I suppose bonefolder to be an archetypal bookbinder’s tool. I know other artisans use them too; still, making books without a bonefolder proves to be not so comfortable and neat.
There will be links to some metal and other types of folders below, but let me begin with my own story.
When I started teaching bookbinding, I decided to provide all my students with a basic set of tools: folder, utility knife and a simple sewing frame. Everything to be included in the price. Understandably, I wanted to make that kit as cheap as possible without compromising the quality.
Utility knife is the easiest thing. Prime cost of a simple sewing frame appeared to be something about $5 (ignoring the cost of my time). Folders remained to be a problem. For my first class I’ve ordered a set of bonefolders, but that was too expensive. Whole batch amounted for almost a third of the entry price.
Then I remembered that during my apprenticeship at a bookbindery many years ago we used wooden folders. Cutting one was an easy and cheap process. Less than in an hour I had a full set for my next class. Moreover, materials cost was close to nothing.
The only problem: either you have to use nice strong and expensive wood, or that folder may be thrown to the trash after only ten hours of use.
After series of experiments, I found the best solution. I gave a carpenter a pack of laminate flooring boards to be cut in pieces 1,5×10 cm or something like that. After I’ve got a bag with those laminate bars, I only had to sharpen them and give them to my students — they loved that thing!
Humans made bone tools from prehistoric times and some of them (including folders) are still made of bone nowadays.
Folders Made Of Polymer Materials
More and more craftsmen use folders made of different polymer materials. Polytetrafluoroethylene (better known as Teflon) is one them.
Teflon folders are somewhat unbreakable and have that famous non-sticking surface. That also works for the glue and paint. I just have to say that many bookbinders (including myself) prefer bone folders. Sometimes without any proper reason other than them just liking it as it is.
The other polymer you may use is Delrin — that’s another DuPont brand. You can find it under its ‘scientific’ names polyoxymethylene (POM), acetal, polyacetal and polyformaldehyde. And under the brand names Celcon, Ramtal, Duracon, Kepital and Hostaform.
I can just cite Jeff Peachey here:
After making a folder and test driving it for a while, I became a devotee. It is a great material for a folder (apologies Jim Croft) combining advantages of both bone and teflon, while not feeling plasticky and soft like Teflon. It can be shaped with hand tools. It is food compliant and impact resistant. It is used for the stock of the M16 rifle. Du Pont’s informational Delrin booklet.
You can read much more (or order a Delrin folder) at his web site.
Once again, that’s not a new polymer at all. It was developed more than a hundred years ago. I remember my grandfather using it for some of his science radio projects many years ago. I wouldn’t ask you to remember its ‘proper’ name (polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride).
First time I’ve seen it used for making folders was this July. Don Glaister (fine binder and a teacher at the American Academy of Bookbinding) told us he was using that tool for many years. That was not a standard small folder, but a larger one. I’m really thinking about making one for myself.
Now you can buy Bakelite folders at my Etsy store.
I never considered using a metal folder, but just a few weeks ago, I didn’t think about Bakelite either. Once again, I would refer you to Jeff Peachey. He made a thorough research of aluminum folders in yearly 2014: http://jeffpeachey.com/2014/01/14/the-excelsior-metal-folder/
We would be glad to read about your experience with different folders (and links to other dealers and craftsmen making and selling them) in the comments below.