The Basic Binding of Books: A Tutorial



In addition to your book making materials you will need:

1) A large working area (if you don’t have a large area, you will need to clean up well after each stage)

2) Both large and small binder clips (I use them gratuitously)

3) A waste paper basket close by

4) A stack of clean scrap paper

5) Pre-cut sheets of wax paper

6) A wet cloth (for wiping glue from fingers)

7) A dry cloth

001

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.

002

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.

003

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

004

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

005

Perfect.

006

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, but 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.


008

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, most squaring up will be done on the top edge of the book for a nice clean, straight edge, and the numbers work as a place marker as to which end is up and which end is down.

009

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.

010

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.

011

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.

012

All holes have been punched.

013

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

014

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.)

015

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.

016

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.


017

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

018

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.

019

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

020

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.

021

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.) Then 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.

022

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.

023

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.

024

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.

025

All tidy!

026

Debate a bit more over your materials.

028

A Fat Tire often helps during this deliberation process.

029

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

030

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.)

031

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. For more information on how to do your own headbanding, click here.

032

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

033

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.

034

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.

036

Now we attach our signatures to the cover boards, and at this stage it will begin to resemble a *real* book! From this point forward we will use a lot of wax paper, so 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.

038

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, and give us an overhang along
the right hand edge to match the overhang along the top and bottom.

037

You can open the book cover to check if the mull is in place, and if so 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.

039

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

041

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.

042

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.

035

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.

043

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.)

044

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.

045

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. ??
046

Now it is time to glue the turnover. We do tops and bottoms first. lay your project over a piece of wax paper 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.

047

048

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 (if necessary) while the glue dries. Place entire book under weights for 1/2 an hour.

049

To finish up our book we need to glue down the first and last pages to the cover boards, hiding 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 and, 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.

050

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.

051

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.

052

The end result.




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58 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Hi Jamie – awesome tutorial on bookbinding. Hope you still plan to do one for mitred corners. If not, can you suggest some of your favorite sites for custom bookmaking? Thanks! Kay

  2. Hi Kay! One of my favorite tutorials can be found at BookArtsWeb. It’s a springback book tutorial for ledger style books that “pop” open and lie flat: http://www.philobiblon.com/springback-eng/index.html. They also have a ton of links to other great tutorials here: http://www.philobiblon.com/tutorials.shtml.

  3. I was just perusing your amazing tutorial on bookbinding and am writing to seek permission to add it to the Ladybug Markets Post a project forum space. Of course you would be given full credit as well as links back to your creative web space. I truly believe the craft community will enjoy your work and be very inspired!
    Kind regards,
    Jennine.
    Oh, please feel free to check out the site! http://www.ladybugmarkets.com

  4. Jennine, absolutely you may add my bookbinding tutorial to your forum! I’m happy to share it with anyone interested in the craft. I’ve looked at your site, and if you can provide a small promotional banner (150×150) I would be delighted to link to Ladybug Markets in my sidebar. If you are interested you can contact me at pipedreamer78 @ gmail . com

  5. Hey I love your book binding tutorial. What is the complete list of materials needed?

  6. Sonia

    Hi,
    I just wanted to say thank you for posting your lovely book binding tutorial!
    I’ve never done it before in my life but it went quite smoothly by following your instructions. I’m really happy because i have a deadline very soon and I need to bind a book and I was freaking out because I didn’t know how to do it.

    So, thank you so much for taking your time to make it and sharing it! 🙂

    All the best,
    Sonia

  7. What a great find! Your bookbinding tutorial is so well written, and the pictures are great! Thank you!

  8. Hello Jamie

    My name is Richard Norman. I run the Eden Workshops website at http://www.edenworkshops.com.

    I think your site is great fun and a very useful resource, I wonder would you be interested in exchanging links with us?

    Drop me a line if you are agreeable.

    Kind Regards

    Richard

    edenworkshops@orange.fr

  9. Gabrielle

    I think this is fantastic! It’s not exactly an easy process, but it’s cool and worthwhile. I was wondering how you learned to do this and whether it is a hobby or part of your work? Thank you for posting! It must have been fairly labor-intensive to post it.

