Bookbinding is continuously gaining popularity as a hobby and there are tons of courses as well as online tutorials available, and I love it. But of course those courses and tutorials don't cover everything, and just like with every craft there's sometimes a little need for troubleshooting. As a master bookbinder and a general nerd I've usually got answers, and for that purpose I started a little thing I call Instagram Office Hours where I answer everyone's questions about bookbinding (and whatever).
Not everyone uses Instagram and those Office Hours posts quickly disappear far into the archives, so to help you guys out I decided to put together a blog post about some of the questions I've answered so far. Most questions have come through Instagram, but there are also some that I get repeatedly asked via email or in the comments of this blog. There's some repetition in my replies, but I left all that in because not everyone is going to read every Q&A anyway.
I've also written a couple of blog posts with some tips that could be helpful if you're struggling with bookbinding issues:
7 tips for more professional looking handmade books
tips and resources for beginner bookbinders
the best way to attach covers to a coptic binding
I hope you guys find these blog posts and these questions and answers helpful. And if after reading through all this you still have a little something on your mind, I'm hosting All Day Instagram Office Hours tomorrow (from around noon gmt+2 on Oct 6th) and will be answering your questions in the comments of a post dedicated to them. Check out my Instagram tomorrow and I'll do my best to help you out or just chat with you guys!
Where do I source my materials?
I live in Finland, so my local sources aren't probaby worth mentioning, but the things I can't easily find locally (=most things) I try to order from within EU to avoid extra taxes. Modulor.de is a great source for a variety of materials like papers, boards and book cloth. My fabrics and threads are mostly from the local stores here, so no secret tips about those, sorry! I've ordered linen online in the past, but I prefer to touch before I buy because glueing reluctant materials is a pain...
Do you use waxed linen thread and if so what size?
I buy my linen thread unwaxed and wax it myself as I personally find the ready-waxed is too stiff and heavily waxed. I use different thicknesses of thread for different purposes - I recommend experimenting to see what works for you!
Where do you get the dotted grid paper you use in the bullet journals?
The paper is actually custom printed, so maybe ask a local printer, or try to print it yourself if you've got a good printer.
What kind of paper do you use for end papers?
I use many different types of papers for end papers, but Canson Mi-Teintes is perhaps the one I use most.
Do you back the linen fabric you use for covering your books? What adhesives do you use? What is your method of making book cloth?
Whether or not I back the linen fabric I use depends on many things (how open the weave, how floppy the fabric is, how likely it is that the boards warp if I don't back the fabric), but if I back it I use 50/50 paste and pva that I brush on Japanese tissue, and then I gently smooth over the fabric. There are plenty of tutorials on youtube and elsewhere online if you're interested to learn more!
How do you fold in fabric/paper corners on covers? Do you have a "formula" for cutting the book cloth? How do you get the corners to look so nice and not fray, bunch up, and to line up together so nicely, etc.?
I guess the neatness is something that comes with practice. I don't use a template for cutting the corners, I just eyeball and use scissors. I cut the corners in a 45 degree angle, leaving about 1,5x board thickness width of material at the corner. Then I first fold the head and tail turn-ins before squishing that tiny bit of extra material in and finally folding the fore edge turn-in.
One thing I find really helpful with heavier fabrics is slightly rounding the board corners by sanding before covering! Also, steer clear from synthetic fabrics (no good comes from them), and err on the side of leaving too much fabric rather than too little! You can always snip out the excess once you see how it lays down.
Are your signatures cut from a large sheet? How? You always seem to have lovely soft edges - not quote torn, not quite cut.
I use a variety of paper sizes - usually I find the bigger the better! Large sheets are often also more affordable in the long run. While I sometimes trim the edges of a book block with my vertical plough, I tend to cut my sheets by first folding a tight crease using a teflon bonefolder and then tearing that folded crease using a bookbinder's knife. It's a straight knife that isn't super sharp. The edge finish depends a lot on the paper you use, not just the equipment. Experiment with the tools and papers you have at hand and see what gives you the best results!
I have tried a bookbinders knife before but hate that little 'fold' that appears next to the cut when it is made in the fold. I will practice making sharper folds before making the cut.... if that makes any sense at all!
It actually sounds your folds may be even too sharp if you get that extra crease line. Try a little less pressure on the folds next time! Sometimes that little crease next to the tear is almost unavoidable if you're using thick paper, but a slightly lighter fold might do the trick to fix it.
I constantly struggle to get my boards and book blocks exactly square - do you have any tips? I have been using a guillotine but it still doesn't seem exact.
