Constructing my first book

This post is a direct continuation of my previous post on my first attempt at a book.

So the next step after producing a new book block as mentioned in the last post was to glue the signatures together along the spine. I had tried this by bracing the book block with G-clamps, two planks of wood and two cut to A4 sheets of old floor laminate. This was an absolute pain to line up  properly while you were trying to hold the book block in place and you were trying to tighten the clamps at the same time; so I got hold of an old book press (more of which in the next post). This allowed me to lay down a layer of flexible binding glue over the threads and tapes on the tightly gripped backs of the signatures and 4 hours later place a layer of mull over the top and put another layer of glue over that. As the use of rather flimsy ribbon to provide tapes for the first book block had been a bit of a failure I bought actual book tapes from the stationers I had found which you can see in the first photo below.


Next trick was to add a bookmark ribbon which is glued about 2 inches down the spine to avoid it being easily pulled out. There are also headbands glued under the mull (something I should probably have done for the bookmark ribbon as well).  I cut the other end of the ribbon at an angle just as you find them in mass produced books and I sealed the edge against fraying by coating the very end of the ribbon with clear nail varnish. Be careful you don’t use too much as you will end up with a wet look to the end of the ribbon.



I neglected to take any pictures of the steps of gluing in the end-papers and then gluing the book block into the cover. But this was due to the fact that that part of the process can be fiddly and you need both hands to co-ordinate the process.

I had cut back the mull and tapes to about 2 cm as shown in some of the tutorials on the web and felt that this was possibly too little area to hold the book block in place. Consequently I think I put too much glue on the mull and tapes when merging cover and block and I managed to glue parts of the spine onto the cover. This is a no-no as this means that the book cannot flex properly when opened which meant I had to do some bending and slight stretching with a knitting needle pushed down the spine of the book once the glue was dry so that the book would open properly. Not an ideal situation and I will have to be more careful next time.

I should also mention that I used some plastic sheets (old poly pockets) to separate the glued book cover and end-papers while I had them pressed so that the paper of the book and the inside end-paper did not warp from the moisture from the PVA glue. The poly pockets are easy to get hold of and any excess dried glue will simply wash off or wipe away after it’s dried. I pressed the finished book while it was drying using the simple expedient of placing the completed closed book between the two wood laminate sheets mentioned earlier and then piling weights from a weight training set on top for some 12 hours before the book was presented and taken away.


I also think that I put generally too much glue on the end-papers, tapes and mull as the book covers bowed slightly after completion. Although that may have been due to the fact that the book was finished a day before my wife took it away as a notebook at her music course and had it packed into a suitcase for most of the late drying process. I had made the covers completely flat before being added to the paper block by placing the completed cover opened and flat and using the weight pressing method described above overnight.

Things that I learned

  • Be careful when using PVA glue as too much will soak into the book block or the cover card and warp it!
  • When gluing the book to the cover remember to use plastic sheets to protect the paper from the water in the glue. These can be specially bought, or poly pockets or cut out of plastic carrier bags. Just remember that it needs to be waterproof.
  • Use proper fabric tapes for the strapping to hold a book block together and aligned or use very heavy ribbon. These could be cut from any cloth which is unlikely to fray.
  • Don’t try and build a book press out of bits of wood and clamps. It’s fiddly and difficult to align and tighten at the same time. Either buy an old book press online or build one which is all in one. There is a self constructed one shown here.
  • If you are going to have book marks made of ribbon remember to seal the loose end against fraying by using just a touch of clear nail varnish.
  • Be patient with the glue drying process and give yourself more time than you think. To test if a glued section is still damp you can usually feel that it is cold to the touch and smell strongly of glue. Dry sections will be room temperature and should either not smell of anything or very slightly of glue.