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