Thursday, 11 August 2011

A bookbinder's cigar box

Recently I have had the amazing opportunity to visit a bookbinder’s ‘workshop’, which was set up in the room at the front of his house. It used to be a bedroom.

I got some hands on experience of using the professional tools and equipment a binder might use. It was an invaluable experience, to actually use these things, rather than read about them from books.

Roger gave me a few things to take home to practise with – things, he said, were just laying around the workshop. Honestly, I nearly cried at his generosity.

So hereby is a list of a bookbinder’s beginning: most notably, the difference between my set – things I’ve found around the house – and the one that Roger was so kind to give me. It really shows that I was incredibly naive, which is obviously something I have to change. That is why it is so important that you talk to someone who knows what they are doing. I used tutorials on the internet. Though they make a good start, they are not official and the quality of books made from them will be poor without the correct materials.

Note: In the first photograph, I have used materials which are probably unsuitable for bookbinding. If you want to start binding, it is probably best to buy the proper equipment. I will point out why things are wrong as I go along. 

The tools are photographed on a piece of gray board. This is the board that will form the hard cover of a book. The weight and size of the book block (the pages) determines the thickness of the board. Is you have a heavy book block, the board needs to be quite thick to enable it to support the book. This sheet of grey board is 3mm and I brought it from a art shop.

     Also notice the square grid cutting mat. These are extremely useful for accurate measurements, and obviously protecting the surface you are working on. I don’t glue things on this board, as it is important that you keep things glue free – otherwise, it will ruin your work. When I glue things I use shiny magazine paper. 
The 'things found around the house' bookbinding kit

These things are mostly inappropriate.
1.       Scissors are an obvious tool. They are indispensible within bookbinding, from cutting the paper, to cutting the thread. These are just a normal pair we had at home, but I tend to keep these with my bookbinding tools and use different pairs for anything else. Binders, as well as having a normal pair of scissors, will also have some shears. These are a lot more heavy than normal, and will cut through board easily, where as it is quite difficult to cut through board with a normal pair.

2.      This is a lid from a jam jar. I use it to hold glue and to rest my brushes against, to avoid getting glue everywhere. It could also be used for mixing materials, if necessary.

3.      Needle. I stole this from my mother’s sewing kit. It is a bigger size from what you would use to make repairs in clothes. It also has a more obvious eye. I chose this needle because it is stronger, and because the thread I use is also quite thick. It has a slight curve to it now where I have used it in bookbinding.

4.      Linen thread. I brought this from a haberdashery. It is normally used for repairing heavy materials and furniture. Admittedly, it is not very good. It is far too thick, not flexible enough, and very easily likes to fray. I knew that linen thread was used in binding, but obviously did not buy the correct type. ( see D)

5.      Bandage. From a first aid kit. I used this as an alternative to mull (M). It is far too stretchy and again, likes to fray. Completely unsuitable for bookbinding, but it was a start. 

6.      PVA glue. This stuff has probably been with you since you were in play group. Obviously it is quite strong and useful for sticking things. It can wash out of brushes (and clothes) easily. However, it is not suitable for bookbinding. PVA is pretty much impossible to get rid of once you have used it within bookbinding, and heavily damages what you have done. Roger told me that if you can’t revert something, then don’t do it. However, binders still use PVA glue, but it is reversible. (C)

7.      Bias tape. This is actually used for sewing repairs, and again is highly unsuitable for bookbinding – especially bias binding tape, which allows a curve to appear within material. I used this as an alternative to linen tape, which is used on a spine of a book to give strength, and glued to the boards to provide strength to the book, as well as a support for flexibility of the book. (E)

8.      This is just a stronger thread I found in my mother’s sewing kit. I would use this for small book, as the linen thread I had was often too thick and would damage the paper. This thread is ridiculous. It breaks very easily. 

9.      Plastic rule. I like to use the plastic rule because then I can see through the ruler to be able to get a reasonably accurate measurement. I only use this ruler to measure things. NEVER USE PLASTIC RULES WITH KNIVES. They are very likely to slip. Bye bye fingers. 

10.   Paintbrush. This actually has quite short hairs and they are quite ‘solid’. I use this brush for all kinds of gluing, especially the delicate parts, and the edges of a cover. It is extremely important you keep your brushes clean, and that they are dry when you start to use them.

11.    Metal rule. My metal rule is non-slip – it looks like a flattened out ‘m’. This allows your fingers some protection from your nasty, sharp craft knife.

12.   Stencil brush. The hairs are thick and short. There are a number of different brushes binders use, and this makes a good alternative. Brushes with thick hairs like this are used to cover materials with glue. Rather than brushing glue on, you apply it like you would with paint on a stencil. This allows a more even covering of glue and it is easy to control the level of glue with this kind of brush.

