Beginning Bookbinding

Bookbinding from Flickr
Bookbinding (CC from Flickr)

It may seem complicated, but it’s a great feeling to see your newly attached boards close softly onto the freshly printed pages you’ve just sewn together. And in fact it’s not really as complicated as it may appear. Whilst full leather goatskin bindings with intricate gold tooling may look intimidating, beautiful books can be produced with good quality cloth or a mixture of cloth and tough papers. Many fine press books are produced this way. You could spend a fortune buying top quality leather, but the good news is that you can begin bookbinding with a kit that will cost a fraction of the price of a 5 sq. ft. goatskin hide.

The following kits are available —

  • Hewits Bookbinders starter pack
    This contains everything you need to get going (except paper). With VAT and delivery it costs roughly £60. The quality of the items is not as high as most of the things that Hewits sell, but there again, since mistakes are going to be made at least you’re not going to be wasting expensive stuff. The quantities are quite generous, so you can make lots of books without have to reorder immediately after your first attempt. They have a link on their site to making a single signature book to begin with, but after that you’ll have to buy a beginner’s bookbinding guide.
  • As well as these two suppliers, the other main one in the UK is Shepherds/Falkiners They have a good range of tools, cloths, leather etc., plus a wide range of paper.

Other Items You’ll Need

As well as the basic items available in the starter kits you’ll need some sort of a press. Before investing in a proper book press, there are other options. I use a flip-top workbench for holding books whilst working on them (this folds up to 90 degrees to hold wood for planing, but will hold a book well enough). These cost from £15. To press a book you need quite a lot of pressure. Heavy weights will do, but a press is more convenient and efficient! I made one from two wood planks, lined with hardboard and the pressure comes from some wide diameter threaded rod, locking nuts, washers and wing nuts. The whole thing cost less than £10, a good stop gap until you want to fork out for an authentic nipping press. If you have to sew up books with a lot of signatures or you are sewing many copies of one book, then you’ll definitely need a sewing frame. But to start with you can get by without one.

There is information about making a frame at the first link below.

Useful links

  • Evilrooster Bookweb contains lots of useful information for beginners, including all the tools you need and how to make basic tools, good books, how-to guides etc.
  • Christopher Swingley’s Pages These contain more helpful information for the beginner, including making tools.
  • Book Binding Courses Eden Workshops has a list of available courses in the U.K.

This guide written by Jonathan Cooper of the River Seven Press