Drawing-In And Pressing

This entry is part 19 of 20 in the series The Art of Bookbinding (Joseph W. Zaehnsdorf, 3rd Edt, 1897)

The boards having been squared, they are to be attached to the book by lacing the ends of the cord through holes made in the board. The boards are to be laid on the book with their backs in the groove and level with the head; they must then be marked either with a lead pencil or the point of a bodkin exactly in a line with the slips, about half an inch down the board. On a piece of the wood the mill board is placed, and holes are pierced by hammering a short bodkin through on the line made, at a distance from the edge in accordance with the size of the book. About half an inch away from the back is the right distance for an octavo. The board is then to be turned over, and a second hole made about half an inch away from the first ones. The boards having been holed, the slips must be scraped, pasted slightly, and tapered or pointed. Draw them tightly through the hold first made and back through the second. Tap them slightly when the board is down to prevent them from slipping and getting loose. When the cords are drawn through, cut the ends close to the board with a knife, and make the board close on the slips and hold them tight. The slips should be well and carefully hammered, as any projection will be seen with great distinctness when the book is covered. The hammer must be held perfectly even, for the slips will be cut by the edge of it used carelessly.

The book is now to be examined, and any little alteration may be made before putting it into the standing press. With all books, a tin should be placed between the millboard and book, to flatten the slips, and prevent their adherence. The tin is placed right up the groove, and serves also as a guide for the pressing board. Pressing boards, the same size as the book, should be put flush with the groove, using the pressing tin as guide, and the book or books placed in the centre of the press directly under the screw, which is to be tightened as much as possible. In pressing books of various sizes, the largest book must always be put at the bottom of the press, with a block or a few pressing boards between the various sizes, in order to get equal pressure on the whole, and to allow the screw to come exactly on the centre of the books.

The backs of the books are now to be pasted, and allowed to stand for a few minutes to soften the glue. Then with a piece of wood or iron, called a cleaning-off stick (wood is preferable), the glue is rubbed off, and the backs are well rubbed with a handful of shavings and left to dry. Leave them as long as possible in the press, and if the volume is rather a thick one a coat of past or thin glue should be applied to the back. Paste is preferable If the book is very thick a piece of thin calico may be pasted to the back and allowed to dry, the surplus being taken away afterwards.

In flexible work care must be taken that the cleaning-off stick is not forced too hard against the bands, or the thread being moist will break, or the paper being wet will tear, or the bands may become shifted. The cleaning-off stick may be made of any piece of wood; an old octavo cutting board is as good as anything else, but a good workman will always have one suitable and at hand when required for use.

When the volumes have been pressed enough (a day’s pressing is none too much) they are to be taken out, and the tins and pressing boards put away. The book is then ready for cutting. Of the numerous presses, excepting the hydraulic, Gregory’s Patent Compound Action Screw Press is to my mind the best, and I believe it to be one of the most powerful presses yet invented; sixty tons pressure can be obtained by it.


In olden times, when our present work-tools did not exist and material aids were scarce, a sharp knife and straight edge formed the only implements used in cutting. Now we have the plough and cutting machine, which have superseded the knife and straight edge; and the cutting machine is now fast doing away with the plough. There are very few shops at the present moment where a cutting machine is not in use, in fact I may say that, without speaking only of cloth books, for they must always be cut by machinery owing to the price not allowing them to be done other wise, there are very few books, not even excepting extra books, that have escaped the cutting machine.

All cutting “presses” are used in the same way. The plough running over the press, its left cheek running between two guides fastened on the left cheek of the press. By turning the screw of the plough the right cheek is advanced towards the left; the knife fixed on the right of the plough is advanced, with the point cuts gradually through the boards or paper secured in the press, as already described in preparing the boards. These are two kinds of ploughs in use – in one the knife is bolted, in the other the knife slides in a dovetail groove – termed respectively “bolt knife” and “slide knife.” The forwarder will find that the latter is preferable, on account of its facility of action, as any length of knife can be exposed for cutting.


But with a bolt knife, being fastened to the shoe of the plough, it is necessarily a fixture, and must be worn down by cutting or squaring mill-boards, or such work, before it can be used with the truth necessary for paper. To cut a book properly it must be quite straight and the knife must be sharp and perfectly true. Having this in mid, the book may be cut by placing the front board the requisite distance from the head that is to be cut off. A piece of the thin mill-board or trindle is put between the hind board and book, so that the knife when through the book may not cut the board. The book is now to be lowered into the cutting press, with the back towards the workman, until the front board is exactly on a level with the press. The head of the book is now horizontal with the press, and the amount to be cut off exposed above it. Both sides should be looked to, as the book is very liable to get a twist in being put in the press. When it is quite square the press is to be screwed up tightly and evenly. Each end should be screwed up to exactly the same tightness, for if one end is loose the paper will be jagged or torn instead of being cut cleanly.


