Tag Archives: bookbinding

A Beautiful Binding

The Ultimate Historic Structure

A class present from “Historic Book Structures for Conservators” students.

At the end of an exhausting and exhilarating five weeks of teaching “Historic Book Structures for Conservators” in Boston, the students demonstrated what they had learned by making this binding for me.

The folding is uneven. Some of the pages have the imprint of the bottom of a shoe. The book is sewn on three recessed tapes, sometimes bypass, sometimes all-along, sometimes two-on, and sometimes three-on. There are very large weird knots in the sewing thread and untrimmed sewing thread where the joins are. At points the thread misses the gutter by an inch. The spine is lined with blue painters tape. One edge is partially trimmed. Several sections are out of alignment by half an inch. The back half of the book is case bound, though the turn-ins are on top of the end sheet. The spine piece is missing. The front of the book is laced on with tapes that begin on the inside of the board. Some corners of the board are exposed, some turned in without trimming.  All of the squares vary wildly, with the front board smaller than the text block. The entire book is skewed. The pastepaper covering material is not properly adhered, with large areas popping away, and there are some extremely odd cuts in it. There is a small piece of triangular leather on the spine that seems inspired by a “Tomorrow’s Past” binding we discussed in class. The lower board, not visible in the image above, contains numerous handwritten inscriptions: “Peachey” within a circular object that appears to be a peach. The title on the spine, not visible in the image above, is made with glitter and reads “NBSS 2014″ as it the “JP” initials on the front cover, off center.

It was great to have a class who were sophisticated enough to realize that doing everything wrong can be a measure of how much they learned. Bravo!

Everhard Ball Bearing Beveled Stitcher

Fillet or creaser?

At the massive Brimfield Flea Market last month, I picked up this unusually well made tool. Note the ball bearings barely visible around the axle. Not only does is spin freely, but there is zero play side to side. And the wheel is very heavy.

At first I thought it was an unusual fillet, used for marking lines in leather. But it turns out it was made for the tire/ rubber industry. It is marked “The Everhard Mfg. Co.”, and is known as a beveled stitcher,  used to smooth wavy edges of uncured rubber. It also bears a striking morphological resemblance to a leatherworkers wheel. Even if it can’t be usefully adapted for bookbinding work, it is still a wonderfully well made object to have.

Yikes! Have I started down the slippery slope from tool user to collector? Is this a problem?

Naturally Packed Sewing


I first noticed what I call “naturally packed sewing” on an early 16th century quarto. Usually, a pack sewn book has extra windings around the cords to fill them in even with the thickness of the signatures. I believe it was Peter Frack who first described pack sewing, which he called “arch sewing”.[1] For naturally packed sewing, if the sewing thread is fairly soft, and the signatures relatively thin, the paper pretty thin, the book can be sewn packed without additional windings. Here, there are 39 signatures and 39 windings around the double cords. This image is larger than life size.

The paper is 60lb. Mohawk Vellum Soft White from New York Central Art Supply. Folded down to quarto, 2 folios, 4 leaves,  8 pages.

The cord and thread are from Colophon Book Arts Supply. The cord is Garniture Linen Cord, the thread Londonderry Linen, Ash Grey, 18/3.



Peter Franck. A Lost Link in the Technique of Bookbinding and how I Found It. Gaylordsville, Conn: n.p., 1941.



A Nice Scissors Move

A hairdresser showed me this move.  She said she had also spoken to a surgeon who uses a similar technique. It allows you to safely keep the points of the scissors away from whatever else you are doing, without taking them completely off your hand and putting them down. A couple of years ago I wrote about Palmer’s proper method for using scissors, which deals with how to hold the paper to make a straight cut.

For this, you will need to have a scissors with single finger metal bows. The bows are the “handles” of the scissors, the enclosed round part that you put your fingers in. (1) This might be a good excuse to ditch those plastic handled Fiskars and buy some real scissors, such a pair of drop-forged chrome-plated ones made by Mundial, which are an excellent value.

Basically the scissors are spun 180 degrees on the middle finger.


When you are done cutting with the scissors, take your thumb out of the bow.


Twirl the scissors, using your index finger, so that the point is facing towards you.


Then your fingers are free to grasp another tool or manipulate an object without fear of stabbing it. Don’t stab yourself, though.


When you are done and need to use the scissors again, twirl them back into position by using your ring finger, then reinserting your thumb.

Usually we use one hand per tool and occasionally two hands per tool. But using two tools in one hand requires dexterity and practice, like handling chopsticks or holding an awl and threaded needle at the same time for heavy leather stitching. Generally we keep the cutting edge of tools pointed away from us, although David Esterly mentions wood carvers are trained to spin their chisels around and place them down on the bench handle first, so as not to damage the edge.(2)

I imagine this move come in handy in a number of circumstances. Cutting strapping and double stick tape when mounting books for exhibition currently comes to mind. Others?


(1) J. B. Himsworth  The Story of Cutlery: From Flint to Stainless Steel. London: Ernest Benn Limited, 1953. Chapter 10 deals with scissors, the whole book is great. Filled with interesting historical tidbits, like early nineteenth century Sheffield knife grinders, who often died of silicosis, sometimes had their grinding stones used as their gravestone.

(2) David Esterly, The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making New York: Viking, 2012.

Leonard Bailey’s Copy Press

It is a surprise when a well know name from one area of toolmaking suddenly appears in a different context. Leonard Bailey is best known for his many improvements to woodworking hand planes; in fact the modern metal plane made by virtually all companies is due to Bailey. Eventually he sold his business to Stanley, who often gets credit for his work. Patrick Leach’s Blood and Gore is a great site for Stanley info, BTW. Bailey was also the inventor of several copy presses and by 1903 had nineteen patents related to typing, copying, and pressing.

It is indicative of the popularity and demand for copy presses at the time, that someone like Bailey would devote sustained attention to them over at least a twenty year peroid. But was this really, as the advertising below proclaims, “the only perfect copy press”? It is certainly “elegant and ornamental”, with enough pin striping to pimp out any Victorian office.


New Britain Directory, 1882-3. Price, Lee & Co. (The Winterthur Library F104 N53a 1882), 280.

The top part of the press is an adjustable wringer which was used to partially dry the blotting pad before making a copy in a book. The drawer at the base stored the blotting pad. The double action Acme screw (coarse and fine) allows the press to rapidly rise and fall and provide lots of pressure. There are several actual photos of this machine in Rhodes and Streeter’s Before Photocopying, 229-231. Unlike most copy presses, this one can generate sufficient pressure to use as a nipping press. Almost perfection for a bookbinder, if you can live with the minuscule amount of daylight.