Basic Bookbinding

Basic Bookbinding

by A. W. Lewis

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Starting from basic principles and assuming no previous experience, this modern exposition of the elements of bookbinding enables both the beginner and the expert to apply the latest and most simplified techniques to rebinding old favorites and binding many new paperback books.
A complete list of all necessary materials, including a guide to the proper selection


Starting from basic principles and assuming no previous experience, this modern exposition of the elements of bookbinding enables both the beginner and the expert to apply the latest and most simplified techniques to rebinding old favorites and binding many new paperback books.
A complete list of all necessary materials, including a guide to the proper selection of tools, paper, boards, cloth, leather, or sheepskin covering fabrics and lettering inks and pigments, introduces the subject. In surprisingly easy stages, you are shown how to collate a book, sew it, back it, trim it, make boards, and attach them to the book. Step-by-step instructions and hundreds of photographs and diagrams of equipment and key operations reduce the process to essentials.
Individual chapters are devoted to single-sectioned, multi-sectioned, and case-bound books, hollow-backed and library style binding, the use of end papers, and the most practical methods of lettering the finished book. The author includes a valuable appendix which summarizes the precise steps followed in each operation in convenient tabular form.
An elementary text, simple enough for the beginner yet containing new material of interest to the expert, Basic Bookbinding avoids intricate techniques and elaborate equipment. Mr. Lewis, twice first prize winner in national competition, presents the subject with the clarity born of many years of experience in teaching bookbinding.

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Dover Publications
Publication date:
Dover Craft Books
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Product dimensions:
5.48(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.37(d)

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Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1957 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-13775-9



THE following list of equipment suggests the basic items necessary to start bookbinding. Improvisation is possible in some cases but inevitably it can only be second best and the traditional tools are to be preferred.


A bone folder about 6" long is convenient for general work. Some folders made of plastic material wear away very quickly and often leave white marks when rubbed on cloth and should therefore be avoided.


A good sharp penknife is the best for general use with possibly a stouter cardboard knife for heavier work.


Large brushes, not less than 1" across should be used, they are much more efficient than small ones as they enable pasting and gluing to be done quickly and evenly.


A pair of scissors, large ones for preference, are needed for odd trimming jobs.


A small tenon saw for sawing-in the kettle-stitch marks before sewing.


Any hammer will serve if used with care but the bookbinder's hammer, similar to a shoemaker's hammer, with a large rounded face and with a cross pane is best.


One of polished wood with a metal edge is the best type. Avoid the bent, all- metal pattern as it easily gets dented and as a result becomes useless for cutting clean, straight edges.


An ordinary 6" square as used by the carpenter.


Dividers of any kind may be used but the spring pattern are the most useful.


A suitable size is about 8" by 3 1/2". An ordinary old-type flat iron makes an excellent substitute.


An oilstone is essential for the maintenance of sharp edges on cutting tools. A medium or fine India or Washita stone 8" by 2", with a can of good lubricating oil.


A glue-pot with a water-bath is required. The water-bath is essential to avoid burning the glue.


Bookbinder's needles, or any stout needle with the eye large enough to take the thread comfortably.


A fine awl for making holes for the needle is useful on occasion.


Paring knives of various patterns are used according to the taste of the worker. The wide French knife, the ordinary cobbler's knife or the edging knife.


A strop can be made from a piece of wood about 2" wide and 12" long. A strip of leather, flesh side uppermost, is glued to one side and a strip of fine emery cloth to the other. The leather is oated with fine emery paste—motorist's fine valve-grinding paste does excellently.


A lithographer's stone is the most suitable but any heavy stone with a smooth surface or a sheet of plate-glass will serve as a substitute on which to pare the leather.


A simple frame consisting of a board about 12" long by 9" wide with two uprights and a cross-bar 3" to 4" above the board is all that is required for most books sewn on tapes.


