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Baking Tapes

by Pat Kirtley 

PainPete@aol.com wrote:

This problem can occur under certain circumstances even with well-adjusted machines and high quality tapes. But there is a lot of tape made in the mid and late 70's that is now shedding like crazy due to binder formulation problems. That's a widespread problem.

I'm not advocating this, but I've heard anecdotal evidence that with old reel tapes with this problem, baking them (yes! in the oven!) stabilized the binder enough to make a transfer to newer tape. Time and/or temperature information is missing from this story, but I bet it's well below what's required to melt plastic!>

and Kim Corbet wrote:

...okay, this sounded bizarre when I first heard about it, but I believe Bruce Richardson (73422.3357@compuserv.com) had a recent studio project where he had to salvage an archive of ancient tapes and used a, get this, baking process in his kitchen oven...that somehow re-applied the material to the tape.  I don't know temps or other details, but I'm sure he'd be happy to share his family recipe.

Yes!  I’ve heard of this technique before too.  I believe the method was originated by an archivist at the Library of Congress.  I went searching on the web for references and found this at:  http://sul-server-2.stanford.edu/byauth/wheeler/wheeler2.html

“Regardless of what format is used, the following are the most common tape problems:

  1. Sticky residue or powder on tape, which makes it difficult to play the tape.

  2. Binder degradation (oxide flaking off the basefilm).

  3. Physical damage due to poor tape recorder maintenance.

The sticky-tape / -powder problem can be temporarily relieved by baking the tape for at least eight hours at 55°C (130°F), and an extreme case may require 18 to 24 hours.   A convection oven is recommended for this procedure.  This heating process makes the tape usable for a few weeks and can be repeated many times.  I recommend copying any tapes that develop this problem because their long-term durability is questionable. 

The second problem, binder degradation, can sometimes be reversed by storing the tapes in a cold and dry environment for a couple of weeks.  The third problem of tape damage is usually caused by one edge of the tape being curled and is the result of an improperly aligned tape transport.  A severe case of edge damage, pleating, or creasing is usually difficult to play, but I have developed a method of correcting the problem so that the tape is at least playable...”

The rest of the article at the web site is interesting, and there is also another good article at: http://palimpsest.stanford.edu/cpa/reports/sound.html entitled “The Care and Handling of Recorded Sound Materials,” by Music Division, National Library Of Canada.

I would caution that this drying method appears to be workable for polyester-, etc., based tape formulations from the 70’s and 80’s, but for tapes made before the mid 60’s, which use an acetate base, baking and drying could cause severe tape breakage problems.  Hope this helps!

More articles by Pat Kirtley:

Good Old-fashioned Tape Looping | The Case of the Squeaking Tape

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