Heat Treated Tonkin Hera


I’ve done some research and ramped up the quality of the bamboo I use to make hera.

First I have decided to use Tonkin, a super strong and resilient bamboo which is used by bamboo fly fishing rod makers. As evident in the image above, it has a preponderance of dark “power fibers”, which give it strength and a pleasing density.  Look at the end of a chopstick for comparison, which is generally pure white weak pith. There are over 1,000 species of bamboo.

I’ve also decided to heat treat the bamboo after initial shaping.  Dr. Wolfram Schott has a fantastic paper, Bamboo in the Laboratory, if you are interested in more details. His Bamboo under the Microscope is also highly recommended. Both breaking strength and modulus of elasticity increases according to his research and tradition in rod making. I’m not totally convinced it makes a difference for such small tools, but it certainly doesn’t seem to hurt. And the stove adds a comfortable warmth on these increasingly cold fall days!

Heat treated Tonkin Hera for sale, $25


New Hera

Feeding Fingers

Appletons’ Modern Mechanism Supplement of 1895 contains an excellent bookbinding machinery section. The article mentions that machines haven’t changed significantly in the past decade, but performance and efficiency are improved. Chamber’s rotary board cutter is a particular beauty.  I find these hybrid cast iron and wood machines quite interesting since we usually think of machinery as consisting one of the other, not both. Note the automatic board advancement pins on the bed of the machine, which are called “feeding fingers”. OUCH!

An Easy Way to Improve an Olfa Knife


 Be sure to tighten the blade holder with the blade in place!

Almost every bookbinder I have met uses 9mm Olfa snap off knives. Simply by squeezing the blade holder a bit tighter with a needle nose pliers, the performance and feel of any Olfa  knife is greatly improved: it doesn’t wiggle around so much, it is easier to place more accurately, the knife feels more solid, there is no more annoying rattle, and the blade breaks off more consistently. Why didn’t I think of this 25 years ago?



Dividers; or, What Problem?

stevens dividers

Some of my dividers.  

Sara Bryant of Big Jump Press wrote a breathlessly enthusiastic ode to dividers last month on her blog. Apart from extolling the virtues of comparison measurement, she wondered aloud if she perhaps was becoming a hoarder beause she has six pairs, and if it might be a problem.

My dear Sara, rest assured, you do not have a problem.

stevens divider

My favorite dividers, a 19th century Stevens & Co. Note the unusual, and extremely elegant position of the adjustment screw above the pivot point.

Paring on Glass

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Charles Tomas Jacobi The Printers’ Handbook of Trade Recipes, Hints & Suggestions  (London: Chiswick Press, 1891), 265.

Yes, yes, and yes. Note there is no mention of a litho stone. 18th century paring surfaces seem to generally be marble, I suspect the only reason litho stones became popular was that they were a cheap plentiful source of a flat surface in the late 19th. Save the litho stones for the printers or your beautiful bookbinding photography.

The Movie “Art and Craft”: A Conservator’s Perspective

I recently saw the movie “Art and Craft”, a documentary about the the contemporary forger Mark Landis.  It raises a number of issues that I find interesting, and his forgery of the Mona Lisa is currently on display at Think Coffee (Mercer St. location) in NYC. The entire post is on the American Institute of Conservation’s Blog, link below.

“Conservators have an uneasy relationship with forgery. Often knee-jerk reactions arise: outrage, indignation, feelings of being duped, and sometimes a closet admiration of a particular craft skill. While certainly valid, and generally true, they can be somewhat of a conversation stopper. Deep down, I find myself a bit envious that forgers get so much media attention, and that this attention is generally overwhelmingly sympathetic. Conservation is just as interesting, right?

Some examinations of philosophic aspects forgery within the field of conservation include… Read the rest on AIC’s Conservators Converse Blog

Tips On Making a Delrin Folder

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In this scene from Stanley Kubrick’s classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, the ape is dissatisfied with the properties of natural bone. I suspect he wants a Delrin club. Here is a great explication of the film.

