An introductory guide into the fascinating (and highly anal retentive) world of bookbinding.

Bookbinding is a totally cool art, but it can take up a lot of time. If, instead of thinking of it as a destination, you think of it as a fun thing to do (kinda' like knitting) it should be lots of fun. If you want a book right now, real fast, in internet time, you should take some paper, fold it roughly in half, and put some staples in the center. This won't take very long, and in a very real sense the time/reward ratio is almost as good. If you want a nicer book, be prepared to spend some time at it. Eventually you'll get the knack and it will speed up for you, but for now, have at least a few hours set aside. As with all things, it's easiest to learn if you have a helpful mentor pointing things out. Failing that, good luck with the following instructions!

Tools:
a bone folder, several fat sewing needles the same width as the binder's thread (with eyes that are the same width as the rest of your needle), a nice ruler, a pair of pliers, some corrugated cardboard, and a cutting board or other, similarly durable flat surface.
Materials:
Lots of high-quality paper, as many pieces of card stock as you want to make covers, a glue stick and some binder's thread.

Note that the temptation to go "I don't need a bone folder" is pretty high. Also, you might be tempted to say "I'll just use Elmer's Glue instead of a glue stick". Do not yield to these thoughts; that way lies madness, sore fingernails, and a big sticky mess.

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Buy the paper and the cardstock. Yes, you can use the laser printer paper you have lying around, but you're going to be spending a lot of time making this book so go for quality. Go to an actual paper supply place and buy a ream of page paper - when my partner and I were making books we got a style called ninja confetti and it served us well. If you cut this paper in half, you get 1,000 sheets, which, when folded become 2,000 double sided pages, or 4,000 potential pages of book. If you want to use up all of these, I recommend buying 25 sheets of card stock for the covers. This should serve you well, giving you either exactly 25 160-page books, or (more likely) around 20 192-page books. If you don't want to make that many, buy the paper anyway. Good paper is a joy to use and they rip you off if you buy in sub-ream quantities. All of the paper I refer to in this writeup is 8.5x11 letter paper, but if you are in europe, a4 or quarto should work just as well.
  2. Take the paper to your local copy center and have them cut the ream in half horizontally. This may seem like cheating, but trust me here. Cutting paper in quantity is not an enjoyable experience if you don't have the right tools, and the right tools cost a lot of money and look pleasantly Guttenbergian. If you had these tools, this writeup would not be necessary for you. They will charge you around 4 bucks and it is well worth it. Also, get them to cut the card stock into 5.5x11 pieces. These will be your covers. If you are feeling cheap you can cut the covers yourself, but you're already at the copy center, so you might as well get them to do the covers too. Make sure you emphasize accuracy. If they don't know that you're going to make a book, they might be inclined to be sloppy.
  3. Start folding the sheets in half. You'll want to have 4 sheets of paper per signature, and at least 8 signatures per book (I recommend 10 or 12), so you're going to be folding at least 32 pieces of paper very precisely. This is when the bone folder comes in handy. Line up the corners and press down on two points on the spine. This forms your initial crease. Now use the bone folder to crease the edge. Do this creasing on the hard surface mentioned earlier. You'll probably ignore my advice here and try to use your fingernail instead of the bone folder. When your fingernail hurts like hell and you have trouble typing, remember that I told you so.
  4. Collate the folded pages into signatures consisting of four sheets, one inside the other. Use the bone folder to crease this entire signature. This step and the previous step can be interleaved however you wish. You can collate every four pages or fold 48 sheets and collate at the end. Whatever your little heart desires. This and folding are oddly relaxing activities.
  5. Fold one more sheet of paper. Now take that sheet and poke four holes along the crease. These holes will serve as a template for the rest of the holes you poke. I recommend having all holes spaced at least an inch apart to prevent tearing the paper with every day wear and tear.
  6. Now it's time to pre-poke the holes that you will be sewing the signatures together with. You need to pre-poke. It's annoying but essential, and my least favorite step. Put the corrugated cardboard on the hard surface, put an open signature on the cardboard and put your poking template on the open signature. Make sure everything is lined up nicely. Now take the pliers, pick up a needle, and poke 4 holes in the signature right where you poked them in the template. Do this for every signature.
  7. Now it's time to sew! When my descriptions get a little fuzzy, check out kettlestitch for an excellent description of the required knots. Take your signatures and line them all up. Marvel at how square and pretty they look. Thread the needle and tie an overhand knot or figure 8 knot at the far end of your thread. The purpose of this knot is to make sure that the thread won't unravel, so it has to be at least as thick as the needle so it doesn't pull through the hole.
  8. Starting from the outside spine of the book,on the second signature in the stack, poke the needle into the second hole, and out of the first hole. Pull the string all the way through. Now go up to the first signature and poke the needle into the first hole and out the second. Go down to the third and go in the second and out the first. Perform a kettlestitch between the third and first signatures. Now we're done with weird stuff for a while. Go into the first hole on the fourth signature and out the second. Kettle stitch up to the thrid. Go into the second hole on the fifth signature and out the first. Kettlestitch up to the fourth. Zig-zag llike this until you get through the final signature. Kettlestitch the last signature two or three times. Each stitch is a half-hitch, so you have now effectively tied off your book with two half hitches, which is a pretty good knot.
  9. Now, measure the thickness of your sewn stack of signatures. Lay down the cover stock and find its middle. Go 1/2 thickness to the left and right of the center, and use your bone folder to score a vertical line at each place.
  10. Note that depending on how fast your glue dries, you may need to re-apply it between steps. Check that it's still sticky before each step.