  10. ADF

    Wonderful tutorial! I’m excited to starting my first book binding project. I’d be interested in more information about the mitered corners for the cloth cover.

  11. kristianna

    awesome, can’t wait to finish my book and bind it after! thanks for posting the tutorial, would love the rest!

  12. M

    This is wonderful! I’m learning to bind books for my senior project, so this was incredibly helpful as a starter.

  13. Anonymous

    Hi! I’m learning how to bind books for my senior project, and would really appreciate any tips you have. I’ll most likely be making paperback journals, but after reading your tutorial am thinking about making a couple hardcover scrapbooks, or a printed book with some poetry and art of mine.

    -M

  14. Natasha Cunningham

    Thanks for sharing this. I have always wanted to learn how to bind books on my own and now I have a great beginner’s point to jump off from. Photos are very clear as well…thank you.

  15. Gzn

    Thank You! Very clear, very informative – would love to see more!

  16. Melinda F.

    This was very informative!

  17. Dr Dave Augustine Akkara

    Excellent Tutorial…Thank You…

  18. Balamurugan Vellaichamy

    thank you so much

  19. Katrad

    I’m thinking about making a book about my paintings. Thank-you for your info about binding.

  20. Cindy

    This is one of the best tutorials I have seen – thank you!

  21. Victoria

    My self publishing experience from an editorial house in Canada hasn’t been favorable. I find used books of mine on the web for sale and I have never received any money from royalties. Beware.

  22. AlasdairM

    Excellent demystifying tutorial. However I would have liked a diagram of exactly how the sewing is achieved.

  23. param

    very nice…

  24. Mooshling

    Very well done, Thank-you. Best I have found so far, as my fav bookbinding manual is in storage (now that I have the time to actually try these things). I especially like the deliberation ‘aid’ – very much my style, all my best deliberating is done like this.

  25. Carolyn Wolfe

    Excellant. Thanks for clear directions! A beginner.cjw.

  26. Victoria

    It was great. However, I intend to mass produce my books and your tutorial for the particular book you chose will be time consuming. It also requires lots of patience which I don’ have.

  27. Robert

    This is one of the best tutorials I have seen on the subject. The sewing, for me, is the most confusing part. But thank you for taking the time to put up this tutorial.

  28. Jillian Crowley

    Very helpful, thank you! I’d be interested in that mitered corner tutorial you mentioned! I’ve always wanted to learn this art form, and I think now I have the information I need. It might help for beginners if you explained the terms you use, like mull and headband. I figured it out, but it took me a minute. Thanks again!

  29. Laura James

    Great tutorial with clear photos, thanks!

  30. Hazel Steenman

    Great tutorial that clearly explained bookbinding. Where is the tutorial on head banding and corner folding? Looking forward to them! Thanks! For the good value here.

  31. Mari

    Thank you very much for this tutorial. It saves me to buy another clutter in my house. This is the best step by step tutorial for book binding:)

  32. Bob

    This super- neat tutorial removes the “fear of starting” a bookbinding project. Not necessarily simple but exceedingly clear.

  33. Fay onyx

    This is beautiful, detailed, and clear. Thank you! I am a artist who has started out by doing open-spined books (coptic stitch and other similar approaches) and I’m starting to work on a more traditional book project. I would be very interested to hear a bit more about how you attach decorative end papers.Do you simply glue them to the page that is already glued down? Do you have any techniques that help you line things up? Or do you make the outer page of the text block the endpaper?

  34. Elle

    Your book looks wonderful! Does it lie truly flat when opened?

  35. Aimee

    We are using your bookbinding tutorial for our homeschool “medieval manuscript” project. Thank you for such a well-planned introduction to the world of book making.

  36. BigJohnnyHardpants

    Groovy. Thanks man.

  37. Marilyn

    Fantastic tutorial. It was easy to follow and my first attempt at making a book came out fabulous. Thank you so much for posting this.