A card cutter with a blade about 15" long simplifies the work of preparing boards very considerably but card cutting can be done with a knife and straight-edge or by means of the plough and press.


A nipping press for quick and even pressing is very necessary. Old iron letter presses can usually be bought quite cheaply and are very efficient. The sizes are about 12" by 10" and 18" by 12".


A standing press is not required to give as much pressure as the nipping press and is used for holding the books flat while they are drying out. Various forms exist but a press can be improvised in emergency by means of a weight on top of two pressing boards.


This is essential as it is the bookbinder's main piece of apparatus. A fair sized heavy press is recommended. A plough with an adjustable blade is best since it enables the blade to be removed easily for the sharpening operation which so frequently recurs. A "tub" or stand for the press is also needed and it should be about 30" high.


Wedge-shaped boards of beech with the top edges square. Three pairs are useful, say, 8", 12" and 15" long.


Wedge-shaped boards of beech with the top edges sloped off at an angle of about 80 degrees. Three pairs, 8", 10", and 15" long.


Used with the nipping and standing presses. Boards made of multi-ply wood are most useful. Pairs to fit the size of the press and a few smaller ones, e.g., 12" by 10"; 11" by 7"; 10" by 6"; and 8" by 5", will be found useful.


All "finishing" tools, i.e., tools for lettering and decoration are made of brass and are fitted with wooden handles. Various sizes of letter are available. A set in which the letters are 3/16" high is a good size to start with and sets of 1/8" and 1/4" letters can be added as required. These three sets will be found adequate for most needs. The sets should all be of the same style of letter so that they can be used together if required.


Pallets are tools for impressing straight lines. They vary in length from 1/4" up to 4", but one which is about 2" to 2 1/2" long will be most generally useful.


There is an infinite variety of these tools available but only one very simple tool is required at first. Choose a simple pattern such as the one illustrated and add others as the need arises. Simple tools can quite easily be made by filing the end of a 3" piece of brass rod and then polishing the surface on "flour" emery-cloth.


Some form of finishing stove for heating the tools will be required—the gas finishing stove, illustrated, is very satisfactory, electric ones are also obtainable. The common gas-ring could be adapted for the purpose.



GREAT care should be taken over the selection of suitable materials for bookbinding as satisfactory work can only be produced when the materials used are of good quality; an added advantage is that, besides giving a first-class product, materials of good quality are also much easier to work. All imitations should be avoided as they are merely a form of deception; the frank use of a material in its natural state, making the most of its own particular qualities, is much to be preferred. There is nothing to be gained by the use of papers which imitate cloth, cloth which is grained to look like leather or cheap leather stamped with the grain of more expensive kinds. Each material has a distinctive quality of its own which is destroyed as soon as it is made to ape the qualities of a different substance.


Paper is usually sold by the ream of 480 sheets or by the quire of 24 sheets— 20 quires making one ream. The sheets are of various standard sizes the more usual of which are listed overleaf.

The various sub-divisions indicated above are obtained by folding the standard size of sheet—unless otherwise stated it is always the longest side of the sheet which is folded in two (fig. 1).

Folio (Fol.)—is formed by folding the standard sheet once so that two leaves are produced.

Quarto (4 to)—a second fold across the folio produces four leaves.

Octavo (8vo)—Quarto folded again gives eight leaves.

Sexto-decimo (16mo)—Octavo folded gives sixteen leaves.

Note that the terms folio, quarto, octavo, etc., refer only to the number of times a sheet has been folded and not to its size; the size is determined by the size of the original sheet and this is always placed first when size is indicated, e.g., Crown Quarto (Cr. 4to) measures 10" by 7 1/2", while Royal Quarto (Roy. 4to) is 12 1/2" by 10".

The weight of a ream of paper gives an indication of the thickness of the sheets, e.g., the weight of a ream of Imperial size paper could vary from about 72 lb., for thick paper as used in account books, down to about 30 lb. for a ream of thin cartridge paper.

