Saturday 21 July 2012

9. Covering The Book

We’re almost at the end of our journey now. A lot's going to happen in this post and if you are following it I would read it thoroughly before attempting to cover your book. The reason being, once you get started you can’t really break off.

Our first job is to mix up some paste. There are many forms of paste from basic flour to cornstarch and refined wheat starch pastes. There are ready made pastes on the market and they can be useful to have around for some jobs, but you’ve already gone to this much trouble, what’s making a little paste.

The reason for using paste as opposed to PVA is that it penetrates the leather and the board causing a very strong bond. It is also reversible if required.

The paste I have used here is made by adding 25g of shoufu refined wheat starch to 250ml of boiled water that I’ve aloud to cool. The mixture is then heated in a double boiler for about 20-30 minutes until it thickens. When ready sieve into a sealable jar, and allow to cool before use. This will last 3-5 days if refrigerated. For more paste recipes please follow this link

I have used plain flour before, and it is more than adequate but shoufu is incredibly fine and makes a lovely paste.

You’re going to need to prepare your area, and have everything you need close to hand. Various bone folders, shears, various brushes, scalpels and some thick string.

Before you start, make sure your fingernails are clipped and take all rings, watches etc off. While the leather is being worked it can be marked very easily.

We now need to perform a couple of small yet important tasks on the book itself.

Firstly we need to cut back the corners of the boards close to the joint at head and tail. This angled cut allows the leather to be formed into the joint and stops it from possibly tearing over time.

To do this open the cover and slot in a thin plate just in case your knife slips and you cut into the spine. I use a No.25 scalpel for this. Repeat at all four corners.

Next we need to slit open the hollow back at a depth matching the amount of leather to be turned in. When this is done place the book aside.

Make sure your work surface dust free and clean as anything can and will mark your leather.

Ok, now take your leather and dampen the ‘hair’ side of the leather. This makes it more supple and helps draw the paste into the leather.

Now give the ‘flesh’ side of the leather it’s first pasting. This primes the leather. Have a pair of tweezers to hand just in case you brush starts to shed hairs.

Allow this first pasting to soak in for a little while.

Now apply a second layer of paste to the leather and some to the spine and joints of the book.

Place the book, front side first, onto the pasted leather keeping to the markings.

With the palm of your hand carefully bring the leather over the spine and onto the back.

Now up end the book and rest it on it’s fore edge and smooth the leather over the spine and down towards the fore edge.

With your folder and fingers start to work the turn ins. Work on one side at a time turning the leather in towards the spine.

The next stage, in my view, is one of the most difficult in the whole process. 

We need to feed the leather into the slit we made in the hollow back. This can be quite frustrating due to hollow sometimes being a little stiff. For this purpose I’ve made a couple of wedges that help to keep the hollow open.

When the leather is tucked in, make sure you leave some excess leather poking out to form the ‘caps’ later. The amount you leave needs to be enough to come over and partially cover the headbands. Repeat the process on the other spine edge.

Before we start on the fore edge we need to set the joints. Take a gilding or pressing board, open the cover and push the board up against the edge of the book board.

Paste the fore edge turn ins and using you folder and fingers turn them in crisply.

Now pull open the leather at the corner, pinch the leather together and with your shears trim the excess.

Reopen the corner, re paste and start to pleat the leather at the very corner over the board. Bring the turn ins together and smooth off with your folder. Repeat on the other three corners.

Cut a piece of string long enough to go all around the book from head to tail. With the string mark the joint top and bottom on both sides.

Now tie the string around the book located in the marks you made. This can be annoying and an extra pair of hands wouldn’t go a miss!

We’re now going to work on the head and tail caps. To protect the rest of the book I wrap some Archival Kraft around so as not to mark the leather.

With a small thin folder flatten out the excess leather at the cap making sure it looks even. 

Take the same small thin folder and flatten the leather close to the joint, up against the tied string making them nice and neat.

With a pointed folder pull out the edges of the caps, easing them out against the string.

Finally with a flat folder push straight down onto the cap. This will flatten it, forming a cap that will partially cover and protect the headband and mimic the thickness of the boards.

Now place acetate between the boards and book to prevent any excess moisture getting to the book block and press between lightly weighted boards and leave over night.

Next day while the book is still a little moist we need to perform a controlled opening. This basically lets the book know that it is a book and better start acting like one.

First try to open the cover. If it opens freely, all well and good. If not, slightly dampen the joints at head and tail where it is thickest with a soft brush and start to ease it open. Eventually it will open freely. Do the same to the other side. 

Now with the book lying flat take a page either side and open them flat working your way to the centre of the book.

Replace the acetate and return to the weighted boards.

Our final stage will be to fill and line the inside of the boards and apply the endpapers, which we will tackle in the last of these posts.

Thanks to Rick Whitham for taking the photo's for this post. Would have been quite tricky otherwise!


  1. Absolutely fantastic - really nice and clear, I'll certainly be back the next time I make one of these - it has all the bits that I forget to do :)

  2. Thanks, that's really kind of you. You've reminded me that I was going to put a link to your Paste making post! I shall rectify that as soon as possible.

  3. Great post again, Roger. I am enjoying this series very much.
    Your pics and writings come across as a patient mentor.
    Its lovely. :)


    1. Thanks Sonya. That means a great deal at the moment. X

  4. Roger,
    Your work is magical. Thank you so very much for taking the time and effort to document your process and share it.

  5. i still regularly come back to marvel at your blogposts, roger. inspiring stuff!

  6. Enjoyed all the photos and steps - thanks for posting!

  7. Such a great posting! The cover does not appear to have a 'groove' next to the spine on the covers. As I am new to both bookbinding and specially leather covers, can you advise which type of leather bindings typically have that 'groove'; i.e. case bound, tight back, raised spines etc? Thanks