Mill Boards & Mill Board Cutting

This entry is part 18 of 20 in the series The Art of Bookbinding (Joseph W. Zaehnsdorf, 3rd Edt, 1897)

Mill-Boards There is no occasion to wait for the book to be advanced as far as the backing before the workman sees to his boards; but he should take advantage of the period of drying to prepare them, to look out the proper thickness of the board, and to line them with paper either on one side or on both.

There are now so many kinds of mill-boards made that a few words about them may not be out of place. The best boards are made of old rope, and cost about £30 per ton. The various mills make each a different quality, the prices ranging down to £14 per ton; about this price the straw boards may be said to commence, hey going as low as £7, and even less.

A new board has lately appeared called leather board; it is exceeding hard and durable. I made several experiments with this board, but up to the present have not succeeded in getting it to lay flat on the book. Boards are made to the various sizes in sheets varying from pott (17 ¼ x 14 ¼ inches) to double elephant (40 x 28 inches). The thickness is known as 6d., 7d., 8d.; 8x, or eightpenny one cross; 8xx, eightpenny two cross; X for tenpenny. Here is a list in full of all the boards likely to be used:–


Having chosen he board, it is necessary to cut it up to the size wanted. If the book is 8vo., the board is cut into eight pieces; if 4to., into four; using a demy board for a demy book, or a royal for a royal book. To cut up he board, first mark up as a guide for the mill-board shears.

These are very large shears, in shape somewhat like an enlarged tin shears. To use the shears, screw up one arm in the laying press, hold the board by the left hand, using the right to work the upper arm, the left hand meanwhile guiding the board. Some little tact is required to cut heavy boards. It will be found that it is necessary to press the lower arm away with the thigh, and bring the upper arm towards the operator whilst cutting.


A mill-board cutting machine is now in all large shops.

Richmond’s own description, it being more explicit than any I could possible give; “The machine accomplishes a surprising amount of superior work in a very short time, and the very best description of the ordinary lever mill-board cutting machine cannot be compared with it. The machine is very strongly and accurately constructed. It is furnished with an iron table having a planed surface, and is also provided with a self-acting feed gauge. The gear wheels are engine cut, and the circular cutters, which are of the best cast steel, being turned and ground “dead true,” clean and accurate cutting is insured. The machine will therefore be found to be a most profitable acquisition to any bookbinding establishment in which large quantities of mill-board are used up.”The cut fairly well explains itself; the long blade descending cuts the boards, which are held fast on the table by the clamp. The gauges are set either on the table or in front. The board is put on the table and held tight by pressure of the foot on the treadle; the knife descending upon the exposed board cuts after the principle of the guillotine blade. Another kind, introduced by Messrs. Richmond, of Kirby Street, Hatton Garden, is made for steam work, and is no doubt one of the best that can be made. Instead of a knife to descend, a number of circular cutters are made to revolve on two spindles, the one cutter working against the other (see woodcut) but I give Messrs.


The boards being cut, square the edge which is to go to the back of the book. This must be done in the cutting press, using a cutting board for one side termed a “runner,” and another called a “cut-against” for the other side. There are simply to save the press from being cut; and a piece of old mill-board is generally placed on the cut- against, so that the plough knife does not cut or use up the whole-binding, to be lined on both des with paper; if for half-binding on only one side. The reason for lining them is to make the boards curve inwards towards the book. The various pastings would cause the board to curve the contrary way if it were not lined. If the boards are to be lined both sides, paper should be cut double the size of the boards;