    Card stock for cover:
    
      |1|    2    | 3 |    2   |1|
      ___________________________   _
     |                           |  |
     |                           |  |
     |                           |  |
     |                           |  4
     |                           |  |
     |                           |  |
    
      1 = 1"
      2 = width of covers
      3 = thickness of spine
      4 = height of covers
    

    You're trying to end up with the spine exactly centered on the card stock. Start by marking the center line on the card stock:

      ___________________________ 
     |             |             |
     |             |             |
     |             |             |
     |             |             |
     |             |             |
     |             |             |
    
    
    

    Measure out 1/2 the spine width from the center line on either side. Score the marks with a bone folder to make them fold more easily.

      ___________________________ 
     |           |   |           |
     |           |   |           |
     |           |   |           |
     |           |   |           |
     |           |   |           |
     |           |   |           |
    
    

    Glue everything but the spine strip.

      ___________________________ 
     |GLUEGLUEGLU|   |GLUEGLUEGLU|
     |EGLUEGLUEGL|   |EGLUEGLUEGL|
     |UEGLUEGLUEG|   |UEGLUEGLUEG|
     |EGLUEGLUEGL|   |LUEGLUEGLUE|
     |GLUEGLUEGLU|   |GLUEGLUEGLU|
     |EGLUEGLUEGL|   |EGLUEGLUEGL|
     
    
    
  11. Lay the book block down on one side of the cover stock, aligning the spine edge to the scored line.

                       ________
      ________________/|       |__
     |GLUEGLUEGLU|   |/|       |GL|
     |EGLUEGLUEGL|   |/|       |UE|
     |UEGLUEGLUEG|   |/|       |GL|
     |LUEGLUEGLUE|   |/|       |UE|
     |GLUEGLUEGLU|   |/|       |GL|
     |EGLUEGLUEGL|   |/========/UE|
     
    

    Fold the cover over so the spine strip is flat against thge spine of the book block. and stick it down.

    
    Side view:
                       cover 
      _____________  /
     | GLUEGLUEGL
     ||==========     }
     ||==========     } book block
     ||==========     }
     | GLUEGLUEGL  
                    \
                      cover
    
  12. Leave the whole shebang under a weight until it's dry (about 15 minutes if you're using a glue stick).

  13. Now it's time to deal with the inch or so of overhanging cover card at the front and back of the book. Open the book up to the back cover. You'll see one page stuck down as an endpaper, and an extra bit of cover sticking out. Score along the edge of the stuck-down page.

    
     |\___
     ||||||\
     |||||| \__________
     |||||| |        |C|
     |||||| |        |O|
     |||||| |        |V|
     \||||| |        |E|
      \\\\\\|        |R|
       \\\\\\        |C|
    
