Thursday 16 February 2012

4. Rounding and Backing

Rounding and Backing are two stages of the binding process that can baffle people, myself included. Many of the texts available tell you only part of the process or assume you know a little of it. What they don’t tell you is that it’s actually quite simple if you have the right equipment.
I’m afraid there is no way around the fact that you need a good press and backing boards. There are many places that sell these and unless you know what to look for you could be spending a lot of your hard earned money on something that just doesn’t work.
I’ve tried a few presses and a lot of different backing boards from various suppliers. The best I have found are from Bookbinding-Supplies. Robert makes the best wooden bindery equipment I have used. It’s great to work with, not too costly and a pleasure to look at too.
Your backing boards have to be in good condition, so always check them before use. If you notice any irregularity in the edge you will need to plane them back. I have tried brass edged ones and frankly they’re not a patch on Roberts wooden ones.

As for backing hammers, you can find a bargain on the various auction sites online. I picked up mine for less than £10 as opposed to £20-£30 from binding suppliers. If you type into your search engine ‘cobblers hammer’ you may find a cheaper option, and they’re both the same thing.

Before you begin the process we have to mark along the spine edge the thickness of the board we are using for the covers.
There are various choices of board you can use. Mill Board is a very good board but unless you have a strong guillotine or bench shear you are going to have trouble cutting it. Grey board is fine for a lot of the binding that you will do but with a fine leather binding I like to push the boat out a little. The boards I’ll be using are paste boards; boards that I’ve made myself, so I know exactly what they are made of and which way the grain runs.
This may sound like a pain but there is something a little special about them. If you don’t want to bother don’t worry I won’t take it personally.
My boards consist of a lamination of 190gsm Bockingford handmade paper and a 120gsm Archival Kraft paper. The brand of the handmade paper isn’t important, any quality 190gsm paper will do. Cut eight of each paper larger than the book making sure the grain runs head to tail.
Using a starch paste, make up pasted pairings of the white handmade paper and the grey kraft paper and then press them until dry. Once dry paste the pairs together to make quads and press until dry again. Finally paste two quads together and press for the last time. This should make a strong laminate of about 2.5mm thick. 

This can be a lengthy process and you may feel the need to make these early on so they are ready and dry. When you are not using them always leave them between pressing boards.
So, mark the boards thickness on the spine edge of the endpapers. This is so we can line up the backing boards easily.

Square the book up, place waste board either side and pop it in a press.
With a needle or awl fray out the ends of the knots where we tied on new thread. This makes them less noticeable when gluing. 

Then with the point of your bone folder close up the sewing holes so excess glue doesn’t seep in. 

We are now going to give the spine it’s first gluing. Using a flat stiff brush thinly glue the portions between the tapes but not over them. Use just enough glue to seal the joins between the sections. I use PVA for this, it has a quicker drying time than paste and has good elasticity which is needed for the spine of a book.

When the glue is almost dry but not completely, (touch the surface, if it’s tacky but doesn’t mark your fingertips) you are ready to start the rounding.
Take the book out of the press and place it on to the bench with the fore edge facing you. Place the thumb of the hand holding the book into the fore edge and gently tap the spine to coax the sections forward. As you tap the spine with the hammer in one hand, gently push with the thumb and pull with the fingers with the other hand. Turn the book over and repeat the process. 

This is Rounding, and the book can be left at this stage, which many feel is more sympathetic to the paper. We are going to take it a little further and Back the book.

Place the backing boards either side of the book on the marks that we made earlier and lift the whole lot and place it in the press.
Now with the hammer tackle one side at a time. We’re not going to touch the middle sections at all just the outer ones. You don’t want to hit the spine with all your strength; you’re mainly using the weight of the hammer. Your job is simply to control it. Think of each side as two runs. Using sweeping motions away from the centre towards the endpaper edge, coax the sections with the hammer along the full length, head to tail. Now do the same but slightly closer to the endpaper edge. Repeat this until you get a noticeable mushroom effect. Do the same for the other edge. 

With a bone folder, crisp up the edge.

Once you have a nice shape, take the book out of the press and remove the backing boards. Place the waist boards right up into the little lip or ‘joint’ you have created by backing and place it back in the press.
All we have to do now is give it a good layer of PVA, this time over the tapes as well.
When dry we will be ready for our next stage, board preparation and lacing on.




  1. Great pics, Roger, and beautiful tapework. Ill pass a link onto some beginners I know. :D


  2. Wonderful photos, clear captions, lovely work. Thank you for sharing.

  3. I'm trying to figure out why the wooden boards themselves are wedge shaped. Which of the sides is supposed to be the vertical one when clamped in the press when rounding off the outer sections spine.