Tag Archives: Book

Dissecting Old Hardcover Books

Photo of old books

Lots of old worn out books can be found at garage sales.

Garage sales are a great source of antique books. These musty old relics hold a bit of information beyond the printed words and pictures… at least for book binders. For as little as fifty cents, you can find old books that can be dissected in order to learn how they were constructed.Photo of Old Book Disection #2

It is not uncommon to find books over a hundred years old, many of which were bound by hand. Books may have become damaged over time, their covers torn or missing. Pages are dog-eared and stained. These dinosaurs have outlived their usefulness as texts, but stand in the spotlight for the aspiring book binder.

Photo of Old Book Disection #4

This book has tapes that pass through slots cut into the entire text block, rather than sewn in.

Book covers have been made from all sorts of materials ranging from leather to fine silk book cloth. Most, however were made by wrapping and gluing some sort of fabric around a stiff book board. I have seen book covers made from wood and even woven mats of bamboo.

Covers are usually attached by gluing heavy end papers, supplemented by the addition of a cloth backing glued to the spine. The end sheets are sometimes decorative, and the paper may have been hand made or individually hand colored. Some striking examples of marbled papers can sometimes be found inside the covers of old books.

Removing the covers almost always involves severing the end papers from the text pages. In some cases, the end papers may be moistened and peeled from the book boards to release the cover and reveal the spine.Photo of Old Book Disection #3

Older book bindings differ in many ways. Each time I cut into one of these old volumes, I may discover another unique method of construction.

But there are many common elements too. Folded sheets are inserted within each other to form signatures. These are most commonly in fours to make sixteen pages. But it is possible to find instances where the bookbinder used other combinations anywhere from two to six sheets per signature.

Diagram of nested pages

Four sheets of paper nest to make a 16-page signature

Diagram of stacked 16-page signatures

Ten 16-page signatures stack to make a 160 page book

Each signature is stitched along the inside of the fold to bind the separate sheets to one another, and then each signature is in turn stacked and stitched along the spine.

Here is where I find a variety of stitching patterns. Coptic stitching is a general term applied to sewing all of the pages together into a text block. I find quite a few different patterns used, but most employ the use of a kettle stitch to connect the signatures to one another.

Coptic stitching using tapes or bands.

Once the signatures are sewn in place to make the text block, some sort of flexible material (mull) is glued over the stitches, leaving loose flaps on either side. These flaps are in turn sandwiched between the end sheets and the book boards.

The result is a sturdy connection between the cover and the text that will withstand repeated handling throughout the long life of the book. The paper will tear before a page will come loose in this type of binding.

Photo showing Endsheet showing mull backing

Endsheet showing mull backing on text block before assembly with covers.

Next time I will show how I construct and assemble hard covers for several types of books.

I am always open to new ideas about bookbinding and publishing and would relish some comments and suggestions from my readers. I love to share information and to teach my craft to others. So please, comment, call, come by or send me an email with your thoughts.

Michael A. Faris Bio Photo

Michael Faris

Michael

mfaris1950@gmail.com

541-954-6724

DIY Bookbinding – Stitch or Glue?

Photo of Mike Reading Paperback

Nothing like a good old fashioned paperback novel.

How many folks out there actually read any given paperback book more than once? I’ll wager that one of three things will happen to that paperback novel after the first read. It will be:

  1.  Discarded
  2.  Passed along (maybe)
  3.  Stuck on a bookshelf in a closet to be discarded in later years.

Most people get their information from the World Wide Web. Printed books are losing out to the more timely, convenient and less expensive electronic means of communication. The public is buying Kindles, Nooks and Ipads to aid in consuming current information.

But I know paperback novels still have their place. I have yet to have one crash or become useless because I can’t open it. It operates completely independent of the power grid. A paperback is not locked down by digital rights management (DRM). I can lend or give it to anyone, confidant that they will be able to access the information (assuming they can read). It will not be subject to hardware or software limitations.

Lovers of paperbacks are slow to adopt electronic books. Even those that do will confess there are times when a good old drugstore western, a detective story or even a romance novel in the form of a pocket-sized book with real paper pages is very comforting. No whirling fans. No flashing monitor. No keyboard. Just an independent stack of paper with printed words.

