Hardcover Bookbinding – The Gravity Press

Photo of gravity press

The Very Practical Gravity Press

Always full of creative ideas and short of cash, I tend to seek less expensive, but practical ways to do things. So when I took up bookbinding, I outfitted my small bookbinding lab with a mix of tools I found around the house, at garage sales, the hardware and the dollar store. I also designed and built most of my equipment where possible.

Punching Cradle2

This punching cradle is made from fiber board. The template is a piece of aluminum angle with evenly spaced holes.

It is easy to drool over the shiny brass and exotic hardwood bookbinding tools you find on the internet. There is something about the feel of a quality handmade tool. It’s a feeling of empowerment, of confidence that with this tool you can do first-rate work. You can even make excuses, reasons that you must have a certain tool in order to improve upon your craft.

6x9 Stitching Frame

My home made 6×9 stitching frame

But seasoned crafters know it is not the tool that makes the difference so much as the hand that guides it. A good craftsperson is aware that there are multiple ways to accomplish most any task, from design, to cutting, to fitting and gluing. So it is with bookbinding.

One of my best tool innovations is the gravity press. This idea, while not original, has some very big advantages over a traditional book press. The first, of course, is the low-cost. This is because almost anything handy will do for the main functioning element of the press. You can use lead, steel, concrete, sand, beans, sawdust or about anything that can be cut in blocks or contained in a sack. I use bricks (wrapped in paper to avoid unnecessary abrasions and dust).

I also use a series of flat, thin fiberboards cut to various sizes to assist in the various clamping operations. They are used to distribute the weights evenly over a given area. By stacking the bricks I can apply a wide range of pressures anywhere I need to.

Gluing Headbands

Using bricks to hold spines upright for gluing headbands

Another advantage is that I can replicate the clamping setup so that I can perform similar operations on a number of projects at the same time. I can easily vary the size, position and pressure as needed.

I use some form of gravity press when gluing end papers onto the bookblock. A light weight distributed along the glue line will hold everything together for the short time it takes the glue to set.

I sometimes use bricks to hold a number of bookblocks for gluing the headbands to the spines at once.

Improvised nipping press

Improvised nipping press using dowels.

But the most useful application of a press when crafting a book is to compress the finished piece in order to help to form the hinge joint, and to ensure that the book finishes flat. This is sometimes done with the aid of a nipping press, but can be accomplished with the gravity press just as effectively. Knitting needles or dowels laid lengthwise can be used to take the place of the rigid metal edges on a nipping press.

Another good use of the gravity press is to help flatten materials with a curl in them. For porous bookboards, I will sometime mist them with water to relax the fibers and place them under a flat board with bricks distributed evenly. Multiple boards may be stacked with wax paper between them to prevent sticking. Drying overnight in this way usually eliminates any tendency for the boards to curl afterward.

Photo of curled bookboard

Bookboard with a curl

Misting Bookboard prior to gluing

Misting bookboard prior to gluing

I have a small stock of these laminated boards made up that have been allowed to equalize according to the ambient room temperature and humidity. In other words, they lie flat before I will use them to construct covers or boxes.

Gluing Out Bookboard

Glue both surfaces

Two thin boards can be laminated with the grain perpendicular to one another and placed in the gravity press to make thicker boards with less tendency to curl. It helps to mist these boards too, before gluing. I use two pieces of .065″ Daveyboard to make a strong 1/8″ laminated bookboard.

Marrying two plies

Assemble plies with opposing grain direction

Using a roller, work the glue out to an even coating on the dampened board. Coat both surfaces to be joined. Align the edges, making sure the grain is at cross purposes to each board and press together using your hands. I recommend using a brayer to roll over the joined boards thoroughly to ensure good contact.

Flat Board against plies

Place a flat board on top.

Lay the glued sandwich on a flat surface and place a flat piece of fiber board on top. Distribute weights evenly across the surface and allow the boards to dry for several hours. You may be able to speed this process up, depending on the temperature and humidity of your work area. I like to let mine cure overnight.

This method will produce a good, stiff board suitable for larger or more substantial covers. Even so, I often find that in a few hours after removal from the press, boards laminated in this manner will sometimes tend to exhibit an undesirable curl when completely dry. When this happens, I will physically massage (or bend) the board to get it to lie flatter.

Distribute weights evenly on top of flat board.

Distribute weights evenly on top of flat board.

By bending the board while it is dry, the tight fibers will stretch. Then I mist the stubborn board again and leave it in the gravity press usually overnight. It is best to prepare your book boards well ahead of time to be sure that they will lie flat when you you need them.

When using water-based glues to adhere bookcloth, the boards will become damp again, but only on one side. This will cause the boards to curl as the glue cures. However, this effect can be offset by misting the other side with water and then placing the cover under the press until the glue cures.

Attaching Bookblock

Carefully gluing the super with a minimal amount of glue.

Sometimes I find the end sheets are too delicate or thin to use PVA glue to adhere the sheet to the inside cover. For these types of papers I find it much more practical to use transfer adhesive instead.  The bookblock is mounted onto a nice, dry flat cover with a minimal of glue used to adhere the flap of super to the raw daveyboard. The wax backing is peeled from the adhesive-backed endsheets and carefully pressed into place. The last step is of course, to place the book in the gravity press until it is dry.

More about making endsheets or endpapers in a future post. Until then, happy holidays!

P.S. I sure would like to see some comments and suggestions from you bookbinders out there. Maybe you can give me some tips on how to make my bookbinding projects easier and/or better.

Mike riding backwards on bicycleMichael A. Faris
mfaris1950@gmail.com

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Comments

  • Novice Bookbinder  On December 16, 2012 at 5:29 PM

    Excellent tips & advice, thank you for sharing.

  • George  On December 27, 2012 at 8:40 PM

    I enjoy your posts very much and always learn something new. I also like to use practical, low-cost tools. Being an aspiring bookbinder I appreciated your comments on techniques for flattening boards. I think your small sewing loom is marvellous and would like to see some details on it’s construction if possible.
    Thanks so much for taking the time to share your perspectives and knowledge.

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