Thursday, May 2, 2019

The One Thing to Bind Them All

Ever wonder about how a book is bound? This step-by-step guide will give you all the tools you'll need to bind your own. ♦ 
It’s the first century BCE in modern-day India. In a dim, candle-lit room, a religious man is hunched over a pile of dried palm leaves split down the middle and covered in rubbed ink. He numbers the leaves, binds them in the middle with twine, and covers each end with hard, decorated wood. He holds his creation up to the flickering light and marvels at his work. The scribe is the world’s first known bookbinder, or bibliopegist. At that moment, he surely has no idea of the significance of his achievement.

Walk into any modern bookstore, and you are met with a rather uniform selection of books. At first glance, they all seem to be bound with the same heavy paperboard called binder’s board, used in hardcover books. Upon closer inspection, a few books also seem to be bound in cloth, soft paper, or leather. These materials make up the four most ubiquitous forms of book bindings, but they have not always been the staples of the bookbinding industry.

Since the advent of automation and assembly-line production, the variety of materials used to bind books has steadily dwindled. There, at one time, existed many different materials and methods to bind books. About fifteen methods to bind books proliferated throughout early recorded history, from Coptic binding, calf binding, and girdle binding, to cased cloth binding, limp vellum binding, and Ethiopian binding. The most successful technique, case binding, is commonly used today without heavy machinery. Case binding involves covering paper in a hard container, resulting in what’s more colloquially known as a hardcover book. It’s a fun, simple process that many people around the world use to renovate or decorate their favorite literature.

I started binding books when I was in high school as a past time. There were lots of interesting books that I owned that were all plagued by inexplicably boring covers. In an effort to make the books I loved more interesting, I unknowingly delved into a hobby that would consume my attention to this day.

In an effort to spread my love of bookbinding, I have written a step-by-step guide on how to bind books. The initial materials required are as follows: the book you wish to rebind (or generic paper), standard folios, a stapler (preferably a long-arm stapler), PVA glue (i.e. Elmer’s glue or similar), a hole punch, a butter knife, and knitting fabric.

Step 1: Stacking

Make sure that all of the pages are organized on landscape-oriented paper with two columns of text.
Stack the source material’s pages into four neat piles in chronological order. Four piles is the minimum number that the paper should be divided into, as later on, we will be placing these four piles into slots in a standard accordion folio. Exceeding four piles may be necessary for more dense volumes, which will, in turn, increase the number of folios used.

Step 2: Folding

Divide the papers in half, hamburger-style. Remember to keep all the pages facing the same direction! Even the most experienced binders sometimes finish a book, only to realize that Chapter 17 is upside down. Depending on the texture you want your book to have, a more or less precise fold should be used. Many binders enjoy messy folds. Having the pages of your book be slightly different lengths adds a great sense of antiquity, especially within fictitious books that strive for excitement and believability.
Unfold the paper and turn it over onto its back, so the blank side faces upwards.

Step 3: Stapling

One of the most exciting and fantastic pieces of equipment used by any serious bookbinder is the long-arm stapler. This baby can connect twenty to fifty pages at once, adding legitimacy to any binder whose craft might be lacking in other areas. Using a long-arm stapler it is not necessary, and normal staplers can get the job done. However, a long-arm stapler completes tasks faster and is an excellent conversation piece. This type of stapler can be purchased either online or within office supply stores.

Place the upturned pages about two inches or so from the edge of the stapler and press firmly downwards on the stapler until all the pages have been joined together.
Next, turn over the pages, and use a small ball peen hammer, or the side of a butter knife, to blunt and fold over the ends of the staples. This is extremely important, as failure to do so could cause flesh wounds and potentially tear the inside of the cover of the book upon completion. Make sure that you have stapled the pages together at no fewer than two separate places, but no more than three, as over-stapling adds unnecessary weight, and the binding glue does not stick easily to the metal staples.

Step 4: Gluing

Now for the most important part of binding: creating the very heart of each book. There are many different ways to bind books, including using twine, leather, leaves, and human skin (rare and not recommended), but for the sake of this tutorial, glue and fabric will be our binding agents.

Procure as many normal three-ridged folios as necessary. The three ridges create four valleys that the stacks of paper will fit into.
Cut a thin piece of fabric so that it is about the same length as the page height and roughly four to five times the width of all of the folios put together.
Hold them together tightly, and all lined up. Imprecision here does not lead to antiquity, excitement, or believability in the final product.
Place clips along the page edges opposite the binding to keep folios together. Use clothespins, or if your book is very thick, bulldog clips work fantastically.
When all of the papers are aligned properly with the folios, apply white liquid glue. Amazingly, in this specialized and niche activity, normal Elmer’s glue is the easiest option. If you are feeling jazzy, a glue gun also works.
Before it has a chance to dry, flip over the binding and glue the fabric to the other side. At this point, from left to right, spine to page edge, it should be as follows: cloth, folio, paper.

Step 5: Covering

Place the folio on your desired book cover. You could use an old book with a fancy cover on it that you like or a newer version of the same piece of literature. Have fun with it. There is nothing better than opening what appears to be an NRSV Bible and realizing that it is actually a cocktail cookbook. If you are using a pre-made cover (like the binding of another book), you can skip over to Step 7: “Edging.”
For this tutorial, we will use a plain piece of corrugated cardboard, which adds a fun squishiness to the cover. Line up the cardboard’s edges so they are parallel with the folio’s edges. The tradition is to add about a quarter inch border on the non-spine edges. If the intention is for more of a Shawshank Redemption chisel-hidden-in-Bible vibe, consider other lengths that give it more thematic realism.

Step 6: Spining

Stack your book sandwich—cardboard, folio, cardboard—and press them together, measuring thickness.
Cut the spine out of the same cardboard material so that it matches the thickness of the covers and paper together and that it is the same height as the book covers.

Step 7: Edging

Finally, you are ready to put all of the pieces together. Flip over your cardboard so that the side you want inside of the book facing upwards and place the fabric on it.
Apply glue along the top edges of the cardboard and fold the fabric over so that it covers the edges of the cardboard. At this point, you should have your fabric covering the book, with the front and back covers laid out with the spine between them. Try not to keep space between the covers and the spine. Any space would weaken the book’s binding.

Step 8: Binding

Now, with your cover ready, place glue on the fabric along the spine of the folio and press firmly down onto the spine of the cover. Continue to press and hold the spine firmly.
It is important to close the book and give it time to rest. The paper is often wrinkled from the glue, so it is best to use a low heat iron a few days later to smooth out any bumps in the paper.
Return back the next day and behold your beautifully home-bound book! That’s it! You’re done!

  • About the Author
    John Christopher Buchheit was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and raised in Dayton, Ohio. Throughout his life, he has been very interested in bibliopegy. The strange anthropodermic bibliopegy (i.e. binding books in human skin) is what caught his attention and imagination, but in the end, it has been the more mundane materials and his love of science that have kept him as an interested and avid bibliopegist. He graduates from Miami University in May 2019 with a BA in Biology with a Pre-Medical co-major, a minor in Spanish, and a focus in European Culture. It is not quite clear what the future holds for him, but he knows that his loving friends and family will be there to support him every step of the way.

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