I have been a lover of books all my life and interested in book collecting for maybe 20 years. This year I thought, I have admired the shape and heft of hardback books for such a long time it’s about time I found out how they were made.
This was partially inspired by a tatty 1925 hardback copy of Sir H. Rider Haggard’s Allan Quatermain that I had had since I was a teenager and had started out with the spine hanging off and ended up (about 30 years ago) with the spine off and the binding exposed (I still have the spine somewhere). I was intrigued by the fact that the backing of the spine actually was made up of old engineering drawings and liked the idea that there was a re-use for everything, so long as it was hidden from sight.
Since then I have looked down the spine of many old books and discovered that the backing of many impressive and beautiful hardback books spines are old legal papers, card from commercial boxes or even greeting cards!
So in March after some thought I decided I would turn my hand to trying to make a hard back book. I can’t remember now what actually triggered the get-up-and-go process but I did some research on the internet and discovered a whole world of book binding which was relatively cheap and appeared to be moderately easy if you could cut a straight line, fold some paper, glue some fabric and stitch some paper. So I followed this guide found on Pinterest and started with some white A4 80 gsm laser printer paper and started by folding folios and preparing A5 signatures. When I had what I thought were enough to make a book (just ten signatures of 4 sheets) I went on to the production of a book block.
I had bought some book thread from an online seller along with book glue and went to the local art store for card suitable for covers. The card especially proved pricey and was not specifically for books so I went back online where I found a stationers who sold book cloth, buckram, book boards and all the bits and pieces needed for an initial book. I also obtained some rather thin ribbon which I could use as the tapes used to anchor the book block to the binding. I carefully stitched up the block, putting the tapes in place and getting hold of some old G-clamps to hold the book block together while gluing it. I also started preparing the right thickness of spine for the thickness of the block (a miserable 7mm width). That went quite well and I used green buckram to cover the card and prepare the book cover. By this time I had a plan for this book and this was to make a nice hardback notebook for my wife who was going off to a music course in April.
The cover came together quite well and I used Letraset transfers (again from the local Art shop) to produce a title on the front and the spine. It was at this point when I released the book block from the clamps I realised how rubbish that had turned out. The holes I had punched in each signature didn’t line up perfectly, the stitching wasn’t very tight and the signatures were now out of alignment after gluing. The ribbon was also far too thin to hold the book block against the binding properly and I hadn’t bought mull at this point as I didn’t think I would need it!
The pages were also blank and I knew that my wife did not like blank pages to write on and I had some ideas myself about issues with trying to write into notebooks where the spine kept getting in the way of the writing (I’m a right hander and writing on the left page of a book was always awkward as you got nearer to the spine). So once more I had a plan.
Along with my trusty laser printer, which is the real reason I have all the A4 paper in the house in the first place, I crafted some simple Word documents to put horizontal lines on an A4 page which would once folded and placed in the A5 book cover would provide a ‘landscape’ layout in a ‘portrait’ notebook. After a solid 3 days of work and the purchase of endpaper for the book lining I had a book ready to go. Not bad for a first attempt, or rather a first and a half attempt, even if I say so myself.
The finished article!
Badly laid out transfers on the spine
Landscape page layout
Nice ribbon book mark
The beautiful end paper
More details on the construction and what I learned from this in the next post.