  38. Lisa L. Cross

    Wonderful tutorial. Would VERY MUCH love ANY in-depth additions you’d like to share. I learned the basics of bookbinding from Peggy McNee, when I was a child, and am planning on passing those joys on to my daughter and a neighbor’s son over the upcoming summer break. I can’t WAIT! It’s a wonderful, stress relieving, creative way to pass the time. Thank you again!

  39. Johannah henderson

    Thankyou so much for this wonderful tutorial! It helped me produce an amazing book for my final degree in music and visual arts. So proud of it and so happy to have gone through the process of actually making a book. The tutorial was clear and really easy to follow (although I made a few mistakes along the way!) Thanks again 🙂

  40. Al

    Awesome tutorial!!! I ran across this almost by accident and can’t wait to start my own project! Any in-depth additional information about anything else (mitered corners, etc.) would be more than appreciated! Thanks for posting!

  41. Louise Rule

    Very informative. I am new to book binding, and have a few books on it, all different. I have watched quite a few YouTube videos on it also. Your demonstration has helped me immensely, and for that I thank you.

  42. Kai

    Thanks for these guidelines! I managed to make a lovely photo album 🙂

  43. Bia de Oliveira

    Hello Jamie,
    Thank you so much for your basic binding tutorial. It’s just wonderful and thanks to it I was able to bind my first book!
    I just have a question and was hoping you could help me.
    On page 4 of the tutorial you explain the gluing of the signatures and you say:
    “Continue flipping the book and gluing the gaps between signatures until you reach the center of the book….”
    Won’t the other half of the signatures have a gap between them once the mull is placed?
    Shouldn’t the gluing be done to all the signatures?
    Thank you so very much for your help!
    Kindly,
    Bia

  44. Donna T

    Love this tutorial. I only wish is I could print it. I have a very limited work area and most paper craft I print it out so I can do it anywhere, any time. I am also a little weird about my tutorials looking nice clean and orderly (no ads or other non-related things on it other than header, footer. Your tutorial thus far has been more detailed. So if you know of any way I can print it out for my ever growing crafts tutorial I would be very happy. As I said before this is a great tutorial, good job.

  45. Mystic WolfWoman

    what a wonderful tut… so well written and the photos really help a lot ~ thank you so much for sharing! i would
    definitely be interested in learning more about doing the corners, should you decide to write that one =) can’t wait to gather the materials and give this a go!!

  46. I’m getting back into bookbinding and this tutorial is priceless. Can’t wait to finish my first book in…8 years!
    Thanks for putting the time into this!

  47. Blair B

    Hey Jamie! I’m using your bookbinding tutorial to make a journal and I’m having trouble with what paper to use. Is there a certain kind you buy specifically for bookmaking? Or is it just scrapbook paper or what? Any advice wold be great. Thanks!
    -Blair

  48. Kaylee B.

    i would be so interested in seeing tutorials about headbanding and folding the covers!! I want to try this so bad!

  49. Petra

    Very clear and instructive tutorial. Thank you very much.

  50. PAOLA

    EXCELENTE TUTORIAL DESDE AQUÍ ARGENTINA BENDICIONES INTENTARE HACER UNO PARA MIS HIJITAS

  51. mala pekora

    ma gustao

  52. mala pekora

    de lujo xikillo

  53. mala pekora

    nos vemos su marno

  54. Vonda Oakley

    This is the best book binding demonstration I have seen. Would love to see a demo on the headbands and how to fold the cover corners down so it looks neat and clean. Thanks for taking the time to show us the correct way of binding a book. I love the finished product.

  55. Vik Aroo

    I don’t know what I’ll do if you ever take this bookbinding tutorial down. I’ve used it for my last 3 books and I hope to continue to use it. Great, great tutorial, thank you!

  56. M Skee

    An excellent tutorial! Thank you so much for posting it. I look forward to reading your others.

  57. Sílvio André Barth

    Thank you very much!

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