When I started exploring bookbinding, mostly teaching myself, I struggled with keeping things square, too. At first I solved it by making sure everything was crooked the same way while practicing getting things squarer and squarer with practice (not really how you're supposed to do it, but it worked for me!). Tearing signatures to size from a larger sheet of paper creates a beautiful edge to the book block and allows you to skip cutting the book block altogether if your guillotine isn't a good one. Cutting the boards by hand using a metal square ruler and a sharp knife is the solution that works for me, but it does take practice, and it's slow at first. And if you are having problems cutting two boards the same size, just cut one first and then use it as a template for cutting the other. If getting the angles straight is a problem, invest in a good metal straight angle ruler.
How do you determine the correct width of spine for the covers of a case binding? I struggle always with the width of it, it is like roulette, will it be ok, or will it be bigger and then the bookblock swim in it or it will be smaller and my end papers will rip? What equation do you use?
There's no equation - just measure the width of the spine of the book block and that's it. If you're having problems measuring accurately, set aside the ruler and use a piece of paper instead. Wrap the paper around the book block spine and mark the edges of the spine on it using a pencil. Then transfer the marks to the spine card stock, and you should now have the accurate width measurement. Also, use a lighter weight material for the spine than you use on the covers! Check out my post about tips for more professional looking handmade books for more information.
I have trouble with the hinge gap. The spine is the width of the spine of the text block. But the extra width to accommodate the hinge I often get wrong. I try the method of holding text block and book boards in place and measuring 'around' with a strip of paper and marking outer shoulder of boards but it often seems to be wrong when I come to case in. Is there another way of calculating the gap between the spine strip and the placement of the cover boards? Thanks!
I don't know about a perfect formula for calculating the gap between the spine strip and the cover boards. I was taught 7mm is a good gap for most purposes, but I think that's pretty wide. I prefer 5mm for books with fairly standard thickness covers and covering materials. If your boards are particularly thick, or if you're using very thick fabric to cover them, go for a wider gap. I tend to adjust the measurements just by eyeballing what looks visually pleasing, but as I use a 5mm wide brass strip to form the gap as I glue the covers, that's my go to measurement.
Also, cut your cover boards extra wide, connect the covers and the spine with paper before covering, and measure the right width for the covers on the book block and trim off the excess. Write down the measurements at each stage and use those measurements to figure out how much wider or narrower than the book block you need the boards. Every bookbinder seems to have their individual style, so it all varies a bit. By studying your numbers you'll find out your own magic equation for board width in no time, and you can cut them the right width from the start.
Can you help with how to case in? I sometimes feel it's a bit of luck if I get the block stuck in the right place and it's of the right size.
Casing in isn't something that can be easily explained, but let's try! Here's how I do my casing in: I place the book block exactly where it needs to be between the covers, lay it on the desk and open the top cover, stick in a waste paper and an acetate film (to keep moisture away from the pages), glue the endpaper without moving the book block, remove the waste paper, support the book block by placing the tips of my right hand fingers against the fore edge, and by using my left hand I raise the cover so the spine of the cover meets the spine of the book, and then I just sort of let the cover fall onto the glued endpaper while making sure the spine doesn't wander off again. Then I just press the cover down gently but firmly, flip the book around and repeat on the other side. Once the book has been cased in, I slide in some clean waste paper between the cover and the acetate to wick moisture, but one of the most important things is to resist the urge to open the cover right after casing in, so no peeking at this stage!
Re: getting the covers the right size. Mark down the measurements you use on the books you make while you're making them, and use those measurements to create a recipe that works every time: you could end up with something like joint: 5mm, boards: height of book block+5mm x width of book block. What measurements end up working for you depend on the materials you use and your personal touch, so you need to study your own books to figure it all out. You can begin by making sure your spine strip is the right width (too wide is both ugly and bad, never go too wide), cutting the cover boards extra wide and attaching them to the spine before you trim off the excess, and then comparing that trimmed width to the width of the book block to find out what width your finished "recipe" might be. Honing that recipe takes trial and error, but once you've done that work and your own technique becomes more stable so to speak, you'll no longer need to fiddle with the details.
I have a question about the sewn boards binding I'm making. I've been following the photos on the links you have on your site (thank you!) and wondered if you really only glue around the edges of the paste down instead of gluing the whole page? I've never seen that done before. Is it to give the covers more flexibility since they aren't fully glued together either? I just worry about getting the paper smooth enough that it does't wrinkle.