                      \
                    score this line
    

    Glue the cover overlap and fold it down over the endpaper. Use the bone folder to make sure there aren't any bubbles.

    
     |\___
     ||||||\
     |||||| \________
     |||||| |      |C|
     |||||| |      |O|
     |||||| |      |V|
     \||||| |      |E|
      \\\\\\|      |R|
       \\\\\\      |C|
    
    
  14. Do the same on the inside front cover.

    side view                
      ___________
     ||----------|    <- cover folded round end page
     ||==========     }
     ||==========     } book block
     ||==========     }
     |-----------|     <- cover folded round end page
    
    
    
  15. Put it all back under that aforementioned heavy flat thing. and take another break.
  16. 15 minutes later, lift up the heavy thing and take out your new book!

See - it's not that hard. The method of sewing I talk about is a little non-standard, but it doesn't use a ribbon, which would add a whole new layer of complexity. Have fun and experiment! This is like cooking: there's more than one way to do it well.

If you are interested in binding your own content, you'll have to get friendly with one of two things: a high quality two sided copy machine that can do scaling, or the unix commands lpbook, lp4, and pstops - the commandline you want will look a lot like: cat file.ps | psbook -s16 | psnup -2 | pstops "2:0U(8.5in,11in),1" > book.ps.


Thanks go to the multi-talented evilrooster for the pretty ASCII art and the extra-understandable cover-production steps! My original instructions kept confusing people, so she made them very clear and wonderful to look at.


All of the skills learned above were taught to me in a Typography class I took at Scripps College while enrolled at HMC. If you are a student at the Claremont Colleges I recommend that class highly, with a warning about how much of your time it will take up.

Bookbinding, according to Webster 1913, is the art, process, or business of binding books. I can't speak about the business of binding books, since I make no money from it. The art must be left to speak for itself, in the feel of a volume in the hand, the ease with which it opens, and the fragrance of the leather. This node is about the process.

Bookbinding can be as simple as stapling a few sheets into a pamphlet, or as elaborate as a project that takes weeks to complete. There is no single way to bind a book, nor even a set of distinct styles. A bookbinder can choose one of several options at each step of construction, depending on personal taste and the nature of the book to be bound.

Bookbinders are, by definition, bibliophiles, and most bibliophiles are at least aware of the basics of bookbinding. A little knowledge of the subject, no matter how theoretical, can help to distinguish a quality book from a merely pretty one. (See cbustapeck's write-up in hardcover for a good example of this.) But beware! At least two noders have gone from dabbling to bookbinding addiction in a few short binds. Could you be the third?

History, Background and Personalities

Parts of a Book, from a Binder's Perspective

                          head
           _  _______________________________
          //\/                            <--+-- square
         ||                                /||   /
         ||                               | ||  /
         |\\          book block          \ |<--
         | \\                              \||
        (\  \\/\------------------------------ 
         \\ | ||                               |
         |\\| ||                               |
         | \--)|                               |
        (\  | ||                               |
         \\ | ||                               |
spine    |\\| ||                               |
         | \--)|                               |
        (\  | ||                               |
         \\ | ||           cover               |
         |\\| ||                               |
         | \--)|                               |
        (\  | ||                               |
     /   \\ | ||                               | fore
bands    |\\| ||                               |
     \   | \--)|                               |
        (\  | ||                               |
         \\ | ||                               |
         |\\| ||                               |
         | \--)|                               |
         |  | ||                               |
         \  | ||                               |
          \ | ||                               |
           \| /\                               |
              /         tail
             /
          hinge

Steps in Bookbinding

  1. tearing down
  2. Forwarding
  3. Finishing

End-To-End Descriptions

Materials

  • Animal Products
  • Finishing materials
  • Tools and Equipment

              - o0o -

    Many thanks to the noders whose excellent work is linked here (particularly fellow binders cbustapeck and corwin). Good going, guys! /msg me if I've left something out, or if you write something that should go here.

    Book"bind`ing, n.

    The art, process, or business of binding books.

     

    © Webster 1913.

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