The book is cut by drawing the plough gently to and fro; each time it is brought towards the workman a slight amount of turn is given to the screw of the plough. If too much turn is given to the screw, the knife will bit too deeply into the paper and will tear instead of cutting it. If the knife has not been properly sharpened, or has a burr upon its edge, it will be certain to cause ridges on the paper. The top edge being cut, the book is taken out of the press and the tail cut. A mark is made on the top of the hind or back board just double the size of the square, and the board is lowered until the mark is on a level with the cut top.


The book is again put into the press, with the back towards, the workman, until the board is flush with the cheek of the press; this will expose above the press the amount to be taken off from the tail, as before described, and the left hand board will be, if put level with the cut top, exactly the same distance above the press as the right had board is below the cut top. The tail is cut in the same way as the top edge.

To cut a book properly requires great care. It will be of great importance to acquire a methodical exactness in working the different branches, cutting especially. Always lay a book down one way and take it up another, and in cutting always work with the back of the book towards you, and cut from you. Give the turn to the screw of the plough as it is thrust from you, or you will pull away from a part of the back instead of cutting it.

In cutting the foredge, to which we must now come, always have the head of the book towards you, so that if to cut straight you know exactly where the fault lies. The foredge is marked both back and front of the book y placing a cutting board under the first two or three leaves as a support; the mill-board is then pressed firmly into the groove and a line is drawn or a hole is pierce head and tail, the foredge of the board being used as a guide. The book is now knocked with its back on the press quite flat, and trindles (flat pieces of steel in the shape of an elongated U, about 1 ½ inches wide and 3 or 4 inches long, with a slot nearly the whole length) are placed between the boards and book by letting the boards fall back from the book and then passing one trundle at the head, the other at tail, allowing the top and bottom slip to go in the grooves of the trundles. The object of this is to force the back up quite flat, and by holding the book when the cut-against and runner is on it, supported by the other hand under the boards, it can be at once seen if the book is straight or not. The cut-against must be put quite flush with the holes on the left of the book, and the runner the distance under the holes that the amount of square is intended to be. The book being lowered into the press, the runner is put flush with the cheek of the press and the cut-against just the same distance above the press as the runner is below the holes.


The trundles must be taken out from the book when the cutting boards are in their proper place, and the millboards will then fall down. The book and cutting boards must be held very tightly or they will slip and if the book has been lowered into the press accurately, everything will be quite square. The press must now be screwed up tightly, and the foredge ploughed; when the book is taken out of the press it will resume its original rounding, the foredge will have the same curve as the back, and if cut truly there will be a proper square all round and edges. This method is known as “cutting in boards.” If the amateur or workman has a set of some good work which he wishes to bind uniformly, but which has already been cut to different sizes, and he does not wish to cut the large ones down to the smaller size, he must not draw the small ones in, as he may possibly not be able to pull the boards down the required depth to cut the book, but e must leave the boards loose, cut the head and tail, then draw the boards in, and turn up the cut and foredge.

“Cutting out of boards” is by a different method. The foredge is cut before gluing up, if for casing, taking e size from the case, from the back to the edge of the board in the foredge. The book is then glued up, rounded, and put into the press for half an hour, just to see it. The size is again taken from the case, allowing for squares head and tail. The book having been marked is cut, and then backed. Cloth cases are made for most periodicals, and may be procured from their publishers at a trifling cost, which varies according to the size of the book and the amount of blocking that is upon them. This method of cutting out of boards is adopted in many of the cheap shops (even leather shops). It is a method, however, not to be commended. To test if the book be cut true it is only necessary to turn the top leaf back level to the back of the book and even at the head; if it be the slightest bit untrue it will at once bee seen.


A few words about the various cutting machines that are in the market. Each maker professes his machine the best. In some the knife moves with a diagonal motion, in others with a horizontal motion.

The principle of all these machines is the same: the books are placed to a gauge, the top is lowered and clamps the book, and, on the machine being started, the knife descends and cuts through the paper.

Another machine by Harrild and Son, called a registered cutting machine, is here illustrated. It operation is on the same principle as a lying press, the difference being, that this has a table upon which the work is placed; a gauge is placed at the back so the work may be placed against it for accuracy, the top beam is then screwed down and the paper ploughed. A great amount of work may be accomplished with this machine, and to anyone that cannot afford an ordinary cutting machine this will be found invaluable.

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