The Small Museum Tool Box

They say you have to be able to wear multiple hats to work in small museum. But what about those times when you need to wear a hard hat? We talk a lot about strategic planning and thinking big thoughts, but sometimes a good chunk of your day is spent installing an exhibit, moving furniture or watering plants because the city forgot to turn your sprinklers back on. In July. In Texas. (sorry, is that just me?) Is your (literal) tool box ready for all of the repairs, exhibit installations, and other minor crises that may come up during the course of your work?

Toolbox owned by Ron Siebler, frequent contractor at DHV. Image courtesy Dallas Heritage Village.
Toolbox owned by Ron Siebler, frequent contractor at DHV. Image courtesy Dallas Heritage Village.

Members of the Small Museums Committee started compiling a list of things that should be in your museum’s tool kit to make your life easier, tackle those unexpected emergencies, and just generally be a small museum superhero. Some suggestions are serious, some are humorous. Without further ado:

  • A rubber mallet– invaluable for putting together (and taking apart!) shelving
  • An awl– for making custom boxes
  • This isn’t a tool, but we use zip cords/ties for all kinds of stuff
  • Hammer for driving nails
  • Level to make sure the paintings we hung up using the hammer are straight
  • A full complement of screwdrivers. Specific suggestions include a hex-pin screwdriver used for cases with security screws and a 4-in-1 screwdriver, which would save space in a very crowded toolbox.
  • Scraper and putty knife (for wall and panel repair)
  • When dealing with cleaning objects, I can’t live w/out the double head spatula that is sold at Gaylords or other art supplies stores as well as soft, small paint brushes. I used my double head spatula to remove rusty staples & to remove a photograph that was glued & taped in an acidic frame.
  • You can’t have enough latex gloves too if you don’t want to take a break in washing cotton gloves.
  • A clean tool box just for caring for objects. A MUST!! I never share my tool box with the Exhibit Preparer (smile)
  • Utility stapler
  • Basic gardening tools, including one good shovel or spade; a leaf rake; pruners; pruning saw; wheelbarrow.
  • Tape measure. Make sure it’s a long one!
  • Basic set of pliers and wrenches.
  • One organization just got a fridge with an ice maker, and they are feeling it is a pretty handy tool this summer.
  • The cork screw/bottle opener is also essential. And don’t just keep them in the kitchen. Corkscrews have legs and walk away frequently. Staff members should also keep one in their desks for reception emergencies.
  • At least one pair of scissors in every work room. Make sure they are scissors that can actually cut. And multiples are good, since these also disappear.
  • Cordless screwdriver. However, others noted that cords are better, because cordless often don’t have enough power. And of course, plenty of drill bits!
  • Extension cords and power strips. However, avoid overloading power strips; they’re only designed for temporary, not permanent, hook-ups. It’s safer to install additional receptacles.
  • A bucket. Sometimes you need to haul water to keep plants alive. And sometimes you need to catch water from a dripping ceiling.
  • Extra light bulbs for the myriad types of fixtures.
  • Batteries (We use them for walkie-talkies, cordless mice, LED candles.)
  • A good box cutter. Actually, several of them.
  • A furniture mover. Cheryl just had a friend make her two 21″ x 21″ square wooden movers with four strong wheels. They both have a slot for your figures to be inserted for easy carrying from place to place. Labor was free. Best money she’s ever spent. Another option is a set of plastic furniture sliders, available at Home Depot. These reduce actual lifting of objects to merely tipping half of the object’s weight at a time.
  • A hand truck or dolly
  • Small wagon. They now make collapsible ones, which helps with storage.
  • Vet wrap. The strips used to wrap equine legs when covering wounds is great for holding doors and drawers closed while moving furniture, and does not damage.
  • Adult offspring (especially those that still live at home) are handy for volunteer work that no other volunteer will do.
  • Carts for artifacts
  • Clamps of all different shapes and sizes also come in handy.
  • A pickup truck. Dallas Heritage Village’s curator believes that should be in the job description for all future curators because she uses hers so much for various museum purposes.
  • Avoid using bungee cords; the ends can slip or bend and fly off toward your face. Ratchet straps are preferable.
  • Finally, in honor of Pat Miller (whose definition of a small museum is: If you’ve ever had to personally use a plunger in the restroom, you work in a small museum.): a plunger.

What else should be in your museum’s toolbox?