Tag Archives: bookbinding

Delrin Lifting Tool


Top of Delrin lifting tool. The tip is sharp for about an inch on each side. The rest of the tool edges are rounded for a comfortable grip..


Detail of the general shape of the tip.


Detail of the gradual reduction in thickness at the tip.

This delrin lifting tool is useful for general lifting, mechanical backing removal, and whenever you need to gently pry or delaminate something. Both book and paper conservators will find this an essential component of their toolkit. Although it is thicker than the carbon fiber lifter I make and sell, it has a slightly lower coefficient of friction, so slides a bit better, and it is more ridgid. If you like your teflon lifter but are tired of how easily the cutting edge bends, this might be the tool for you. Obviously, it is not as durable as metal.  But it is always great to have as wide of a range of tools as possible.  These delrin lifters are hand sharpened to achieve the best possible balance between initial cutting performance and edge retention. The edge is easy to maintain by sanding or scraping. Click on “Tool Catalog” above for ordering information.

DELRIN LIFTING TOOL.  Around 12 x 1 x .125″.  $40


The Importance of Papryus in the Sixth Century

In the sixth century, Cassiodorus wrote this wonderful description of the impact of writing on papyrus on the thought process:

“Before [papyrus was discovered] the sayings of the wise, the thoughts of the ancients were in danger. For how could the writer have been able to write quickly, when, the hardness of the bark resisting him he would scarcely have been able to be ready? The excitement of the mind submits to the unfitting hindrances; when the words are harassed, the mental powers are compelled to grow lukewarm … This was fit only for the beginnings of the world. Then papyrus was discovered, and therewith was eloquence made possible … So smooth and so continuous, the snowy entrails of a green herb, which keeps the sweet harvest of the mind, and resorts it to the reader whenever he chooses to consult it; which is the faithful witness to all human action.”

-Elspeth Whitney, “Paradise Restored: The Mechanical Arts from Antiquity through the Thirteenth Century”, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 80, Part 1, (1990): 67.

Book Slate

Nelson’s School Series Book Slate for Home and Student Use (London & Edinburgh: T. Nelson and Sons, [1900?]) is an odd structure, a diptych in a case binding. The exterior looks like a standard quarter cloth case binding with printed paper sides. The interior, however, is made from a painted slate-like material. It can be written on and erased. The earliest known diptych is from 14th-century BCE, making the codex seem like a newbie.  Is the laptop a 20th century iteration? Long live the diptych!

book slate

Nelson’s Book Slate. Exterior front board. This is a well used, but largely intact book. My Collection.

book slate 2

Nelson’s Book Slate. Open. Chalk marks of addition and subtraction. My Collection.

Sobering Statistics Concerning Book Conservation

There are some sobering statistics in The FY2014 Preservation Statistics Report, by Annie Peterson, Holly Robertson, and Nick Szydlowski.  Eighty-seven cultural institutions responded; primarily academic libraries. Although the authors caution about extrapolating the data since the respondents were self-selecting, I find it difficult not to view the results as roughly indicative of general trends in libraries. The most striking finding is the steady decline in the money spent for bound volumes.

The treatments reported tend to be quite utilitarian, more aimed at circulating rather than special collections. For example, a Level 1 treatment takes less than 15 minutes, a Level 2 between 15 and 120 minutes, a level 3 more than 120 minutes. Most conservation treatments for special collections materials take much longer than 120 minutes.

The authors report that “from 2000 to 2014, total conservation treatment of bound volumes declined faster than commercial binding; treatment declined by 77% in that period, while commercial binding declined by only 69%.”  This survey includes in-house and outsourced conservation activities: 92% of respondents had at least some type of in house conservation program, and 70% outsourced at least some treatments. In all, the survey encompasses the treatment of 1.6 million items.  The only growth area is a slight—though not dramatic— increase in spending for digitizing and in reformatting of audiovisual materials.

No, the sky is not falling, but as a book conservator, it is worrisome to see these trends. Frankly, I don’t see the situation changing significantly in the coming decades, until we reach the point where the book and the text have become totally individuated. Then, hopefully, the book will experience a reappraisal.

It is well worth reading the full report:  The FY2014 Preservation Statistics Report.

Historic Book Structures for Conservators 2015: One month, seventy-two books, seven students, and one tired instructor

historic structures class 2015

L-R: Jeff Peachey, Emilie Kracen, Catherine Stephens, Fionnuala Gerrity, Katherine Le, Diana Avelar Pires, Amber Hares, Valeria Kremser


Cat Stevens spokeshaving an alum tawed skin. You need a very sharp spokeshave, modified for leather work, to tame this abrasive material.


photo 2-2

Katherine Le ploughing on a vintage Hickock “Amateur or Small Size” press and plough. Oddly, in a catalog ca. 1940 the regular and small size are the same price. I would be happy to trade my small one for a regular size!

photo 3-2

Fionnuala Gerrity using a low angle block plane to shape her wooden boards. She is using a  Lee Valley Veritas Apron Plane, which is a great value at less than $100.


A model of a ca. 1500 Italian long stitch book made with guest Instructor Maria Fredericks.

photo 4-2

Elissa O’Loughlin giving a demonstration of semi-traditional Japanese paste making. Wait, how did she get into this class?!?

photo 5

Val Kresmer carving some channels in her wood boards. In front of her are some of the bookbinding, woodworking and metalworking tools for the class.


Amber Hares sewing a primary end band with a back bead on a 16th C. German model. This will later be covered with a secondary two color front bead.


diana cutting boards

Diana Avalar Pires cutting through pasteboards with a reproduction 18th C. pointe for her full calf French model.

emily fraying slips

Emilie Kracen fraying and pointing slips.

On Rushing



Rushing is an insidious demon in craft work. Its lures are many. It occludes the memory of its last appearence, trapping you once again. Resist with constant vigilance!

The Importance of Extra Binding

“I pity those who call themselves cultured and with fine art taste who cannot take from their shelves some few specimens of first-class modern extra binding … giving to their possessors every time they handle them finer feelings and sweeter ecstasy of pleasure than many more costly objects of art they possess.”

-William Matthews Modern Bookbinding Practically Considered. New York: The Grolier Club, 1889. (pp. 94-95)