Bound Up

Some mentions I heard of bookbinding recently brought back to mind something I wrote to illustrate a trick I learned years ago. It’s certainly not a secret and it may be taught now in bookbinding classes. Since this is a recycled post it has the benefit of quickly filling some space in my too little updated blog.

What’s great about a sewn hardcover binding is that they can lay flat since since the spine of the book case and the binding edge of the block do not adhere to each other. When you open a book like this there’s a gap so the book block can bend flexibly. In a perfect bound book you find that the spine is glued directly onto the block which means there’s a lot of resistance to it laying flat.

Two commercial binding systems (Otabind and RepKover) try to combine the ability of a hardcover book to open and stay flat with the cost benefits of softcover binding. What I did by hand is basically the principle they use.

A couple important notes: use high quality binding glue that is flexible. White glue is great but not ideal for binding. I used a cold set glue and not a hot melt which is kinda brittle. I used a nice thick, strong textured paper stock for the cover since the hinge has to be able to hold up to being creased and bent a lot. Speaking of creases a nice scoring knife is a handy thing to use here. My old instructor had ones made out of bone he swore by. Use a good quality fabric for attaching to the spine which is also known as mull or super cloth (no, it can’t leap tall buildings) so the glue can penetrate it properly. Last, you’ve got to have a book press or some kind of vise apparatus to get a good binding.

The theory is simple behind this: We’re going to glue a wide strip of cloth to the book block’s binding edge and then glue the edges of that cloth to the inside of the cover. We will leave an area extending out from that binding edge unglued.

1. Make a book block. I won’t go into details of this since it’s standard stuff. You lightly roughen up the binding edge, if I remember. Make sure you get good glue penetration. Let the block set and dry in the press.

2. Cut the cover and score the hinges so the spine fits snugly over the block.

3. Cut the super so it’s extends 2 cm or so wider than the block on both sides.

4. Put a thin layer of glue on the binding edge of the block and center the super onto that. Use a roller or something to really get the glue to penetrate. Let it dry. It may have been that this step was done when gluing the binding edge in step one above while that glue was wet. Memory fails me.

5. The block is inserted into the cover.

6. You put a thin layer of glue the outside of the super sticking out about half of its width and attach it to the inside of the cover. Wax paper or something might come in handy as an insert since some glue will ooze out. Be careful of the ooze!

7. When it’s dry that’s about it.

The books I did are from 1993 and still are holding up. Disclaimer: I’m not an expert at bookbinding nor do I know if this technique is a good one for you. Also, these books were trimmed further *after* being bound so they got a nice clean edge and any excess glue or the like was removed.

Here's the old book. I'm not trying to be pompous with the title. The publication I worked on in College was called "Generation Magazine". For this book I went back and found old poetry and fiction I liked from it. This was a typography class project, actually.

Here's the old book. I'm not trying to be pompous with the title. The publication I worked on in College was called "Generation Magazine". For this book I went back and found old poetry and fiction I liked from it. This was a typography class project, actually.

You can see the super cloth attached to the inside of the cover here.

You can see the super cloth attached to the inside of the cover here.

This shows how it works when you open the cover.

This shows how it works when you open the cover.

Another view.

Another view.

It lies pretty flat.

It lies pretty flat.

  1. October 25, 2009, 1:50 am

    I remember the blank book I did for Chito. The first one. I bound it too tightly. It looked good closed and then then I opened it the sides of the hard cover spine cracked. I did a second one. What I’ve learned since then was that I had to give more space, like your photo above. I’ve got so much to learn, about better materials and methods, and I find it terribly exciting. That’s why I enjoy entries like this so much!!!

  2. TAO
    October 25, 2009, 3:00 pm

    Mona: I can testify personally that you certainly learned how to bind a book well. 🙂 I look forward to seeing your work evolve in the future.