My interests tend to go from one minor obsession to another, so I tried a number of experiments with staple removers to see which was the Staple Remover to Rule Them All.

I found that it depends how much paper has been stapled. If it’s a thick stack – say, 15 sheets – you can usually slide a staple remover under the top side of the staple and pull. The staple will lift, and the thickness of paper will force the staple’s arms to unfold.

With a thinner group of papers, this approach will rip the paper. There you need to lever up the arms of the staple first, then remove it from the other side.

The ideal candidate would slide smoothly below the arms of the staple and quickly lever them back. The metal should be thin enough to fit this narrow gap, but thick enough to lever it. I experimented with automotive feeler gauges, but then discovered an even better tool – an artist’s palette knife. Very thin, reasonably strong, and the edges are rounded, so it won’t easily damage paper.

A palette knife makes a good de-stapler

Removing staples with the palette knife is a three-step process. Use the knife to lever the arms of the staple open, then flip the paper, slide the palette knife under the head of the staple, and lift it out. I found it was much better and gentler on paper than the oyster knife usually recommended by archivists.

The Knipex clippers worked well to snip the arms off most types of staples, however, even with the metal catcher ends, pieces of wire would sometimes go flying, so I usually used it only for difficult cases. After snipping the staple arms, I then used the palette knife to lift out the remainder of the staple.