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The Basic Binding of Books: A Tutorial


Do you want to learn about binding books? Here is everything basic that you need to know in one bookbinding tutorial. Anyone can follow these easy steps. Comment at the bottom if you like this.


Preparation

In addition to your book making materials you will need:

  • A large working area (if you don’t have a large area, you will need to clean up well after each stage)
  • Both large and small binder clips (I use them gratuitously)
  • A waste paper basket close by
  • A stack of clean scrap paper
  • Pre-cut sheets of wax paper
  • A wet cloth (for wiping glue from fingers)
  • A dry cloth

Signature block

Binding books tutorial: folding signatures with a bone folder

Start by deciding how many pages and what dimensions you wish your book to be. It is helpful to fold pages with a bone folder. This saves your fingertips and gives you a good crease. Fold on the paper grain (the grain should run parallel with the spine). Here I fold seven signatures with six sheets per signature.

Binding books tutorial: compressing signatures to make flat

Clamping the spine end with large binder clips (here I use cardboard to protect the pages) and allowing to compress overnight helps with having flatter signatures for sewing.

Binding books tutorial: make a pattern

It helps to make a pattern of your page for later use in measuring and cutting board, endpages, etc.

Lay one of your signatures on a blank page and trace, then cut.

Binding books tutorial: make a pattern

Perfect.

Binding books tutorial: measure and cut mull cloth and linen tape

Measure and cut linen tape and mull cloth for the backbone. I use a 50/50 cotton/linen blend for both my tapes and mull. For a large book you will want 3 strips of tape. For this small book I will use two at a 1/2 inch width. Cut the mull cloth about a half inch shorter at top and bottom than the length of the spine, and 2 inches wider on either side of the spine.

Binding books tutorial: number your signatures to keep in order

Number your signatures at the bottom of the page near the spine. This is especially important if your pages have printed material on them. This ensures that everything stays in the correct order. Also, squaring up will be done on the top edge of the book for a clean, straight edge. The numbers work as a place marker as to which end is up and which end is down.

Binding books tutorial: mark spine to prep for hole punching

Next we mark the spine to show where to punch holes for sewing. I square up the pages and then clamp with binder clips to hold everything tidy.

Binding books tutorial: mark lines on backbone of signatures

Mark 1/2 an inch from each end, and then evenly space marks on either side of where your tapes will lie across the backbone, allowing just a little extra room on either side so that the stitching doesn’t pinch your tapes. Make sure your lines are even and straight.

Binding books tutorial: punch holes for sewing with an awl or needle
Binding books tutorial: punching holes for sewing

Time to punch holes at your marks with an awl or needle. Use a very narrow needle so your holes are not unnecessarily large. Unfold your signature, paying careful attention to keep everything aligned, and gently push the awl through from the outside just enough to make a hole.

Binding books tutorial: punch holes

All holes have been punched.

Binding books tutorial: choose sturdy thread

Clear off your workspace and assemble your materials for sewing. Choose a sturdy thread (unbleached linen thread is good) and an appropriately sized needle.

Binding books tutorial: wax thread for durability

Draw a length of thread, 20 or 30 inches in length, across a beeswax block two or three times to coat. This helps your thread to stay tangle-free and helps prevent tears in your paper while sewing. Thread can be rough on paper, so coat it good. (Fabric stores often sell little kits for waxing your thread.)

Binding books tutorial: sew signatures together

To begin sewing, start with your last signature and work forward. This is where a sewing frame would come in handy, but I don’t find it to be necessary for smaller books. Your tapes will be held into place as you sew over them. Knot your thread and push the needle into the end hole at the right to start.

Binding books tutorial: sew signatures, keeping everything snug

From inside the signature push the needle back out the second hole, cross over the tape and down into the third hole. Continue in this fashion until you’ve completed the first signature and your needle is out the end hole. For the first signature simply sew back down into the end hole on the next signature. Continue sewing back across the second signature until you come out the end hole on the right. Tug to make sure everything is snug, but don’t pull hard enough to tear the paper. Then tie your thread around and below the original knot.

Continue adding signatures (taking care to keep them in order!) and sewing them together in the same fashion. At the end of each row loop your thread under the thread of the previous signature, and then again through the loop that you just made. Pull snug. This keeps everything secure.

Binding books tutorial: sew signatures together
Binding books tutorial: sewing the signatures together

When you’ve sewn together all signatures, loop and tie off your thread.

Binding books tutorial: tug tapes to remove wrinkles from sewing

Tug tapes to remove any wrinkles that may have built up during sewing and adjust so that there is the same amount of excess on either side of the spine. Good.

Binding books tutorial: notice the gap

You will notice first thing that between your signatures there is a pretty obvious gap, even if you sewed snugly. This is normal when binding books.