Seriously, animals do tinker with their tools, and so can you. It is an intensely satisfying experience. It gives you a lot of freedom and confidence in designing, executing and using a specific tool for your individual needs. It is interesting to see how tools you have made wear, perform and even may fail in use.

While bone can only be harvested from dead animals, Delrin is mass produced and easily obtained from many suppliers. It is a very hard plastic, originally invented by Du Pont in 1960 to bridge the gap between plastics and metal. There is a dust hazard, as there is for wood, so you should review the MSDS and wear PPE.


1. PLANNING.  It is a good idea to think and experiment a bit with what you like, or don’t like in the folders you are currently using. Monica Holtsclaw has a great introduction to various shaped folders for various purposes. How do you hold it? Do you use both ends? Do you like sharp or rounded angles? Is it for scoring, folding, and/or burnishing? What different operations do you intend to use it for? Making a crude mockup out of binders board glued together for thickness can give a much better sense of what the actual product might feel like and fit your hand. Alternatively, full size scale diagrams are also quite informative. Here is my idea of the ideal shape.

2. ORDERING MATERIALS AND TOOLS.  Obviously, it is easiest to order the Delrin closest to the size you need for the final shape. Mc-Master Carr carries an extensive variety of sizes, but consider yourself warned; their website is more addictive than cheap baggies of high potency heroin. As far as tools, I recommend a 24 tpi hacksaw if you don’t have a bandsaw, a small vice, an 8-inch coarse bastard file with handle, a woodworkers card scraper, a burnisher for putting and keeping the hook on the scraper, and an assortment of 3M sanding sponges for final polishing.

3. ROUGHING OUT. Delrin is easily marked with a soft pencil. Cut it out using a bandsaw or 24tpi hacksaw. The more care you take in cutting evenly and accurately the less time you will need to spend cleaning it up later. A bandsaw makes the roughing out much quicker and I find it easier to get a more accurate cut. Indeed, a bandsaw makes everything — even mistakes and accidents — much quicker.

4. SHAPING. Initial shaping is most easily accomplished by filing. I prefer an 8 inch Nicholson Magicut.  It works well on wood, plastics and laminates. I find the older ones made in USA better made the the newer imported ones. Alternatively any coarse bastard file can be used. Always mount a handle, otherwise the tang can cause serious injury. Grinding or sandpaper tends to produce very deep scratches that are difficult to remove, and I would be nervous about the amount of dust generated. I have experimented a bit with a plane and spokeshave, which kind of worked, but resulted in lots of chatter, unpredictable chipping, and a difficult to clean up surface. It can also be shaped with metal working tools such as a milling machine. And who isn’t looking for a good excuse to buy a table top milling machine?

5. FINISHING.  I find hand scraping (with a woodworkers card scraper) produces the most successful surface finish after filing. You will need to learn how to sharpen it and turn the burr. Scraping is also virtually dust free, since the shavings are a couple of a thousandths of an inch thick and tend not to become airborne. There is some other good advice on finishing Delrin from this thread in the Practical Machinist. In general, the finish of Delrin reflects the tool used. Delrin is very clean and nonabrasive, consequently your tools stay sharp for a very long time. It is a great way to learn about scraping, since it doesn’t have a grain direction to worry about like wood.  A final polish with a progression of 3m sanding sponges, gives it a pretty good finish. The higher the polish the easier it is to clean, and I find the more bone-like it feels.

Delrin is not yet easily available to use in a 3d printer, though I suspect it will be in a couple of months/ years. This could be very cool: one of the most useful and intimate bookbinding tools to be customized and printed on demand. For now, stock reduction is not all that difficult. I’d be interested to hear if anyone has experimented with other plastics for folders.

If you have a bit of experience shaping metal or wood, Delrin is not that different. It is a slightly challenging, but rewarding material to work with hand tools. If making tools is not your cup of tea, you can always purchase a ready to use folder from me, and use this info to tweak it a bit to suit your personal preferences.

I’ve planned a workshop on making Delrin folders. I’ll give it a test drive in a couple of weeks on full time North Bennet Street School bookbinding students. Contact me if you are interested in hosting something similar at your location.


delrin in progress