Then there are those folks, (my father, for one) who refuse to have anything to do with a computer or smartphone. They can’t be reached unless it is in conventional terms. By that I mean they haven’t advanced beyond television, radio and newspapers. If they read, it is from printed material (only).

I wanted to be able to do my own binding so that I could produce a handful of books to give to my friends and family. I was going for the mass paperback look. You know, the squared-off kind with the stiff paper cover that you see on the racks at news stands and at the drugstore. I figured it would be simple and inexpensive.

Photo of Common Paperback Book

Common Perfectbound Paperback Novel

A nicely perfectbound paperback novel will stand up to several readings during which time it will be dog-eared, bent, crushed and spilled upon. It will have spent time on the dashboard of your car, or in your backpack or purse, having its cover folded back so it can be read using one hand while you eat lunch. You will mark places where you left off with anything handy. For all practical purposes, it is a throw-away or disposable commodity. The information contained within is usually read only one time by any single person. Afterward, it is no longer needed and might be passed on to another or thrown away.

Producing small quantities of paperbacks has been prohibitively expensive until recent years. Now, with digital technology it is possible to get printing in small quantities at affordable prices. Binding is an extra step, that may not be offered by your digital printing service.

So why not do your own binding? It has some real advantages. You can use different types of paper for covers and dividers inside the book. You’re not restricted to standard sizes. You can bind as many or as few as you like.  You can bind special personalized pages in each book, in effect varying the content to suit.

Photo of Guillotine Cutter

Having an industrial paper-cutter is a real plus for binding your own books.

Being a lifelong printer by trade, I have always had access to an industrial paper-cutter. So, to make my own books all I really needed to do was to glue the edges of a stack of paper, wrap a cover around it (also glued) and then trim it out to look like a book. Simple idea? (Yeah, right).

During this journey I became more aware of paper characteristics and how much they affect the quality of the book. Smaller pocket-sized books are more sensitive to the paper grain direction and paper stiffness when it comes to mechanics. A stiff paper with the grain running contrary to the spine will make the book difficult to read because the pages will not stay open.

Photo of book with improper grain direction

Pages will not lie flat when the grain direction is perpendicular to the spine.

Another important consideration is the margin between the copy and the spine. This distance needs to be greater than the outside margins in order for all of the copy to be visible, because a portion of the page disappears into the spine. Skinny gutter margins will result in the reader forcing the book open beyond the intended limit in order to view the print. This weakens the spine and it ultimately fails.  Too much gutter and the type or image area becomes too small.

Photo of book with proper grain direction

When the paper grain direction is parallel to the spine, the book will easily lie open without damaging the binding.

I have explored different adhesives and applications thereof, all the while looking for a method/material that will provide the most durable and flexible bond for my glued bindings. One characteristic of dime store novels (back when paperbacks really were a dime) is brittle glue. If you can find one at a garage sale or used book store, the adhesive has probably yellowed with age. Opening the book to its limit is likely to break the spine. Pages will fall out easily.

More modern acid-free glues are designed to be flexible and to adhere to the paper with more tenacity.

Photo of Hot glue binder

A short-run tabletop hot glue perfectbinding machine.

People abuse books. Especially paperbacks. The very nature of the animal begs for mistreatment. Anything that a book binder can do to improve the longevity of a binding will enhance his product.

Photo of Worn Paperback book

A typically well used paperback. Broken and torn from age and use.

I have learned to score my soft covers close to the spine on the front and back of the book in order to provide stress relief.  A book made in this way will allow the cover to be opened without stressing the glued spine.

photo of Softcover with strain relief crease

Note the strain relief crease in the cover on the left side near the spine.

Even so, all these measures cannot ensure that the pages will not ever come loose at some time during the life of the book. But there are ways to make better books that will stand up to the wear and tear that they may receive in use (or abuse). Of course, extra measurements will require an extra investment in time/money.

So what’s the value of the content? More sophisticated binding methods should be reserved for more sophisticated or more valuable information. These are the books that you want to keep, open and view often over perhaps years or even decades. These are the poetry books, the art and literature works, the family albums and solid reference volumes. Don’t forget family bibles, music and recipe books, the ones that live out there where you can see and use them.

Photo showing side-stitched book pages

Side stitching produces a durable book, but it will not lay open flat

Paperback, or soft cover books can be stitched along the sides to improve durability. This method further encroaches on the gutter margins, but it makes for a rough and tough binding. Not too practical for anything smaller than letter-sized books and still, the book will not lie flat when opened. This is a consequence of binding flat sheets of paper to make a book.

