DIYcrafters generally have quite an arsenal of materials and supplies in their workshops. Over time they develop a loyalty to certain products, and for good reasons. Their use of a particular tool or material has been positive. The limits of the thing have been explored and experienced. Familiarity breeds confidence in their ability to make these things work for them. Over time these products help you settle in to your comfortable crafting zone.
I can really appreciate the effort and craftsmanship that goes into making traditional hardcover books. The rather lengthy and cumbersome process can yield a beautiful and durable work of art. But this old-world craft is fading in favor of new processes and materials. There are newer fangled (Did I say fangled?) materials out there that open up many new facets for the creative. There are also a lot of new tools and processes that will enhance the home bookbinder’s craft.
Bookbinding is a sticky proposition. Unless your books are spiral or otherwise mechanically bound, at some point you will have to deal with adhesives.
One of the things that bothered me about traditional bookbinding was the lengthy times that it took for the glue to dry. Polyvinyl acetate is one of the bookbinder’s staples. PVA is great stuff, and sometimes it is the only thing that will work in a given situation, such as repairing older books. But working with PVA for any volume of books is too slow.
PVA is similar in consistency to Elmer’s glue. You have to apply it in a thin coat to the surface of various materials, and then hold them together under pressure until the adhesive has set. Learning to use PVA can be challenging and requires some practice in order to reach that comfortable crafting zone mentioned above. Slow-curing adhesives tie up equipment for lengthy times. (By the way, Elmer’s is not a good substitute for PVA as it dries brittle and yellows with age).
Most do-it-yourselfers know that anything worth their time should be constructed using the best materials. No one likes to have their project fall apart in a short time because of shoddy fabrics or workmanship. If you want to be proud of your work, then you should subscribe to the philosophy that it should be done well with the best materials you can afford.
So what constitutes “best” materials when it comes to bookbinding? Aside from using acid-free papers designed and manufactured to last, bookbinders need to use adhesives that will not break down over time and under use. In trying to find the right adhesive, keep an open mind. Look to other industries such as aerospace or building. Companies specializing in industrial finishes have all sorts of products that can lend themselves to the DIY bookbinder.
For instance, I use a transfer adhesive designed for the outdoor sign industry for many of my bookbinding operations. It is fairly inexpensive and easy to use. It is also very sticky. This thin, opaque white adhesive comes in a 38″ wide roll that can be cut into any size sheets as needed. It comes mounted on a waxy substrate that peels off after application. Once the other surface is carefully mated into position, a light rubbing to smooth out any bubbles is all that is needed. Of course I always give it additional treatment with a smooth brayer-roller, and sometimes even send it through my desktop pouch laminator (without the pouch) to apply even pressure for additional measure. Once stuck, it is permanent in most paper-to-paper applications.
If I need a stronger bond, I will usually use contact cement. The water based (less toxic) version will work, but the solvent based works better. Either one requires that a coating be applied to both surfaces and allowed to set until it becomes tacky before pressing the two surfaces together. This stuff is faster to use than PVC glue, but it has its obvious disadvantages. It certainly doesn’t belong in a production environment if only because of safety considerations.
Spray mounting adhesives come in many flavors designed for all kinds of uses. Their main advantage is that they are ready to use right off the shelf. Simply shake and spray… well, almost. You have to deal with the chance of overspray onto places and things that you don’t want to be glued. You need a good supply of masking materials, newspapers and so forth, and a way to dispose of them. Other disadvantages include clogging nozzles that either splatter the contents in unsightly globs or refuse to work at all. This frustrating behavior occurs when the can is still 3/4 full and you have a deadline to meet. Oh, and did I mention you need to be fairly good at spray-painting in order to get a nice even coating? Still, one can develop a mastery of using spray adhesives. It is just like any other aspect of crafting anything. You have to do it a lot to become proficient at it.
I mentioned using Goop in a previous post. Goop is one of those products that is packaged for many purposes, including shoe repairs and weather caulking. It is basically a silicone sealer. This clear substance comes out of the tube about the consistency of honey. Silicone smells almost like vinegar and is very flammable in its liquid state. It cures to a flexible rubber-like consistency that bonds well to paper. Before I finally broke down and invested several thousand dollars in perfectbinding equipment, I used Goop to bind my first books.
Modern industry and scientific research developed many adhesives (like super glue and hot glue) that have found their way into my shop. Since I bind books for other people, I try to thoroughly test a given product before I try to sell work made with it. Many of my experiments are gathering dust in a back room. Some were immediately disappointing, others await the test of time in order to determine their suitability. But in all cases, experimentation has made me a better craftsman. Thomas A. Edison said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
During my own 10,000 experiments I have actually uncovered a few methods and materials that work quite well. These things go into my quiver of bookbinding arrows. They become tools for specific purposes because I can depend on the results… straight and to the point.
I will be posting more tips about practical DIY bookbinding.
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