13.   Craft knife. These kind of knifes are most commonly found in a school’s art room. this knife is quite old and I find it incredibly uncomfortable to use after a while. If I buy a new knife, I will buy a retractable one which has a comfortable grip. This allows me to change the blade when necessary and not hurt myself.
14.   Tea spoon. Ah, the famous spoon! I’ve used this as an alternative to a bone folder (J) ever since I started binding. It does the job: folding paper (a nice crisp edge) and smoothing out materials (getting air out from underneath materials when gluing is very important). The problem with spoons is that they can be too harsh and any pressure is concentrated in the ‘bowl’ of the spoon, where really it needs to be spread out. Kind of like wearing snow shoes as opposed to not wearing snow shoes. 

15.   This is just some tape from the haberdashery. I fold it over and sew it as an alternative to headbands, which fills the gap between cover and spine. It makes books look neater, and is purely decorative. Of course this alternative looks a bit messy, especially fraying as much as it does. 

16.   Sandpaper. Incredibly useful – when cutting the board, often the edge is far too sharp and this can penetrate and damage paper. I use sandpaper to wear down the boards to make a smoother edge, which makes covering easier. Sandpaper is also good for keeping your tools sharp and clean. 

17.   Pencil. Used for everything, measuring, etc. I like to use a retractable pencil to avoid sharpening and produce fine lines that can be easily rubbed out. 

The Correct Tools
There are quite a few differences between this photo and the old one. Most noticeably, some of the ‘alternative’ tools I have used are now gone (including the spoon). The things I have not numbered remain the same, and they have the same purpose, although with my new tools I may use them in a different way. The plastic rule is also missing from this photograph. I will probably keep on using it, but professional bookbinders tend to measure things by eye, a skill that is built up over the years. a pair of dividers (K), come into play here.

  1. A.     Headbands. These are the bands you will most likely find in a hardback book. Arthur W. Johnson  in The Practical Guide to Craft Bookbinding provides an particularly good description: ‘A true headband consist of coloured threads entwined tightly round a core of vellum backed with leather, and is sewn through the sections, filling the gap at the spine between the top or bottom of the section and edges of the boards.’ The headbands here are not as elaborate. They are ‘imitation’ headbands, and used only as decoration.

    B.     PVA paste. This is different from PVA as paste is used for paper and other porous materials. It is also used for leather. I would use this when sticking the endpapers onto a book block.

    C.     PVA. This, specifically, is reversible PVA. Being reversible causesactivation to be delayed therefore allowing repositioning in the glueingprocess. It also has a built in resistance to yellowing due to aging and aneutral pH of 7.’ This glue is used on the spine as well as when gluing book cloth to the boards. 
    D.     Linen thread. This is a lot more flexible than the alternative I used. It is not as thick, but still pretty strong. Bookbinder will wax the thread, which enables it to be pulled through sheets of paper with ease and fluidity.

    E.     Binding tape. This is the official stuff, usually made of linen. It is a lot stronger than the alternative, and gives the spine and book strength. I learnt a new way to sew the tape onto the book block, rather than sticking it on afterward. This will make my books immediately stronger.

    F.      A range of different sized needles. The thickness of thread and paper determines which needle will be used to sew with.

    G.     Drawing pins. When sewing onto tapes, a sewing frame is used. Tapes are strung from a horizontal bar and are made taut. Drawing pins attach the bottom of the tape to the frame. I don’t have a frame, but I will be using the pins to attach the tape to my desk. Having the tape attached like this makes it a lot easier to keep in place, creating accuracy. 

    H.    Knife. This is used for a whole number of things, and there are a whole range of knifes that binders used. I don’t really know the function of this one specifically, but if it sharp enough it can be used with paper and any number of different materials. 

    I.       Bradawl. Use for piercing holes in the paper or boards. Alternatively, a needle can be used, but this can be quite tedious, as it is sometimes to get an accurate hole, whilst with a bradawl multiple sheets of paper can be pierced.

    J.      Bone folder. Used pretty much in every stage of bookbinding. Smoothes cloth down, makes neat and sharp folds. I love using a bone folder. It’s so fluid and nice to use. 

    L.      Surgeon’s  (curved) needle. This needle is commonly used in bookbinding. I’ve never tried to use one of these before, so it should be interesting.

    M.   Mull. This is an open-weave cotton cloth, hardened with starch. This is the real material that should be used, as is gives vital strength to the book.

     There we go! There’s a list of the should and should not tools of bookbinding. I learnt so much from Roger and hopefully my work in the future will be stronger, and of a high quality. Having a kit like this is really a start of a collection if I’m going to become a professional -  a tiny box within a mound of materials at my fingertips. I hope this has helped any of you interested in making books!

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