Some common uses for the various sizes of paper are shown below.

The size of this book is Crown octavo and the weight of the paper is 47 lb. per ream of 25" by 38" size sheets.

CARTRIDGE PAPER. A medium weight cartridge paper is very suitable for the making of endpapers. Paper weighing from 40 lb. to 50 lb. per ream is about the right thickness. As far as possible the cartridge paper should be chosen to match the tone of the paper in the book. Cartridge paper is usually sold in the Imperial size, 30" by 22".

HAND MADE PAPER. If the paper of the book is hand made then the endpapers must also be of the same material. It should be used for all best quality work.

COLOURED PAPER. A wide variety of coloured papers suitable for endpapers and for covering the sides of books is available from most suppliers. A good quality pastel paper is very suitable for this purpose. The usual size is Double-Crown, 30" by 20".

LINSON. This material, called Linson fabric by the manufacturers, is in fact a tough fibrous paper, often mistaken for cloth when the surface is embossed to imitate linen. It is an excellent covering material, it will stand up to hard pasting and has the additional advantage that the surface can be gently rubbed with a damp sponge to remove paste and finger marks. Linson is available in numerous colours and surface finishes. The cover of this book is of Linson.

PATTERNED PAPERS. An infinite assortment of printed patterned papers is on the market for use both as endpapers and as cover papers. They should be selected and used with discretion or they will not improve the appearance of the book. Large patterns should be avoided as they are not suited to the small areas of book surfaces. The usual size of patterned papers is Royal, 25" by 20".

MARBLED PAPERS. Good quality marbled paper wears well as sides on half-bound books and it can also be used for endpapers, in either case the pattern should be suited to the nature of the book. The usual size of marbled papers is Royal, 25" by 20".

BANK PAPER. This is thin, strong paper similar to that used for typewriting and is used for guards and for repairing the back of damaged sections.

JAPANESE VELLUM. Is similar to bank paper and is very strong and is used for the best work as guards and mending strips.

MANILLA. This is very thick paper—almost thin cardboard—and is useful for filling-in and for small, split boards. Available in Double-Crown size, 30" by 20".

ART PAPER. This is very glossy paper having its surface heavily dressed with china clay and should be avoided as it is quite unsuitable for any good quality bookbinding work.

KITCHEN PAPER. Is very useful as a cheap, white waste paper for use in pressing, etc. It can be bought in rolls or cut sheets.

NEWSPAPERS. An endless supply of old newspapers will be necessary to act as waste for pasting upon.


STRAWBOARD. Strawboard is of a yellow colour and, as its name implies, is made from straw; it was mainly imported from Holland and is commonly referred to as Dutch strawboard. It is rather brittle and easily cracks on bending sharply and should be used for nothing better than case-bound books. It is quite suitable as the inside lining for a split-board provided that a tougher board is used on the outside. The standard size of strawboard is 32" by 22" and it is the weight of one such board that is used as the standard for grading the thickness. The most useful sizes are 8 oz., 12 oz., 1 lb., 1 1/2 lb. and 2 lb. boards, other thicknesses, when required, being obtained by gluing together thinner boards. Glued sheets will, in fact, make a board which is stiffer than a single sheet of the same thickness.

Strawboard is sold by weight, usually in half-hundredweight bundles.

ENGLISH FIBRE-BOARD. This is grey in colour and tougher and slightly more expensive than strawboard. It is quite satisfactory for most books sewn on tapes. Its thickness is usually stated in decimals of an inch and the 06 boards are approximately the same thickness as 1 lb. strawboard.

MILLBOARD. The best quality millboard is nearly black in colour and is very strong and tough. It is made from the fibres of old tarred ropes. Millboard is essential for all books which have the cords laced into the boards and it should always be used for the best work on tapes. It is the most efficient board for bookbinding and, as would be expected, the most expensive.

Millboard is sold by weight but is usually obtainable by the sheet in six standard thicknesses which are indicated by the cost of the sheet in the distant past.

