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02. The Basics of BookBinding

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The art of bookbinding utilizes several different materials, tools and equipment. This chapter presents a review of each of these.

Choosing Quality Supplies

The process of bookbinding requires many raw materials such as paper, threads, tape, boards and fabric. All these items are available in the market in different quality levels and grades. Only the best of these should be used because low quality materials may not achieve a fine binding, which would put both time and efforts to waste. Good quality materials may be expensive, but that should not matter so much because a single binding requires very little of each material. Hence, just a onetime purchase of these materials can be used for producing several bindings.


Closeup photo of unfinished ‘Rag’ paper to show texture

Paper is available in many forms in the market, and many of these can be used for bookbinding purposes. Rag content paper (paper made from a percentage of woven cotton fibers, normally around 25%, you can purchase online here) is a good choice over wood pulp paper because it does not yellow and possesses higher durability. If a blank book has to be made, then ledger, white wove bound or typewriter paper of around 16 to 20 points should be preferred. For the end sheets, both domestic and imported paper can be selected in any shade like white, cream, gray or ivory. The same type of paper can also be used for the cover board, boxes and slip cases.

The cover should be made from a medium weight paper that is strong and flexible enough to bear folding, pasting and joint fixing. It should also be an attractive shade so that any designing that is done looks beautiful and stands out.

One tip for selecting good quality paper is to inspect it by folding and turning with scraps. If the quality is not good, the paper will either crackle or tear apart. Advice from CreativePro.com on choosing paper.


Small Roll of Linen Tape

Bookbinding tape is made from linen, cotton or polyester. Polyester tape should not be used in any case because it is not strong enough to support the binding. Either linen or cotton tape should ideally be used, but both have their drawbacks. Cotton tape has a higher flexibility which makes pasting easier. Linen is stronger than cotton and more durable, but the flexibility is a little less. Many times, it has to be pasted twice to achieve the required result. – Personally, I would always use linen tape.

The width of tape comes in various sizes. Generally, one fourth and one half of an inch are suitable for most uses. In some cases, a 3/8 inch tape may also be required.


Colored, waxed (linen) Binder's Thread

Colored, waxed (linen) Binder’s Thread

The thread used for binding should be strong yet soft enough so that it does not cut and tear apart the signature paper. This just weakens the binding, and it does not last for a very long time then. A thread which possesses all these qualities is the linen binder’s thread, but it is not available easily from highstreet stores (buy it online here from Amazon). The No 16 and No 25 mercerized cotton thread can serve as good substitutes (what is Mercerized Cotton Thread?). The carpet and No 18 button threads can also be used. In most cases, a No 50 thread will also be just fine, which is often used for sewing cloth. The numbers associated with these threads actually depicts their fineness; a greater number indicates a finer thread, further information on Thread (Yarn).

Before sewing, thread should be waxed so that kinking can be prevented. This also strengthens the knot and increases the thread’s life.

Quick tip: You could always wax your own ‘Linen’ thread to save a bit of $$…

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Books with uncovered plain binding boards

A perfect board is one that is stable and dense, and does not allow the covering material to warp as it is pasted onto the board. At times, the material suffers from shrinkage after the paste has dried, which makes the board hollow onto one side. The same thing can happen with the end sheets as well when they are pasted onto the boards other side. Before pasting any of these, it should be ensured that the pull of the end sheet is the same as the cover material.

Of the many boards available, a binder board is the most suitable one for use (most common brands are Lineco and Davey Board. I often find good deals for BookBinding boards over at Amazon.com). Binders Board is made from pulp and is not made from any glue or lamination. The board is manufactured by hydraulically pressing damped pulp webs or blankets onto top of each other. The process removes water and compacts the fibers, reducing the dimension almost 50%. The board produced by this method is resistant to distortion and has a higher density than other boards of the same thickness, which makes it more suitable for binding.

Chipboard, which is similar to the back that supports paper pads, can also be used for books that are smaller than 7 by 9 inches. For books greater than this size, make sure the board is not stiff which can weaken the binding with time. In this case, a high quality illustration board can be used because it is stiffer and prevents warping. This board is made in a single ply, double ply or threesome ply. If the book is excessively large and requires even stronger covers then two illustration boards can be combined together and used as one. This can be done by pasting them onto each other and leaving them pressed between heavy weights for about 12 hours.