So, what’s a book binder to do?

Hardcover books are not difficult to make. Of course, there are several levels of sophistication for these critters too.

Simply adding a hard cover to your creation will not necessarily result in a book that will work as desired. If you are still working with flat sheets of paper, you will always have the flatness issue to deal with. The pages will be subject to the glue and/or stitching integrity.

Japanese stab binding is a good way to get into hard covers. There are videos and how to’s readily available to illustrate this type of binding.

Photo of hardcover book - Kokapelli

Sooner or later, the DIY bookbinder will want to make nicer, more durable books.

But the most effective way to create a quality special book involves stitching folded signatures and then binding them into a hard case. This results in a book that is not only durable, but will function well. A properly constructed book of this type will lie open flat with no damage to the spine.

Photo of stitched and casebound book - Kokapelli

Coptic-stitched signatures bound into a hard case. The book easily lies open with no damage to the spine.

Photo of hardcover book Kokapelli showing decorative endsheet.

This book has pseudo-marbled endsheets printed on a digital press.

Learning how to stitch signatures is an acquired skill that is really an art. In fact, there are folks out there that create massive, intricate works of paper in various colors and styles to illustrate their abilities. After stitching countless volumes myself, I am humbled by their work.

Here is a good example. This one is really cool. Also check out Sarah Mitchell’s imaginative work, Book Arts, Rhonda Ayliffe, and Garlic Harvest Studio.

Next time I will talk about how I build some of my better quality books, including some hard lessons I have learned in the process.

Book Authors Drop Old Paradigms and Pick Up New Tools

No question about it, computer technology has radically changed the way authors develop their books.Photo of Michael Faris

The old publishing paradigm presented some formidable hurdles for an author. Aside from writing the book, the remaining task of formatting and otherwise readying a manuscript for printing and subsequent publishing used to be a daunting and expensive process..

In the past authors inspected galley proofs from the typesetter for errors and typos. Once they were satisfied their copy was correct, they waited (sometimes for weeks) for the book printer to generate proofs in the form of a blueline. Photographs and pictures needed to be rendered by a completely different process that involved color separations and halftoning. Proofs were made from the same films intended for platemaking.

All in all, the process was painstakingly slow and unforgiving. Visualizing the final outcome took some experience and imagination. All the parts had to be wrestled into place with careful considerations about the way everything fit. Resizing or reworking any of the elements involved more time and expense, making the process tedious and pushing actual publication dates out further.

Authors had to rely on the services of graphic arts specialists in order to get professional results. Typesetters, color separators, strippers and proofers all contributed to the process. All these methods and procedures jacked up the cost of production, not to mention the cost of additional materials consumed in the prep stages.

Not only was the author forced to pay for these services (in advance), but to make matters worse he usually had to compromise design considerations in order to conform to the process. As if that wasn’t enough, the actual production was slow. By the time he held an actual printed book, there were months of time and thousands of dollars already invested. The icing on the cake was when additional errors were discovered on the five thousand (or more) copies, all printed and bound.

Today most of the middle operations associated with publishing have been eliminated and replaced with a new workflow designed for digital production of printed books. Now the creative and motivated author is able to visualize the final product on his desktop computer. Most WYSIWYG programs are fairly accurate in their page renditions, within the limits of what can be seen on a monitor as compared to printed page.

Now you have ultimate control over content and design. Electronic tools are available that allow you to work with pictures and graphics to format your work any way you want. Changes can be accommodated with the click of a mouse. Different versions can be set up using modifiable styles that change the appearance of the document instantly. Image quality is better than it has ever been, owing to the recent advancements in color control and imaging technology.

Perhaps best of all is that with today’s tools an author can produce a finished document, one that he has generated completely on his own, all formatted and press ready without any outside assistance whatsoever. In some instances, he can submit a file for printing and get it back in his hands —the same day! Not only that, but this first proof is exactly what the finished product will look like —the paper, the image quality, the page order and positioning —in short it is just like the finished product will be in production, because the proofing process is the same as the production process.

