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Subject: Steel wool

Steel wool

From: George Prytulak <george_prytulak>
Date: Friday, July 23, 1999
Judy Jacob <Judy_Jacob [at] ccmail__itd__nps__gov>

>I am looking for information on the manufacture of steel wool.

The earliest reference I have to steel wool is found in a technical
book called "Automobile Painting" by F.N. Vanderwalker (Chicago:
Frederick J. Drake & Co., 1917). A section on Rubbing Materials
(p.24) reads: "There seems to be but little choice between sandpaper
and the newer material called 'Steel Wool' for the first cleaning
and smoothing up of the car. Both materials come in various grades
of fineness and both are numbered to indicate these degrees. The
medium fine grades of either materials which are marked: No.0, No.1,
No.2, are the only ones likely to be of use on auto surfaces."
Another section, "Taking Off Wax Coatings" (p.104) states: "Fine
steel wool soaked in turpentine may be used also to rub the wax off,
when the car is to be given new color and varnish coats..." These
passages suggest that steel wool was new on the market at the time
of writing, which was probably around 1915.

There are also references in a 1922 text, "Painting and Decorating
Working Methods" (2nd edition), by the International Assoc. of
Master House Painters and Decorators (New York: Theo Audel
Publishers). Several methods of toning down high gloss varnish and
shellac finishes are described, including pumice on felt pads,
sandpaper and steel wool (pp.218-21). By this time, steel wool seems
to be fairly commonplace.

The two most prominent manufacturers today are: Thamesville Metal
Products Ltd. in Ontario, makers of Bulldog Steel Wool, established
in 1933; and International Steel Wool in Springfield, OH,
established "over 70 years" ago. Both have web sites.

George Brady's "Materials Handbook" (11th edition) claims that steel
wool " made from low-carbon bessemer wire of high tensile
strength, usually having 0.10 to 0.2% carbon and 0.50 to 1
manganese. The wire is drawn over a track and shaved by a stationary
knife bearing down on it, and may be made in a continuous piece as
long as 100,000 ft. [almost 19 miles!] Steel wool usually has three
edges but may have four or five, and strands of various types are
mixed" (p.757).

As far as early 20th century stone cleaning is concerned, there are
about two pages (pp.196-97) on the subject in "Henley's Twentieth
Century Formulas, Recipes and Processes," published in 1907 and
revised in 1927. It's available as an inexpensive reprint called
"Henley's Formulas for Home and Workshop," edited by Gardner D.
Hiscox (New York: Avenel Books, 1979). There is no mention of steel
wool, probably because much of the text dates to 1907. I'll fax you
a copy of these pages if you're interested.

Interestingly enough, the Random House Dictionary (1987) lists steel
wool's invention as 1895-1900 (no references).  A quick scan through
some early hardware catalogs would shed some light on this matter.

George Prytulak
Conservator, Industrial Collections
Canadian Conservation Institute
Ottawa, Canada

                  Conservation DistList Instance 13:10
                   Distributed: Monday, July 26, 1999
                       Message Id: cdl-13-10-007
Received on Friday, 23 July, 1999

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