Tag Archives: DIY bookbinding

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.

DIY Bookbinding -The Sticky Stuff

Photo of finished hardcover book

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.

photo of Michael Faris on the river

Michael Faris

About Time Publishing

Read more:

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/t/thomas_a_edison.html#ixzz1ld1J76wz

http://www.dkgroup.com/downloads/18_Film_PS.Mounting.Adhesives.pdf

http://www.ehow.com/info_7785553_3m-spray-adhesive-strongest.html

http://www.ehow.com/how_2069585_spray-mount-photograph.html