Binding books tutorial: glue together the gaps, pressing firmly

Take a piece of folded scrap paper and lay it 1/8 of an inch away from the gap between the first and second signature. Pressing the scrap paper down, spread a thin layer of glue (I’m using an Acid Free/Photo Safe rubber cement because it dries quickly and won’t wrinkle the paper) down near the gap. Remove the scrap paper, close the book and press down firmly for 10 seconds. Carefully flip the book and do the same to the last signature.

Continue flipping the book and gluing the gaps between signatures until you reach the center of the book. When you’ve finished, put the pages in clamps and allow to set. This process forms a temporary bond to hold the signatures in place until the backs are glued.

Binding books tutorial: glue the mull onto backbone

It is time to glue the mull onto the backbone of the book. A press would be useful here to hold your book spine end up.

Lay your mull across the backbone of the book and center it. There should be a two inch overlap on either side. Take a pencil and rub the side of the tip gently across the edges of the spine to make a mark on the mull. This will give us a guide to know where to spread the glue. I am using a PVA glue that stays flexible when dry. Coat the center of the mull with glue between where we have marked with pencil lines.

Work the glue down into the weave of the fabric. (I like to use my fingers for all gluing. I’ve found I can work it in better, get a nice even spread, I can feel what I am doing better, and clean up is easier. Regardless of whether you use a brush or your fingers, keep a damp cloth and a dry cloth nearby for quick clean up.) Spread glue across the backbone of the book, working it down in between the signatures and into the weave of the tapes. When this is done, center and press the mull down onto the spine.

Binding books tutorial: leave a 1/2 inch at the top and bottom of the spine
Binding books tutorial: gluing the mull cloth

There should be about 1/2 an inch at the top and bottom of the spine that is not covered by mull. Spread more glue across the top of the mull and work it into the weave. Keep the book in clamps or press for a couple of hours or overnight to dry.

Prepare cover materials

Binding books tutorial: start preparing cover boards

In the meantime you can start preparing the cover boards and, in my case, make many last minute changes as to what materials you plan to use.

Using your pattern as a guide, measure out your cover boards. (Here I am using pressed illustration board.) You will want the width to be the same as your book page pattern (this will be staggered a bit to cause an overhang) and with 1/8 of an inch additional at the top and bottom. The spine board should be approximately the thickness of your book PLUS the thickness of your cover boards. Do yourself a favor and double check your measurements! (I speak this from experience. Ahem.) Using the pattern against your measurements is a good way to eyeball indicate if you are off.

When you are sure everything is accurate cut your boards with either a bandsaw, a jigsaw, or if your board of choice permits it, an exacto knife or box cutter against a straight edge.

Binding books tutorial: clean up edges with sandpaper

Your edges may look rough. Take a roll of sandpaper and slough off any gnarly bits, at the same time softening the hard edges and corners. If you rub with your sandpaper in a circular motion, moving back and forth across the edge of the board you should get a good, even edge. Otherwise, parts may sand down more than others and you will end up with a lumpy edge, which is not good.

Binding books tutorial: remove rough edges with sandpaper

All tidy!

Binding books tutorial: choose materials for cover and end papers

Debate a bit more over your materials.

Binding books tutorial: deliberate with a Fat Tire

A Fat Tire often helps during this deliberation process.

Binding books tutorial: tightening and shrinking of the mull is ok

Our mull is dry! There may be a bit of tightening / shrinking as the glue dries, but this is okay.

Headbanding

Binding books tutorial: add headbanding

I want to do headbanding on this book, so we need to punch more holes. Measure and mark where your holes will be, just above the top of the mull, using the same method as before. To punch holes, hold each signature open and punch through from the outside, paying careful attention that the needle comes through in the center of the crease on the inside of the signature. (A piece of cardboard is useful like a bookmark.)

Binding books tutorial: sew headbands with embroidery thread of different colors

For headbanding you need a length of cord to loop around and (for two toned headbands) two lengths of embroidery thread in different colors tied together at the end. Wax all of these with your beeswax block.

Clip completed signatures out of the way

I keep completed signatures clipped with a binder clip to keep them out of the way and keep myself more organized.

Cut off excess embroidery thread and trim cord
Binding books tutorial: headbanding

All done. Cut off excess embroidery thread. Also trim cord to within 1/8 inch on either side. This can be trimmed more precisely later with a razor blade. Touch a bit of glue on the ends to keep embroidery thread from unraveling.

The cover

Place cover boards over cover material to trace

Commit to a cover material, either fabric or paper, and lay face down. Place your cover boards across the back of your material and trace. You want the gap between the spine and cover boards to be approximately the thickness of two boards. Then, using your cover boards as a pattern, measure and mark 1/2 inch around each side. This will give us enough excess for turnover. Cut out your material.

Attach signatures to cover boards
Binding books tutorial: attaching the cover boards

Now we attach our signatures to the cover boards. At this stage it will begin to resemble a *real* book! From this point forward we will use a lot of wax paper. It is easier to cut a whole stack of sheets to size, slightly larger than your cover, and have those within easy reach. With your book pages face up in front of you, place two sheets of wax paper beneath the mull but above the tapes. Spread glue across the mull, working it well down into the weave. Remove the top sheet of wax paper and discard.

