it is wobbly or the surface is crumbling, then DO NOT do a rubbing.  
    Take a photograph instead. Lightly rap on the stone; if it has a "hollow" s
    ound, DO NOT use this stone to make a rubbing because it is vulnerable 
    to accidental damage. Before starting a stone rubbing, it may be necessary 
    to first clean the stone.
    Make sure the stone is clean and completely dry.  Tape will not adhere  
    to a wet stone, and the dampness will make the paper fragile and liable to 
    tear.  Besides ruining any chance of a rubbing, this may cause you to 
    accidentally damage the stone with your rubbing material. Cut a piece 
    of your paper or other rubbing material to a size slightly larger than the 
    stone. If possible, write any information on or about the stone, inscription, 
    date, location, etc. on the back of the paper before doing the rubbing so 
    you don't smear your rubbing. Or, carry a small notebook, write the 
    information on a page, tear out and roll up with your rubbing. Tape the 
    paper to the stone.  Make sure that it is secure so that it won't slide as 
    you are rubbing and cause a blurred image, and that it covers the face 
    of the stone completely, so that you won't get marks on it.   
    If only doing lunettes, please be sure that a large enough area is covered 
    to protect the stone. 
    With your fingers, press the paper lightly against the stone.  This will 
    cause the paper to indent into the carvings, resulting in a clearer image, 
    with less rubbing medium accidentally transferring into "blank" areas. 
    Using rubbing wax, a large crayon, charcoal, or chalk, gently start to rub 
    along the outside edges - creating a "frame" for your rubbing.  Using  
    long, even strokes following the same direction, fill in the "frame". 
    Rub lightly to start with, and then apply more pressure to darken in the 
    design if it suits you. Be very careful and gentle. 
    If you used chalk for your rubbing, then carefully spray the paper with a 
    chalk spray such as Krylon.  Be very careful not to get any on the 
    tombstone. It is best to remove the paper from the stone and lay it flat on 
    the ground in an area away from any stones before spraying. When the 
    rubbing is done, carefully remove it from the tombstone and trim the edges 
    to suit your liking. Remove the tape from the paper, being careful not to 
    tear the edges of the paper. 
    If you have a general idea as to the size of the stones that you will be 
    rubbing, you could pre cut your rubbing papers of choice at home and carry 
    them in a paper or plastic mailing tube.  You can also use a plastic 3" 
    sewer or PVC plastic pipe, with one flat end cap glued in place to the 
    pipe and on the other end a screw in cap, that is meant to be a cleanout. 
    This way you will have your transportation problem solved prior to starting 
    your trip.  Art portfolios used to transport drawings/oils/pastels, etc. are 
    great for storage and transportation of rubbings that need to be laid flat. 
    These can be somewhat expensive, but are well worth it if you plan to 
    do this over a long period of time. They have a handle and zipper, 
    can be locked,  and are great for traveling on planes or long trips. Cheaper 
    portfolios, made of lightweight cardboard and having only an elastic-band 
    or wound-string closure, can also be used for short-term storage, when 
    you will be handling the package yourself and don't need to worry about 
    it being mishandled by a baggage attendant.  Take along a roll of 
    kitchen waxed paper to go between each rubbing which will reduce or 
    prevent smudging until you get home.  
    If you bring your fixative with you, please take into account that any 
    aerosol type of can, especially one containing flammables, is liable to 
    confiscation by airlines, as it is dangerous to  carry such materials 
    aboard a plane. 
    Once you get your rubbings home and wish to preserve them in their original 
    state, use an aerosol adhesive product. Two sets of tweezers (found in 
    "beading" section of art supply) should be used to manipulate the rubbing 
    (paper) onto acid-free mat board, available at most art supply stores. 
    Carefully line up the bottom edge of  the rubbing paper with the bottom 
    edge of the board, then gently smooth the paper upward onto the board 
    using light pressure with a roller.  Be sure to keep the paper taut to 
    prevent creasing or wrinkling. If you wish to further preserve rubbings 
    applied to mat board, apply the board to foam core, which is stiff enough to 
    withstand just about any handling.  Make sure the foam core is also 
    acid-free, or it will contaminate the mat board over time. 
    If you choose to frame your rubbings, be sure the framer includes "spacers" 
    between the paper and the glass, to enable the paper to "breathe", and prevent 
    damage from condensation or mildew. 
    Alternative Methods
    Aluminum Foil Rubbing - An alternative to traditional wax or crayon type rubbings 
    is that of aluminum foil & a damp sponge. Place foil on marker, dull side up so 
    the sun doesn't reflect back into your eyes  Using the damp sponge press 
    gently so as to not tear the foil around the carving or writing areas and instantly 
    you have a 3-D impression of the marker that you can keep or ball it up and 
    put it into your recycling bag.  

    Glenn Fields Send your questions (and thanks) directly to Glenn

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