Thursday 26 January 2012

1. Preparing the Book Block

Evening folks and welcome to my bindery page. We're going to be working on various bindings but I thought for our first outing we would have a go at a full leather binding. The piece we'll be making will look very similar to the one below, with the added extra of a gilt edge.

Whether you're just interested in the process or would like to join me step by step, you're all welcome.

In this first post I'm going to concentrate on getting the Book Block prepared ready for gilding. 

Our first job is to pick our stock. I would recommend a light to medium weight hand made paper, 175gsm - 250gsm. This weight of paper not only feels lovely but is great to work with and a very versatile stock.

The paper I have chosen is Somerset Book Wove 175gsm. One of my favourites at the moment. It's easy to work with and seems to love the rounding and backing process that we'll be tackling later.

Once you've picked your stock we then need to cut or tear it down to our page size. I personally don't like to make decisions on size until I've torn down my paper. I like to get as much out of a sheet as possible. The only aspect I take into consideration at this point is the papers grain.

The papers grain is incredibly important. It has to run Head to Tail at all times. If the grain lays spine to for edge, the book will always want to open and you will have all sorts of warping problems when it comes to pasting.

You can check the grain quite simply by cutting a rectangular corner from your full sheet. Dampen one side with a sponge, the paper will then curl in the direction of the grain. From now on you will know which direction in which to fold. 

I prefer to tear down my paper. It keeps the deckle, which always looks attractive. We are going to tear down with a straight edge. Make as if you were going to fold your sheet in half, but only apply a little thumb pressure top and bottom to mark the paper.

Using a straight edge pull the paper across the edge and tear.

Once all your paper is prepared we need to fold it into sections or sometimes called signatures. A traditional section is comprised of four or eight folded sheets but with certain stock this can be a little heavy and very difficult to fold. For this book I'm going to limit each section to three sheets, it will make our job easier later.
Before folding I like to smooth of the bur left by tearing down with a folder, and then alternating natural and hand torn edges for an overall neater appearance.

I've prepared fourteen sections, I find this a comfortable number for the rounding and backing process. 

Our next stage is to trim the head of each section. Do this one at a time with a sharp knife and a straight edge. To keep them even, I place a weighted board on a cutting mat using the markings to ensure a right angle. All I have to do from now on is butt the tail of each section against the board and trim the head at the same marking on the cutting mat.

Repeat this for every section.

Before moving on have a couple of extra sections made up for later.

Our final stage before the gilding process is to make up some Endpapers. There are countless forms of endpaper from simple tipped on folded sheets to leather and cloth jointed all singing all dancing craziness! They all have there pro's and con's. For this binding we are going to produce Made Endpapers. I find these are more than adequate and a good strong all round endpaper. And more importantly don't take all day to make! These will be sewed into the book, so we need to prepare them now.

We are going to need two folded white sheets and one colour. All three are oversized to enable us to trim down to the exact size later. I like to make them a couple of centimetres larger at the head, tail and for edge just in case I get any paste on the edges. The colour is completely up to your personal choice. I'm using the same paper as my book block for the 'whites' and a Canson 160gsm paper for the 'colour'. I use a ready-made starch paste for this. It takes a little longer to dry than a more readily found PVA, which means you can take your time.

First paste one complete side of the coloured folded sheet and stick it to one side of one of the white ones. Give it a nip in a press if you have one or keep it under weighted boards for a little while

Then take the remaining white folded sheet and place it on some waste paper. Take another piece of waste and use this to mask off all but about a centimetre of the folded edge and paste this.

Remove the previously pasted colour/white section from the press, or weighted boards, and apply the pasted centimetre edge to the white side, along the folded edge.

Give it another nip to ensure it's stuck well and then take the white side and wrap it around the fold until it covers the colour. This will become a waste sheet, which will be removed at the very end. 

Repeat the process, as we need two. 

Finally trim them both down to the same size as the book block. You can use the weighted board we used when trimming the head of all the sections. When this is done I mark the top folded corner of the waste side of both endpapers just in case I mix them up. These endpapers are stitched into the book through the double white portion.

The book block along with the endpapers and two extra sections are now ready for edge treatment. In the next post I will be gilding the head with 23.5 carat gold.


  1. Thanks Roger, this is amazing. You've written about it so 'simply' but this is because there is a wealth of trial, error and practice in here!

  2. Great blog. I tried to join, but logger isn't playing nice. I'll try again tomorrow. :D

    ~ Sonya, from the Sago on Tuesdays bindery in Australia ~

    1. Hi Sonya, I've popped that Subscribe option on for you. Hope that's ok.

  3. Ooo can't wait for the next instalment! Love the first picture :)

    1. Thanks Sarah! Should of thought about using a stronger colour for the endpapers though. You know what the lighting's like at work!

  4. Roger, you make the most amazing books and self taught .... well done !!!
    Where can I buy the Somerset paper you use, what size does it come in ?
    Many thanks