The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 24, Number 2

The 5-Minute Phase Box

by Per Cullhed

The author is Head of Conservation at Uppsala University Library, Sweden. His e-mail address is

Simple boxes for the protection of library materials have become an important tool in the conservator's hand for many reasons, some of which may be "classified" as follows:

It may seem an esthetic disadvantage making boxes that soil easily, but from a technical point of view they are better. I will give an example. A map at the University Library of Uppsala was sewn between two sheets of Mylar several years ago. Five years later, the map was taken out of its enclosure and the plastic itself was examined under raking light. We were astonished to find so many scratches and stains on the Mylar and also convinced that we were looking at a normal wear and tear process suddenly made visible by the packaging of the object. This is actually a field of research in conservation that needs more attention.


As the title of this article implies, it is possible to cut out a box and have it folded, with the book inside, in 5 minutes. (4.53 minutes is the record). A production rate of one box every five minutes can hardly be maintained for long, but 6-8 boxes per hour can be produced, which makes it theoretically possible for a worker to produce 50-60 boxes per day, 250-300 boxes per week or 1000-1200 boxes per month.

Speed is of course related to many other factors, but the pure processing time is so short that serious comparisons to machine costs can be made. The main advantage is of course that machine investments will not be necessary. This might suit the small workshop or private conservator working only occasionally with phase boxes, in environments where machine production cannot be maintained, or where investment in machinery cannot be justified for other reasons.

Box Construction

Several types of enclosures are used at the Uppsala University Library: Melinex for sheet material, shrink wrap for circulating books in need of repair, drop-back boxes for important materials and four-flap phase boxes. In our efforts to develop a more comprehensive boxing program for certain collections, a more efficient phase box than the four-flap was needed. A box making machine has been considered, but while investigating this option, the adaptation of a normal die-cut design to a manual technique has been so successful that this box, called a "5-minute box," has been included in the library's boxing program. The working procedure is as follows:

Tools needed:

T-square, preferably with a notch in the base that enables the knife to cut the whole length of the ruler. (The normal use of such a tool is for cutting glass.)

Snap-off blade utility knife
Pair of dividers
Bone folder
Short steel ruler
Cutting mat as a working surface
Small cutting mat or piece of thick cardboard for cutting the opening notch
Pen or pencil for marking up

Corrugated acid-free board that can be scored and folded easily. Approximately 1-2 mm thick. A thicker board needs more measuring to compensate for the board thickness, and as this will take more time the advantage of fast processing will be lost. The board should be of a quality that corresponds to the requirements in the coming standard ISO CD 16245: "Information and documentation - Archive boxes and file covers for paper and parchment documents." The standard is still being ballotted according to ISO rules, but will be published in due time.

The box is cut as shown in the diagrams below. Steps A & B show how to determine the size of the board needed to make the box.

Diagram: Figure A

A. Measuring for the box is done directly on the board. Place the book spine down on the lower left corner of the board. This is Position 1. Next, turn the book horizontally, over to its back board, foredge, front board, spine and finally its back board again. Mark the last line with a pencil. This will be the length of the board.

Diagram: Figure B

B. Stand the book on its head edge at Position 1 and turn it vertically, over to all four sides. Mark the last line with a pencil. This will be the height of the board. Cut the board.

Diagram: Figure C

C. Now, take your measured, cut board, and position the book in the middle of the board and put a pencil mark on four sides (at the broadest point if the book is uneven).

Diagram: Figure D

Diagram: Figure E

D & E. Score the whole length of the board at the markings with the help of a T-square.

Diagram: Figure F

F. Rotate the board 90°. Measure the thickness of the book with a pair of calipers. Transfer this measurement to the board as shown.

Diagram: Figure G

G. Cut and score the board.

Diagram: Figure H

H. Rotate the board once again. Take the pair of calipers and add one board thickness. (Widen the points 1 to 2 mm.) Mark the board to the left as shown, add another board-thickness and then mark on the right side.

Diagram: Figure I

Diagram: Figure J

Diagram: Figure K

Diagram: Figure L

Diagram: Figure M

I-M. Cut and score as shown. The cut shown at I can be measured out or just estimated, whichever is quicker. The flaps should not meet when the box is folded. As begun in L, cut the left side of the board in the same way as in I, J, and K.

M. Shows the board after scoring and cutting.

Diagram: Figure N

N. Fold the box as shown with the book inside.

Diagram: Figure O

O. Put a scrap piece of cardboard under the flaps and cut off excess material (if any). Make sure that the scrap cardboard is longer than the box. The protruding edges of the cardboard are a guarantee that the scrap will protect the book from the knife. Change the cardboard before it gets worn.

Diagram: Figure P

P. Fold out the outer flap to the cutting mat and cut off one corner as shown. Turn the cut-off corner upside down and use it as a template for the second corner. This ensures that the flap will always be centered.

Diagram: Figure Q

Q. Fold up the flap again and mark the slit with two pencil dots on each side of the flap.

Diagram: Figure R

R. Insert cardboard scrap again and cut out the slit with 3 cuts as shown. Score the flap.

Diagram: Figure S

S. Close the box.

Diagram: Figure T

T. The spine of the book is shown here. The book is more easily shelved with the flap in this position, and the slit may be used as a grip when taking the book out of the shelf.

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