This opens up vast opportunities for authors. Now there is an economical way to produce material that can be marketed in small quantities and then revised and re-issued. These test cycles make it easy to improve the effectiveness of a document and help to tailor it for a specific purpose. Without this ability, many good ideas are abandoned because of the expense of adequate testing.

The new tools are rapidly evolving, offering better ways to communicate. Small quantities of quality printed books can now be created on demand by just about anyone.

So what’s next? The writing’s on the wall… er monitor. The industry has taken great steps to streamline, economize and otherwise develop systems to produce books with less impact on the environment. All of this research and investment in machines and technology to print on paper will continue to evolve as the old school dies out. In its place will be the children of the future. These people will not remember paper-based books because all of their interests and needs will be delivered electronically. The information is too timely, too fleeting to be recorded in print media. Storing printed books will not be practical. Traditional books will become dinosaurs of the past.

But complete control over content and appearance will likely remain in the hands of the creator. Imaginative authors will be able to add additional media (videos and sound clips) to the electronic versions of their work. They will be able to deliver content targeted at specific profile characteristics in small focused quantities. Building, modifying and enhancing archived data will continue to get easier as more software tools become available.

On-demand printing on paper is clearly a temporary niche in publishing. Its features pale compared to those offered by completely electronic media. It will certainly fade into the background as people gradually change the way they acquire and absorb information. It is only a short run to the next level. The real challenge, more than ever will be to be heard in this growing mass of confusion. Where will you fit in?

Michael Faris

About Time Publishing

Are Traditional Books Dead?

Nothing like a good old-fashioned paperback book. One you can wrap the pages around as you read them, make a mark in the margins, dog-ear the corners and make it your own. It fits in a raincoat pocket so you can pull it out on the bus ride home, or while standing in line at Starbucks. These old relics live on the dashboard of your car, on the back of the commode, or in your lunchbox. They are cheap enough and durable enough to last through several reads by a number of folks as they are handed from one to another.

Hardback books are wonderful in their own way. These are the musty dinosaurs of yesterday, nestled on Grandma’s shelves in her library and kitchen. These books hold the ideas and accomplishments of days past, all worthy of recording on print, forever enshrined between  hard covers of cloth and leather. Most of the really great books are printed on archival-quality fine acid-free paper and stitched into traditional signatures. Coffee table books have long adorned living rooms with renditions of art and photography published in limited editions.

Books and magazines have always been an important part of our lives from the time we sat on our mother’s lap to read a good fairy tale until the time we graduated from college. Textbooks, manuals, dictionaries, encyclopedias, guidebooks, trade journals, hobbies, sports and news publications. The list goes on and on.

Why do these books exist? Why have we thought them important enough to produce and preserve them for the last few centuries? My opinion is that we felt the knowledge was something we needed to preserve in order for others to benefit. Knowledge always has worth and anything with value quickly becomes a commodity.

Commodities become the basis for entire industries, whether the goods are truly needed or not. Sometime it is a mere fad that drives an industry, such as furs or feathers. Other times it is basic needs like food, medicine or tools. But no matter the spark that creates the demand, once it has gained a foothold a commodity becomes entrenched in our way of life. Old habits are slow to die, even when there are good reasons to change. So it is with the information industry.

For the last twenty years or so, nearly every child in America has grown up with a mouse in their hand and an inherent knowledge of how to navigate and use computers. They can’t remember a world without the web. They get their timely information online. Most hardly ever pick up a newspaper. Their books are electronic. Their information is up to the minute and cross-referenced to several sources. They are plugged into a world that didn’t even exist only a few years ago.

So what does that mean to the future of traditional printed books? It means that they will eventually go the way of the horse and buggy. There is a better way to store and view data than ever before. Printed books are expensive to produce and impossible to edit without printing a revised edition. They are not searchable, the information cannot be easily copied and reformatted and they cannot be instantly transmitted to a point around the world. They require shelf space and need to be dusted. They wear out from use. You need to hold the book in your hands to get access to the information… and how many books can you carry with you at a time?

The child of today and tomorrow will only see books as a curiosity, an impractical novelty with little use other than an example of how it used to be. He will prefer to get his information online, and will have access to more knowledge than his parents ever dreamed of. This overwhelming sea of knowledge lays the foundation for a whole different set of challenges that I will try to address in my next Blog.

I would like to hear some other ideas on the subject.

Until next time,

Michael Faris

About Time Publishing