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