02. The Basics of BookBinding


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 $$…

About the Author:

Paul Thomson

Hello and welcome to i BookBinding. My name is Paul Thomson, I'm a retired bookbinder with over 40 years of experience. I have a passion for the written word and love all things Japanese.

I developed this website in order to pass on some knowledge to people new to book binding. This website will remain free for everybody to use, if you find it useful, please share. Follow me on Google+ for updates and posts that will not published on this site.

3 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.

Got something to say? Go for it!

Please complete the CAPTCHA below.
three − 2 =