Yes, only the edges are glued! The same goes for the fillers and possible extra layers that are only glued at the spine edge. Using as little glue on the covers as possible helps minimize warping, and having those little 'air pockets' between the layers actually adds stability. The covers remain lighter and more flexible than if you glued all the layers together. Re: fear of wrinkles - Here's how I do it: place the book flat on your work surface, open the cover, slide a waste paper and a plastic film (for moisture protection) under the paste down, glue the edges, remove waste paper, let the cover just flop down on its own, immediately press lightly using your hands, repeat on the other side before letting your book dry under weight. Wrinkling shouldn't be an issue if your glue isn't too runny and you work quick.
Do you also glue only the edges of the endsheets if you make a traditional case binding? I sometimes have problems with the boards warping after some week out of the press. How long would you suggest to have the book under press after you have finished it so that there would be no warping? Lastly, do you have any idea why I might have some wrinkling of the endpaper in the hinge after I have glued the book into covers?
No, on case bound books I glue the endpapers as usual. The warping of the boards is most likely due to uneven pull on the boards - usually the pull of the endpaper is greater than the pull of the cover material resulting in covers that pull inwards, but it can also go the other way round and you end up with covers curving outwards. You can try balance things out by glueing a sheet of paper on the weaker side of the boards before covering. Different papers have different pulls - a handmade paper may have a huge pull compared to something more solid, but these things can vary a lot. Give plain copy paper a try, it may well do the trick. I try to keep a book in the press for at least 8 hours after casing in, but the warping may have little to do with the press time for above reasons. Finally, the wrinkle issue - I've seen it happen when you case in a book and take a peek how it went before putting the book in the press. Opening the wet book sort of stretches the fibres in the wet hinge area resulting in wrinkling as it dries. Could this be an issue in your case? If so, no peeking! Basically just let the cover close on the glued endpaper and hope for the best. There's nothing you can do to make things better at that stage anyway!
With any Coptic binding, my concern is always fraying around the holes on the face of the covers, where the threads enter. Particularly when using bookcloth or anything that is given to fraying. The hole is you covers look impeccably neat. Is there a way of making sure they don't fray?
Most of the time I use linen fabric instead of bookcloth, so it's easy for me to just stitch between the threads in the fabric and not break any fibres while doing so, but you could try a teeny tiny bit of glue where the hole is to keep the cloth from fraying.
Do you glue down your inside cover paper after binding the text block to covers, or do you glue them down first? I rarely see photos of the inside covers of a Coptic-bound book for some reason...
I finish the covers first and sew the book last. I think having the stitches be fully visible on the inside isn't an issue at all - I'd be more bothered by them being visible bumps on the paper that lines the inside covers.
My big issue is that with long stitch binding, I can't get the foredge of my sewn signatures flush. I have a guillotine and after I punch my holes I take the stacked unsewn signatures and trim the edges with my guillotine. Then, after I sew them in, the inside papers of each signature get pulled in tighter because of the thread pulling and then the foredge has a bunch of ridges. Is there a way to actually get the foredge of your signatures nice and flush with long stitch?
The problem you have is pretty unavoidable. So, let's call it a feature instead of problem? Of course you can minimize the staggering by banging the fore-edge of the stacked signatures against the table before you put the lot into the guillotine. Or if you're working on something super special, sew the signatures together temporarily before cutting. That borders on neurotic behaviour, but I wouldn't put it past myself. Also, check out my blog post 7 tips for more professional looking handmade books - there's a tip about folding signatures that can also help you out!
I love your long stitch books and haven't ever sewn them with that pattern. I've always either sewn over the head and tail of the spine or used a kettle stitch to move to the next signature. I love the cleaner look of the way you sew yours. The only way I can figure out to do that is to jump to a new signature on the inside of the book between the signature and spine, or do you just sew one signature on at a time?
I move from one signature to the next one inside the covers, but sewing one signature at a time is also a possibility.
I just made a three-signature sewn chain stitched book. My chains were not straight on the spine even though I used a paper template for piercing them. Do you have any tricks for getting all the piercings straight?
More practice? Make sure the awl or needle you're using to make the holes is as vertical as possible, use a fiber pencil to make a more accurate template. Other than that, since you're already using a template, I've run out of suggestions...
While I'm OK with finding grain in paper, I haven't handled book cloth enough to be able to tell grain direction. How do you determine it?
The easiest way to tell grain direction on book cloth is to check the selvedge (that's the edge of cloth that is not cut). Grain direction goes along the length of the book cloth roll, so, selvedge is always parallel with the grain. If you're working with smaller pieces of cloth where it's impossible to see which way the piece was originally rolled, you can sometimes simply see which way the grain goes on the paper backing.
