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Methyl Cellulose- a clarification

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  • Jake Benson
    A couple of thoughts regarding the recent postings concerning Methyl Cellulose. First of all, it is always a good idea to check the archives of the list, as
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2001
      A couple of thoughts regarding the recent postings concerning Methyl

      First of all, it is always a good idea to check the archives of the list, as
      many hints and suggestions can be found there. I just did a search myself,
      and it worked extremely well. However, I did notice one thing lacking in
      all the postings, and thought it might be prudent to clarify what we are
      talking about.

      Methyl Cellulose is a very general name for a range of cellulosic ethers
      that have been "methylated", which allows for better water absorption, gel
      consistency and clarity. Usually they are varieties of hydroxy propyl
      methyl cellulose. There is also hydroxy propyl ethyl cellulose, commonly
      known as ethulose (which I have heard some use for oil marbling).

      Dow manufactures a number of varieties under the brand name "Methocel" with
      grades such as A4M (not very clear, somewhat grainy consistency, excellent
      for poulticing spines in book restoration, terrible for marbling), E4M
      (clearer than A4M, still very viscous, used for spine poulticing, adhesive
      additive, and could be used for marbling is thinned enough and allowed to
      swell), etc. These gels need can only be dispersed in hot water, then
      topped up with cold and allowed to swell. They are more commonly used as
      adhesive additives in bookbinding, though some use them for marbling as
      well. If you buy "Methyl Cellulose" from a craft store, it would do you
      well to learn more about what it is exactly: what grade it is, resulting
      viscosity and centipoise (Cps). Dow publishes an excellent technical
      booklet on Methyl Cellulose which I highly recommend. I got it for free
      when I called 1-800-447-4369. They also sent me several jars of different
      grades to experiment with.

      MC used for marbling, is known as "cold water dispersible" methyl cellulose.
      The recipe mentioned recently using ammonia and vinegar in the preparation
      is just such a variety. It requires a high pH (using ammonia) to swell, and
      then the vinegar added to drop it back down. This is the type sold for
      marbling. The Dow line begins with the letter J, and one example is
      j75ms-n, which was suggested by Peggy Skycraft in her presentation about
      various sizes at the IMG '92 in San Francisco. Van Waters and Rogers also
      makes a cold water dispersible product, which is sold by some companies such
      as Daniel Smith to use as a sizing agent for paper making. I haven't been
      able to get more information about it, though it also works well.

      So for the person who wrote in the last post about the friend having trouble
      using Pro Chem. paints on MC, I would ask, "just what type of MC are they
      using?" Could be an important factor. I would discourage using the Createx
      medium, as it is simply the same stuff sold in a tiny jar at an inflated

      Regarding the Methyl Cell versus Carragheenan question: I think that if you
      are using acrylics, MC size will hold up much better as the acrylics are
      more aggressive on the gel. The late Chris Weimann, in his attempts to find
      a method of marbling that was more durable in the Los Angeles weather, had
      come up with using a combination of MC and Carragheenan for his work, and
      utilized acrylics to which he added dry pigments. His work is quite nice
      and very fine, certainly not BURLAP! You can read more about in the book by
      his wife Ingrid "Chris Weimann- a Tribute", which is still available
      directly from Ingrid at floatingcolors@... I tried something similar
      for fabric marbling and it worked nicely, my size stayed alive for 6 weeks
      (in cold weather) topping it up every few days with fresh MC.

      In some respects, this discussion sounds a little similar to the tragacanth
      vs. carragheenan thread on the list a few months ago. While I use
      carragheenan for the most part, since I do traditional water color marbling,
      I don't feel that it's necessarily something "superior", it just works
      extremely well for my needs. It really depends on the specific context
      whether one is "better" or the other.


      Jake Benson

      Benson's Hand Bindery
      Fine Custom Bookbinding & Conservation
      Hand Marbled Papers
      1319 B Summerville Ave.
      Columbia S.C. 29201
      Phone: 803.799.1853
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