Do It Yourself Hardcover Bookbinding

photo of Michael Faris

Michael Faris - About Time Publishing

The first time I tried to bind my own hardcover book was after I had written three novels. I wanted a very special edition to give to my friends and family. So I started looking at hardcovers to try to decipher their anatomy. I started dissecting garage sale books. Any old books. They all held secrets as to their construction.

I went online and even purchased a few handbooks on the subject. It didn’t seem too difficult. There was loads of information out there, YouTube tutorials and so forth. Supplies could be purchased at the UO Duckstore. It seemed easy, and it was! All it really takes is careful planning, patience and imagination to make very unique custom hardcovers that will rival the production line models.

Understanding the mechanics of the hardcover is important. Besides the book block, (which is basically perfectbound using a short ‘saddle’ instead of a wrapped cover), you will need Daveyboard, some heavy weight paper, transfer adhesive or permanent spray-mount, and a substrate to act as the wrapper. The wrapper can be almost anything from cotton prints to wallpaper, to grandma’s apron… in short, anything that is thin and flexible.  I chose Navy-colored muslin from the fabric store for my first project.

Hardcover books have several components, the most obvious being the front and back and the spine. These elements overhang the book block by a small amount. I determined that the faces should be cut to the same width as the book block and approximately 3/8″ taller. The spine width is determined by the thickness of the book block plus two thicknesses of Daveyboard. The boards are placed with a 3/8″ space between the spine and each face.

Diagram of hardcover wrapper for DIY bookbinding

Make a drawing on paper to determine sizes and position of everything. Coat the backside of the cover wrapper with adhesive and place the boards using the drawing on a light table to determine exact position. Wrap the long side first and stick it to the daveyboard. Crimp the corners before wrapping the short sides.

Diagram showing how to crimp corners for DIY hardcover bookbinding

It is important to crimp the corners after wrapping the long sides. The short sides will now fold neatly.

Diagram of finished corner for DIY bookbinding

A little practice at cutting and wrapping will yield nice, neat corners like this.

The bookblock is prepared in a similar way to making a paperback (see yesterday’s post), the exception being that there are two endsheets and a saddle of muslin or some other material instead of a paper cover. Endsheets are made by folding larger sheets of either a similar or complimentary substance paper in half. Endsheets go in front and back of the book to assist in attaching the cover. Clamp the entire sandwich between boards as before, and apply glue. Work the adhesive well into the spine, being sure that it sticks to both end sheets.

Diagram showing how to make endsheets for DIY hardcover bookbinding

Diagram showing the relationship of the endsheets to the text pages.

Before the glue sets, apply a ‘saddle’ cut to about 4″ + spine width and about the same height as the pages. Work the saddle down into the glue and let it cure. Ask your printer to trim the three sides for you, leaving the spine intact.

Diagram showing a saddle used to attach the hardcover - DIY Bookbinding.

Photo of finished bookblock with endsheets and saddle before attaching to the hardcover blank.

Finished bookblock with endsheets and saddle before attaching to the hardcover blank.

Apply adhesive to the outsides of the two endsheets and both sides of the saddle so that it will stick to the cover blank and the endsheet. Lay the cover blank out flat and carefully locate the spine of the bookblock onto the inside spine of the cover, being careful to center it.  Then, holding the bookblock upright carefully with one hand, swing the front cover up and into position. Squeeze it against the bookblock and do the same with the back. Place the entire book under pressure and allow everything to cure.

Photo of attaching bookblock to the hardcover DIY bookbinding

Attaching the bookblock to the hardcover. In this case I used transfer adhesive. After aligning the pages, the waxed backing is peeled from the endsheets. This method is simpler and requires no masking the way spray adhesives do.

Don’t be disappointed if this first effort isn’t perfect. Mine wasn’t. My next few were much better… not bad, in fact. But only after building dozens of books did I produce what I would call a professional product. It isn’t hard. Just takes practice.As you attempt to improve your craft, don’t be afraid to experiment. There are all kinds of adhesives and materials available that were either designed for or can be adapted to bookbinding. Use your imagination! Upcycling packing materials or scraps from another project is a great way to make unique books. Try your hand at rebinding old books or just scrap paper.

Next time I will talk about the different materials I have tried, together with some suggestions about other ways to improve your bookbinding craft.

Michael Faris

About Time Publishing

http://www.judeco.net

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