I want to try decked edges. What's the best paper type and weight to use? I currently use 80lb mixed media/sketch paper and I tried to tear them using a knife and it looks like a dog ate the edges haha. What's the trick? With the grain, right? What's the best paper, that's also not too expensive? Where do I start?!
First off, a little terminology: Deckled edges are the rough edges that you see on handmade paper, formed by the deckle used in the process. Torn edges have a similar look, but less gorgeous. I don't have any specific brand names to give you, since most of the time I have no idea what brand I'm using (bad bookbinder behaviour I admit, but I often buy just some random lot of suitable weight good quality drawing paper and never even get to find out the brand). The paper you've experimented with is pretty heavyweight, so I suggest you finesse your technique with lighter papers. If you're not neurotic about paper acidity recycled papers usually work extremely well and they're budget friendly. When you're tearing paper into signatures you usually can't avoid tearing into both grain directions to get the right size, so the paper has to tear well both ways. Fold the paper using a bone folder (but don't mash the fold into a complete mush) and use a knife that's not too sharp. Steady movements and no rushing until you get the technique right.
What type of glue/stitching/process do you use to get lace to reliably stay on your books? I have failed at various methods!
I use Planatol BB (bookbinding pva), but if your lace is synthetic glueing it with anything is a nightmare, so stick to natural fibres. I wrote a blog post about glueing lace that should provide more answers!
Do you do any personalisation to book covers (I.e people's names)? If so, what do you use to do this? I've tried using foil, a printer and laminator but I'm not getting the results I want. I am coming to the conclusion that I either have to buy some sort of hot foil machine or an old school type holder and stove. Both are so expensive though and I'm nervous I get the wrong thing. Any suggestions?
I actually don't do personalisation or titling on my books. I have a handheld type holder and brass type for titling fine bindings, but it's not something I use on other types of books. If you expect to do lots of personalisation, get the hot foil machine (don't know much about them, only used some ancient ones while studying). Hand tooling takes lots of practice and patience, and it's not very cost effective in general because of how slow it is (kerning the type just right etc.).
Where should a novice bookbinder begin?
I wrote a long blog post especially for you - Tips and Rescources for Beginner Bookbinders. I hope it helps!
Is there a technique or two you would recommend to beginners?
Pamphlet stitches, concertina books and Japanese stab bindings are quick ones to teach and learn. Single-needle Coptic binding and long stitch binding are a bit more demanding structures, but still great for beginners if you have a bit more time available. Glue is usually the most problematic element for beginners, so non-adhesive bindings are a good gateway to bookbinding!
Could you please indicate some bookbinders that I may use to study and learn more about?
That's a tricky one! There are so many different kinds of bookbinders out there - I recommend exploring Pinterest to find what type of work interests you. But to name a few interesting bookbinders from a variety of fields here's a short list: Keith Smith for lots of different techniques, Julie Chen for book art, Haein Song for super elegant fine binding, Philip Smith for insane fine binding, and Kate Bowles for gorgeous notebooks. I have too many favourites to list, so I opted to just pick a couple entirely different from one another...
How does your workflow go? When making a batch of books, do you collate all the signatures, then cut all the boards, then all the coverings etc. Or do you create each book in it's entirety before moving on to the next?
If I'm making books in batches, then I also do each step in batches. Otherwise I'd lose the benefit of making books in batches to begin with. It's much more efficient to do all the necessary glueing at once - less brush washing, glue gone to waste and time spent on setting up.
How did you start your journey to having a stationery/bookbinding store? Did you leave another job to begin this wonderful journey?
This is what I got my degree in! I graduated as a master bookbinder in 2006. Check out my About page to read more - I actually wrote a series of blog posts about my bookbinding studies and what drew me into bookbinding. But if you want the short story, here goes: I've always made things by hand, enjoyed art, enjoyed books, enjoyed writing, and as soon as I found out it was possible to get a degree in bookbinding I knew that's what I wanted to do. I've had other jobs at a library, a clothing store, etc. and I've studied English a bit, too, but bookbinding has always been my main focus and I've had my Etsy shop since 2007. I'm very lucky to have other income that allows me say no to custom orders and only make things I want to make. It has made it possible for me to keep bookbinding fun. Of course it's still work, but I get to set my own boundaries and take liberties most bookbinders can't. The reality of being a full time bookbinder tends to be much more busy and customer oriented than my artist oriented approach is.
Still didn't find what you're looking for? See you tomorrow on Instagram!