Materials and equipment

Cutting the edges of the textblock:  I use two clamps from Homebase, a straightedge to refine the edges of my textblock

Bookbinding plough : we have 3 ploughs in the bookbinding studio, one I have used, it’s painful and takes ages, at this stage I prefer to use a straight edge and clamps

lying press

What may be the first image of a lying press is in the baggage of a travelling binder in an early 14th-century manuscript. The lying press has not changed in basic design right through to the present day.

With the lying press and plough (and its accessory backing boards, cutting boards, gilding boards, tub) the binder could press pages flat before sewing, hammer-back the sewn book, trim book edges and boards, and gild edges.

The large lying press could fill in for the similar but much smaller finishing press, and be used when gluing and lining the spine, or when titling and gold-tooling the book. The lying press even became the binder’s workbench in large 19th century shops. Here is an engraving of the lying press and plough.

Paper

I have used Drawing paper for my pasted papers.  For the textblock we have been using Cartridge paper.  For the end papers I used thin Canson paper and for my latest book I am using 100 gsm paper coloured on one side, it’s lighter/thinner than the Canson.

Paper is available in many forms in the market, and many of these can be used for bookbinding purposes. Rag content paper (paper made from a percentage of woven cotton fibers, normally around 25%, you can purchase online here) is a good choice over wood pulp paper because it does not yellow and possesses higher durability.

If a blank book has to be made, then ledger, white wove bound or typewriter paper of around 16 to 20 points should be preferred. For the end sheets, both domestic and imported paper can be selected in any shade like white, cream, gray or ivory. The same type of paper can also be used for the cover board, boxes and slip cases.

The cover should be made from a medium weight paper that is strong and flexible enough to bear folding, pasting and joint fixing.

It is crucial to be sure that grain direction goes along the spine. Both for the paper and cardboard.

Tape

Bookbinding tape is made from linen, cotton or polyester. Polyester tape should not be used in any case because it is not strong enough to support the binding. Either linen or cotton tape should ideally be used, but both have their drawbacks. Cotton tape has a higher flexibility which makes pasting easier. Linen is stronger than cotton and more durable, but the flexibility is a little less. The width of tape comes in various sizes. Generally, one fourth and one half of an inch are suitable for most uses. In some cases, a 3/8 inch tape may also be required.

Thread

The thread used for binding should be strong yet soft enough so that it does not cut and tear apart the signature paper. This just weakens the binding, and it does not last for a very long time then. A thread which possesses all these qualities is the linen binder’s thread, but it is not available easily from highstreet stores.  We used a No. 25 needle for our first books

Before sewing, thread should be waxed so that kinking can be prevented. This also strengthens the knot and increases the thread’s life.  Quick tip: You could always wax your own ‘Linen’ thread to save a bit of  £.

Boards

A perfect board is one that is stable and dense, and does not allow the covering material to warp as it is pasted onto the board. At times, the material suffers from shrinkage after the paste has dried, which makes the board hollow onto one side. The same thing can happen with the end sheets as well when they are pasted onto the boards other side. Before pasting any of these, it should be ensured that the pull of the end sheet is the same as the cover material.

Of the many boards available, a binder board is the most suitable one for use (most common brands are Lineco and Davey Board.  Binders Board is made from pulp and is not made from any glue or lamination. The board is manufactured by hydraulically pressing damped pulp webs or blankets onto top of each other. The process removes water and compacts the fibers, reducing the dimension almost 50%. The board produced by this method is resistant to distortion and has a higher density than other boards of the same thickness, which makes it more suitable for binding.

Chipboard, which is similar to the back that supports paper pads, can also be used for books that are smaller than 7 by 9 inches. For books greater than this size, make sure the board is not stiff which can weaken the binding with time. In this case, a high quality illustration board can be used because it is stiffer and prevents warping. This board is made in a single ply, double ply or threesome ply. If the book is excessively large and requires even stronger covers then two illustration boards can be combined together and used as one. This can be done by pasting them onto each other and leaving them pressed between heavy weights for about 12 hours.

Mull

Mull is actually a word used for the cloth that is pasted to cover the tapes and the signatures after sewing is done. The main purpose of the mull is to assemble all the signatures together while ensuring that the backbone of the book remains flexible. An ideal mull is one that has enough weave space and durability. The first characteristic allows the paste to penetrate easily and stick it well over the tape and signatures, and the second feature lets the mull bear repeated flexing.

The most suitable choices for mull are white linen and muslin because of their high durability. Muslin is available in the unbleached form as well but it can mar the appearance because it may appear as shadow through the end sheets, particularly if they are thin. As such, a white muslin cloth is more preferable.

Paste

Since traditional times, a paste made out of wheat flour has been used for bookbinding. This particular glue is not only inexpensive, but gives very good results as well, making the binding stay put for several generations to come. Moreover, it is safer than other modern glues that contain chemicals in large quantities, and so can react with the paper and other bookbinding materials, thereby shortening the life.

The wheat flour paste (which I bought at Shepherds!) can easily be prepared at home. Pour almost one and a half cup of water into a saucepan. Add about four tablespoons of white flour in the water, but do this is in very small quantities. All the while, beat the mixture thoroughly with a fork or egg beater. Heat the mixture and stir it constantly until water begins to boil. Remove the saucepan from heat and let the mixture cool at room temperature. Remember that the stirring step is important because it prevents the mixture from getting burnt and sticking into the pan’s bottom. Once the paste has been cooled off, observe its consistency. If it seems too thick, then add more water.

This homemade paste can be stored at room temperature for a quite a few days. However, if it is refrigerated in an airtight container, its life can increase up to three weeks. If mold starts growing on the paste, then throw it out, and make some more.

Visit Eden Workshops page on Bookbinding Adhesives for a little more history, recipes and alternatives to wheat flour paste.

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