The Bookbinding Process

Functional Bookbinding Components

Diagram of book elements.

Diagram showing common parts of a traditional book spine: raised bands, title, leather (spine) and hinge. Traditional covers are reinforced at the corners. Head band and head cap. Traditionally, the Front End paper has a decorative pattern.

Loose Paper Bookbinding

Decorative head bands close-up of a head band

This is a journal that was kept and given to me in loose pages to be bound. Regular books are printed on large sheets of paper coming from a paper mill. Depending on how many times these sheets are folded, the printed pages are of different sizes. If the sheet is folded once, the format of the book is called: "folio", folded twice: "quarto" (most hard cover books), folded three times: "octavo" (most paperbacks). These folded booklets are called "signatures".

Decorative Elements of Bookbinding

Decorative head bands close-up of a head band

This photo shows the head bands for the top and bottom of the spine. Their role is purely decorative.

Bookbinding - Glue and Signatures

book bookbinding traditional book sewing frame

Pages and inserts are aligned, placed between boards and glued. If the book is composed of signatures, these would be sewn together on a sewing frame, as shown above.

Attaching the Gauze

reinforcing the spine by cord reinforcing the spine by mull (gauss)

To strengthen the back, strong gauze like fabric, also called mull or super, is applied to the back. The covers are attached to the book by the mull. If signatures had been sewn, the covers would be attached to the book by the cords.

The Bookbinding Vise

clamped book before rounding the spine book after rounding the spine

The book is placed in a vise in order to round the back. The back must be rounded to allow for an easy opening. If the back remained flat, the weight of the pages would force the top into a concave hollow. A flat peen hammer (in front) is used to form the joint (or "gutters", or shoulders) against which the covers will rest. Note the metal strips where the cover meets the spine creating the "hinge".

The Nipper

pre-cut board and nippers (before) forming and pinching the leather spine around the bands. (after)

Here we see a strip of thin board with bands of leather before inserting between the back and the leather. This forms the raised bands. The tool called "nipper" will be used to form and pinch the raised bands.

A Perfect Spine

In order to eliminate the imperfections on the back, strips of paper are glued to build up thickness and sanded until a perfectly smooth surface is obtained.

Triming Tools

Trimming excess leather from book cover with a razor blade. Pairing tools.

This picture shows the trimming excess leather, with a razor blade, of the irregular edge of the leather before gluing the cover to the board (which can be fabric, marbled paper or other material). Other paring and trimming tools are shown below.

An Old Wooden Press

This is a very old wooden press. During certain stages of construction, the book must be pressed, e.g. (1) following the application of the leather, (2) after the placing of end papers, (3) when the materials on the covers have been glued in place.

Fabric and Leather Covers with Marbled Interiors

Book with (green) dyed fabric with black cover spine. Ornate, marble papers were often used for the interior Front pages.

Book with green fabric and black leather cover spine. Also shown are examples of marbled papers that traditionally adorned the interior front pages of books.

Gilding Press

Gilding press Gilding press letters

Gilding press with part of the composed title and the black label that will be afterward glued to the spine of the book. Also shown is a box of letters.

Bookbinding: Finishing the Spine

Various styles of guilding tools Gilding of the spine.

Gilding of the spine.

The Bookbinder’s Signature

Various styles of guilding tools The Book Binder's Signature

The Binder’s Signature. This is the tool I use, along with a tray of letters for titles and signatures.

Some Finished Works

The Book Binder's Signature

Here are some examples of my bookbindings.


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