Bernd Eichhorn - Working on collections, premortem bequests and bequests

Removing staples

To hold together sheets of papers, staples and office clamps are used in offices all over the world. In an archive however, documents are taken out of their original functional context, hence staples are no longer necessary. Also they affect paper in several ways: Mechanically stapled paper is already damaged with the punch holes and indirectly will weaken surrounded sheets of paper. Squeezed onto the staples’ unevenness they will bend and might crack, especially when be kept that way for a long period of time. Moreover metal clamps will corrode when in contact with air humidity and turn into rust which affects paper in a more serious way.

And it personally bugs me, when moving the content of a ring binder into expansion folders, seeing that one corner of the pile is much thicker than the rest and the documents won’t sit nicely.

I have been experimenting for quite a time with various devices and techniques to remove staples without damaging the documents, because using conventional staple removers was very unsatisfying, as their use is quite cumbersome and they tend to damage the documents.

Thus I developed a technique, that removes the disturbing staples without causing the paper further damage and, after some exercise, also works fast.

With my technique I stick to the common procedure of removing staples by bending their ends and pulling them out through the paper stack. But instead of transferring the necessary back-pressure into the paper only, as is the case with usual staple removers, I produce one myself. For this I flip the papers so the staple’s ends face me, hold the paper firm and press a finger against the back of the staple. Now everything is fixed and I can safely bend open the ends of the staple. The energy that occurs bending the metal will be guided into the staple and then into my finger which holds up against that pressure. This also works very well with just two joined pages of thin flimsy paper, where the paper doesn’t give you enough to hold it. In that case you do not hold the paper, but only one side of the staple to bend open the opposite side.

Bending the staple ends can be done with every gripping device, but as tweezers are too weak, small pliers would be the best for this.
After having opened the staple, turn over the paper stack, hold it and pull out the staple with the pliers.

However, there are some cases where bending and pulling out a staple does not work or is not advisable. Be it because the clip is too tight, too stubborn, too long, too thick or too damaged. In such a case, the staple should be cut through at an appropriate point. The single parts of the staple then ought to be pulled out quite easy. But please take care before cutting through a staple! Loose staple metal will be catapulted away, so always protect your eyes when doing this!

For my work I use small diagonal cutting pliers that are offered by electronic shops for removing IC-pins and soldering pins. With those I can bend and pull staples and also cut them without even touching the paper.

It is important that the jaws are flat on the back without bevel (full flush) and that the jaw’s tips meet and touch when the pliers are closed. Otherwise they won’t be able to grab tight sitting staples. Also they should be sharp and have a decent steel hardness of at least 54 HRC to last long. The first three pictures below show the head of the cutting pliers I have been using for several years now.

Once again: Please take care before cutting through a staple! Loose staple metal will be catapulted away, so always protect your eyes when doing this!

An additional tip: For bigger document stacks or fragile sheets of paper it might be easier to pull the paper away from the staples instead of pulling the staples out of the paper. In that case, grab the opened staples with the pliers and hold it tight with one hand. Then grab and pull the paper or parts or single sheet of paper off it.


My electronic cutting pliers:



The staple from above, supported by my finger from underneath:


Bend open the first staple end:


Bend open the second staple end:


The open staple:


Pulling out of the staple after having turned over the paper:


All the best de-ironing!

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