Paint Analysis

On the 22nd and 23rd of July all of us here were given the opportunity to have a class on paint analysis. The class was wonderful. We were able to take actual paint samples of the wood all around the church for the following day in the lab. I worked with Ryan up in the balcony. Our job was really great because we took paint samples before and after a “seam” in the wood. Ms. Peggy believed that the rounded part was added on, so in taking a paint sample we might be able to tell if the paint from one side was older or younger than the next.

Now, you may be asking yourself, “How does one take a paint sample?” Well, personally, I thought it was going to be difficult…it's quite easy—the only thing you have to be careful of is the X-acto knife. And since we were going to be using a microscope the next day we didn't need big samples. So, X-acto knife and brown paper envelopes in hand, we did what we had to do. The samples, to the naked eye, didn't seem to have much information, but we soon learned (the next day) that that was not exactly the case.

Along with the paint samples, Ryan and I were asked by Ms. Peggy to see if we could find any nails. After I labeled the envelopes correctly, Mr. Finch showed us the easiest way to get the nail out of a plank of wood without damaging the nail, which was using a gripping instrument and hammering that metal instead of the nail itself. Once we got three nails out of the wood that all seemed to be of different times, Ms. Peggy collected all of our samples and headed out with a “See you tomorrow.”

The next day we met at the church and once everyone was there, we headed to Mount Saint Mary College. As everyone walked inside we were directed up to the lab. Ms. Peggy was there and she invited us to sit down in front of the microscopes. She gave us a briefing on the composition of paint, and how older nails looked and why they looked that way.

After that was done we began the hands-on part of the lab. We all got our paint samples and sat down, and with instruction from Ms. Peggy, we soon learned how to “analyze paint.” It wasn't that easy at first to have the tiny flakes of paint stand on end in the wax, but once you got it to do that, you zoomed in just a little bit, or according to your eyes, and the view was, well…different from what the naked eye sees. I could see the different layers of paint, wood, and occasionally dirt.

After the paint came our nails. Ryan and I found some nails that were apparently from the mid- to late 1800s. The way the head of the nail was formed gave that away: whether the top was rounded or squared.

At the end of the lab Ms. Peggy had us look at a sample that Mr. Finch took. We were all amazed at how perfect his was, but than again, he had a lot more years of experience on us. She had us look and see if we could tell how many layers there were in the sample. Most of our guesses were in the teens. The answer wasn't close to that, try 20s. We definitely walked away from Mount Saint Mary with more information than we had when we walked in.