A good video with some alternative sources you can use for boards:

9 Comments on "02. The Basics of BookBinding"

  1. Danny boy says:

    I didn’t even realize half of these tools existed…

  2. Suzy says:

    In your photo of “applying paste the spine”, that actually looks like someone cleaning a spine. There’s old glue on the spine, and paste (and/or methylcellulose) is often used to soften the old glue to make it easier to remove.

    Also, microwave paste is MUCH easier for a beginner. Just combine a 1:5 ratio of paste to water. Stir with a whisk to get out the lumps, then pop into the microwave and stir every 8 seconds or so until it turns translucent.

  3. Suzy says:

    Also, there’s more than just two kinds of presses! A bookbinding/nipping press is also essential for making case-bound books.

  4. Joanne Kiltz says:

    This is a great post for beginners like me! I was wondering whether you might be able to recommend a supplier for any laying presses? I found a good tutorial on how to make one here (http://www.csparks.com/Bookbinding/LayingPress/index.xhtml) but don’t have the expertise or required machinery to even attempt it.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated. A GREAT site you have here, it really help’s people like me.


  5. Jayne Barrett says:

    Hi, I’m not clear on what you mean by a ‘Folding Needle’…can you please explain how this is used and how I can make my own?
    Thanks for the post, great info!

    • Paul says:

      Hello Jayne,

      Many thanks for your comment. A folding needle is similar to an awl or large metal skewer. It just allows you to get right into the groove when folding paper around your end boards. It’s like a medium sized metal nail with more of a tapered end attached to a wooden handle.

      I hope this is of some help?


  6. maggie says:

    Hi Paul.

    I’m fairly new to bookbinding and the last 3 books I’ve made have all had the same problem – the width of the spine and the width of the space between the spine and cover boards when making the case with bookcloth. Sometimes the boards extend too far over the text block and sometimes not long enough.

    Some instructions say to measure the spine width by placing the text block on to the boards, some not.
    Some say to leave 2 board widths between spine and cover boards, some say 3.

    I’m sure this all depends on the thickness of the book, the style of spine (some are narrower than the text block, some the same, and some are slightly wider) and the thickness of the boards. But I can’t find any information that makes the process reliable.

    I don’t know if you can help or refer me to a text, link or pdf that will.

    I have only recently met your website and am impressed with its information. Thanks for designing it and I look forward to a reply when you have time.

    Thanks and best wishes

    • Paul says:

      Hello Maggie,

      Thanks for your message. I’ve posted it on our website so that others can benefit/input.

      Unfortunately, there is no hard ‘rule’ for what width of spine you should use and where you should take the measurements from. I always do a quick mock-up of the section using spare cloth and binding board I am using to determine the exact measurements of everything. Sometimes I will do 3-4 mock-ups to with slightly different measurements to see the results. Note that these sections need only be an inch or so wide. An easy way to do it is to always cut double the binding board you are using for your book and then cut them into 3 or 4 different ‘strips’ which you can then use for your mini mock-ups. Spare cloth can be used, or if it’s expensive or you’re running low, then you can use similar cloth of the same thickness and material though results wont be perfect.

      Once you get used to the cloth and type of book you are making it becomes a lot easier as you already have a good idea about thicknesses of cloth and measurements needed to make the final book.

      I also always keep these mock- ups on a big board in my workshop with some notes on measurements attached to them (cloth used, glue used, binding board used, client name, reference to finished book photo, dimensions, additional notes etc). Some of my friends keep all their notes in a specific notebook for easy reference.

      The downside of doing all this is that it takes more time, but it’s well worth the additional effort and cost of doing it can be factored into the end price you charge your clients (if bookbinding for someone else).

      Thanks for the compliments on the website, it’s great to hear you like what we’re putting out there, your feedback and general comments from the community make it all worth while!

      I hope this helps you in some way, I’m not saying it’s the best way to do it, but it’s the method I’ve come to use most often over the years and always produces the most reliable results.

      If you have any questions, please ask, I’m only happy to help where I can.


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