Millboard sizes are slightly larger than the corresponding paper sizes and are listed below.


BOOK CLOTH. Book cloths in a wide variety of colours, textures and qualities are stocked in rolls which are about a yard wide and about 36 yds. long. Cloth can, however, usually be bought by the yard in the above width from most suppliers.

A careful selection should be made of cloths of good quality and colour. Some poor quality materials react badly to paste, they often stretch out of shape and the paste comes through the material and damages the surface. The best are waterproof on the surface and can, if necessary, be cleaned by means of a moist sponge.

ART CANVAS, ART VELLUM AND ART LINEN. Thick and strong materials and are used on good work particularly on large books.

LINEN BUCKRAM. Is very strong and stands up to hard wear in libraries and the like and is most suitable for large, heavy books. Cotton buckram is not as hard wearing as the linen variety.

MULL OR MUSLIN. Open wove material used for reinforcing the back and joints of books. Sold by the yard and is about 36" wide.


Acid-free leather should always be used for bookbinding of any value since even with only a slight trace of sulphuric acid left in it the leather rots rapidly. Avoid the use of any leather which imitates another.

MOROCCO. Undoubtedly the most useful leather for general purposes. It is made from goat skins. Average size of skins about 6 sq. ft.

LEVANT MOROCCO. South African or Cape goat skin. It is tough and hard wearing, is beautifully finished and has a large bold grain and is available in many colours. It is best used on large books.

NIGER MOROCCO. North African goat skin. It is native tanned by means of nut gall. Available only in a limited range of colours but is a very useful leather.

OASIS MOROCCO. Algerian goat skin, is the cheapest of the moroccos and the softest. Available in many colours.


Used for cheaper bindings. Very often grained to imitate other leathers. Average size of skins, 7 sq. ft. to 10 sq. ft.

BASIL. Heavy skin tanned with vegetable dyestuffs. Used mainly for account books.

ROAN. Medium weight skin tanned with sumach and is a little softer than basil. Often grained to imitate morocco.

SKIVER. The grain side of split skin tanned with sumach. The strength value of skiver is small and it should be avoided.

FORRIL. Unsplit sheepskin which has been well stretched, chalked and pumiced.

PERSIAN. East Indian sheepskin. Fairly strong but is not recommended because of its lack of durability. Often imitates morocco or calf.

PARCHMENT. Sheepskin prepared like vellum, but the resulting material is not nearly so strong.

CALF. Wears well if properly tanned with oak bark or sumach. Available in attractive shades of colour, it is very soft and is quite thin and flexible but its strength is such that it should not be used on large books.

VELVET CALF. Calf with the grain side buffed off.

ROUGH CALF. Calf skin finished on the flesh side and used on books with the flesh side outermost. Often used on account books.

RUSSIA LEATHER. Cow and calf skins, originally made in Russia by tanning with birch bark. Now made here from large calf skins and given the characteristic Russia leather odour by treatment with birch tan oil.

VELLUM. Calf skin which has been soaked in lime, scraped and pumiced. It has a hard, smooth surface and is very strong and durable but is affected by variations of atmospheric heat and moisture.

PIGSKIN. Very hard wearing if well tanned. Natural coloured allumed skins are very strong but the dyed skins are liable to be inferior. The hard nature of the skin makes it most suitable for large books. Undue thinning of the leather by paring away the flesh side should be avoided as this greatly reduces its strength. Imitations of pigskin are very common, true skins have the hair-holes showing right through the leather whereas in the case of imitations the impressions are just stamped on the face side only and are not visible when the flesh side is inspected.

SEALSKIN. Newfoundland and Greenland seal skins. Excellent and hard wearing as a bookbinding leather. Soft and with a very even grain resembling that of morocco. It is considered to be the strongest of leathers.


Excerpted from BASIC BOOK-BINDING by A. W. LEWIS. Copyright © 1957 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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