Press cover board onto the mull

Carefully align and press the cover board onto the mull. Stagger the cover boards about 1/8 inch from the spine. This allows our book to open and close freely without scraping against the spine board. It also gives us an overhang along the right hand edge to match the overhang along the top and bottom.

Use a rubbing cloth to work out wrinkles

Open the book cover to check if the mull is in place. Use a rubbing cloth to stick the mull firmly down and work out any wrinkles or air bubbles. Leave the second sheet of wax paper in place to keep glue from sticking to your pages. Flip the book over and attach the back board in the same way. Place under weights for about 1/2 an hour.

Put under weight for a 1/2 an hour

Here I use a handy dandy gigantic book on China, which is very heavy.

Attach tapes to the cover board

Using the same method as above, spread glue and attach the tapes to the cover board. (You can trim your tapes to be flush with the mull if you want.) Flip and do the same for the back cover.

Your book should stand on end with no slanting or unevenness
Binding books tutorial: attaching cover boards

If you’ve paid careful attention to alignment your book should stand on it’s end with no slanting or unevenness. Place the book under weights for an hour.

Cover material

Attach the spine board to your chosen cover material

While waiting you can attach the spine board to your cover material. With the material face down, rub glue into the spine area (which should be marked with pen or pencil. In this case you can’t see the lines because my material backing is black, but they are there.) Center and press your spine board into place. Flip the material over and use a rubbing cloth on wax paper to work out any wrinkles or air bubbles, and then flip back over. Place under weights and allow to dry.

Ribbon bookmark

Attach a ribbon bookmark

I’m attaching a ribbon bookmark, so when the mull and tapes have sufficiently dried the book is turned onto it’s side and I position my ribbon across the mull on the spine. Using my fingers I glue it down and saturate back of the ribbon also with glue. Cover with wax paper and place this under weight for about 1/2 an hour to dry. (Note: if you are using glued on headbands you may attach the ribbon beneath the headband, rather than on the outside.)

Attach a ribbon bookmark
Binding books tutorial: attaching the ribbon bookmark

Now it’s time to attach our cover boards to the cloth or paper cover. Using the guidelines that we marked on the back of the material previously, spread glue all over the inner area of the front cover material, allowing a bit to go outside the lines. Carefully align and press the front cover onto the glued area, making adjustments as needed to keep it centered. When aligned properly, flip the book over and use a rubbing cloth over wax paper to work out and bubbles or wrinkles. Press the material down into the crack between the cover board and the spine board.

Press beneath weight for an hour
Binding books tutorial: attaching the cover boards to cloth or paper

Do the same for the back cover, then place beneath weights for an hour.

The next step is to miter the corners. I would like to do a more in-depth tutorial on this later if there is interest. ??

Glue down the turnover
Glue down the turnover

Now it is time to glue the turnover. We glue tops and bottoms first. Lay your project over a piece of wax or scrap paper and spread glue all the way across the top edge of the turnover. Turn the book on it’s end and start turning the material in at the spine. Bend it down behind the backs of the signatures. You can use your bone folder if necessary to work it down and press it flat. Then work your way along the top edge to the left and right and fold over the turnover with your fingers, working out any wrinkles as you go. Flip the book over and do the same with the bottom edge.

Fold the corners down and glue
Binding books tutorial: folding down corners

Again, a more detailed tutorial is necessary for folding corners. There are different ways of doing this, and with thicker materials (as I am using here) it can be tricky. After gluing down corners and side edges I use small binder clips to hold bulky areas down while the glue dries. Place entire book under weights for 1/2 an hour.

Glue down the end pages
Binding books tutorial: attaching the end pages

End papers

To finish up our book we need to glue down the first and last pages to the cover boards. This will hide the unattractive mull and tapes. Place two pieces of wax paper beneath the first page and spread glue, first near the spine, then working outward to the edge of the page. You will have to work quickly because the paper will suck up the glue and start to wrinkle. Discard the top sheet of wax paper, then lift carefully the bottom sheet of wax paper. Using the flat side of your hand, press the paper into the cover board. Work up from near the spine until the whole page is attached. If the alignment is crooked, gently unstick and re-align.

Use a rubbing cloth to work out wrinkles

When everything is in place, use a rubbing cloth to work out any wrinkes or bubbles. Place an extra sheet or two of scrap paper beneath the wax paper and close the book firmly. The extra paper keeps moisture from the glue from being absorbed into the other pages of your book, which will wrinkle them.

Flip your book over and attach the last page in the same fashion.

Press under weight overnight

When completed, place the entire book under weights overnight. A good, long dry under pressure is necessary so that your book doesn’t warp. Afterward you can attach decorative end papers if you wish, using the same method.

End result

The final result

The end result.

Have any questions? Send me a quick message, or leave a public comment below.

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