Real do-it-yourselfers have a craving for knowledge about how things work. We aren’t satisfied accepting things “off the shelf”. We have to take them apart to see what makes them tick, and in many cases we wind up modifying or even building a better version using the knowledge gained. Once the basic principles have been learned, the true DIYer will look for ways to make it faster, cheaper, more appealing or whatever. The satisfaction gained from these journeys nourishes the creative fires and feeds the soul of these DIY creatures.
A printer for more than forty years and a writer for the past twenty-five, I have always looked for ways to print and bind some of my work… in small quantities.
The digital press opened the door, at least to the printing part. Finally –an affordable way to print books. I could even print a single book if I wanted. Digital printing is the writer’s dream come true. The work comes off the press already collated and in order, just like a real book! Zowie! The only thing missing to make it actually be a book is the binding part, something I felt could do for myself.
After all, what could be so difficult about gluing a stack of paper, right?
So I tried it, using some scrap paper and some silicone rubber. I placed the stack between two boards, put the sandwich in a vise and smeared some Goop on the bind edge and it worked! I was able to wrap a pretty respectable cover around it in a separate operation.
I was elated! My home-grown process worked so well that I bound my first run of my first novel that way. The process took me the most part of a day to bind five books, but they came out perfect! I had perfected perfectbinding in my garage!
Later, I learned to score the edges and scrub the glue down into the book block to penetrate and form a better bond. Later still, I bought a table top hot-glue binder that bound the cover to the edges in a single operation. However, I have to say that the hot glue holds no better than the silicone rubber did.
So now I could make my own paperbacks. Big deal!
Once I got over how cool it was, I decided to try a hard cover version as it seemed to be just an extension of skills I already had developed with my paperbacks. I was sure I could do it.
And so began an adventure!
My first few efforts were laughable. They were uneven. Some of them wouldn’t stay closed, and most of them wouldn’t lie open without suffering damage to the binding. But I didn’t lose heart. I was determined to find a way to use modern materials and adhesives to produce a nice looking and durable book. I tried this and that idea, trying to emulate the common hardcover book with the tools and knowledge I had at my disposal.
You see I was tired of the look of production books, the mass-produced paperbacks and bookstore hardbacks. But by trying to ignore the old ways, I missed all the important things that traditional bookbinding could teach me! Duh!
So I started taking old books apart to see how they were constructed. I bought a few manuals on book binding and book repair and I read all the articles and watched all the video tutorials on traditional bookbinding. Then I began to see the process in a different light.
There are two major categories or methods to bind pages: flat sheets or folded signatures.
Perfectbinding flat sheets by the application of various adhesives is the most common (and cheapest) way to bind books. This binding method lends itself very well to digital printing, as there is virtually no complicated bindery tasks like folding and stitching required. Hot glue does a respectable job on uncoated paper. Additionally, holes can be punched or drilled near the bind edge for the purpose of stitching coated or glossy papers. The result of gluing and stitching is a very sturdy binding. However, stitching from the side robs a lot of margin from the gutter or bind side. Allowances in the book layout must be made for this. Also, the paper grain should run parallel to the spine to favor the book construction.
Folded signatures are stitched in any number of ways before attaching the pages to a flexible cloth backing. This is a much more durable way to bind books, but it is more time-consuming and uses more materials, because this method generally involves a hard cover or casebinding.
But the most important lessons were in the hands-on experience I got while attempting to follow the traditional methods to bind my work. I was surprised at how much easier it was to use tried and true materials… especially adhesives.
Beforehand I was convinced that modern non-water based materials were stronger and easier to use. I thought it would be more efficient to use transfer adhesives and hot glue to produce my books. But I was dumbfounded to learn how wrong I was! Those materials are more expensive and far less forgiving than using water-based liquid glues.
With practice, I learned how to judge how thick and wet the glue should be, how to apply it and how long I can work it before it sets up. I learned which surface to apply it to and how to rub out all the bubbles and burnish paper to board. I have to say I am sold on PVA, a relatively modern water based glue that lends itself to traditional (and modern) bookbinding methods.
One thing I was able to do was to make many of my own tools and equipment, a truly satisfying thing that fed my inner desires to create. The more conscious I became of exactly what I was trying to create, the more comfortable and capable I felt about making it happen. I began to look at the world differently. I saw bookbinding tools in everyday items — spatulas, putty knives, tweezers, carving knives, knitting needles. I saw bookcloth in fabric prints, batiks, old blue jeans, vinyls for sign making , placemats, old maps.
I have now lost count of how many books I have bound for myself and others. But I feel like my work has improved considerably over the years. Though I built myself a couple of book looms to aid in stitching signatures, I am just as comfortable stitching a book in my lap… and stitching is a trip!
So many ways to do it! I experimented with several stitching patterns until I found a couple that suit my style and I have worked to refine my stitches so they are now looking uniform and just tight enough to hold things together.
I will often experiment with new ideas using scrap or discarded materials. Once I get the method down, I progress to quality materials. In servicing my customers, my philosophy is to use the best I can afford, as cheap materials are not worthy of my time.
I will be posting some more information on how writers can bind their own books in a variety of unique and interesting ways, including some of my experiments in hot foil tooling and blind embossing.