Towards a Type Study of Stanley 151 Spokeshaves


“Spoke shave, (spok) n: a cutting or planning tool consisting of a blade with a handle at either end, usually in line with the blade, and a narrow sole in front of, and sometimes also behind, the cutting edge; used for shaping, trimming, and /or smoothing a variety of materials, usually wood or leather” (Lamond 1997, II)

Judging from Lamond’s definition, he considers the use of a spokeshave to thin or trim leather second only to its use on wood. For those trained in an English tradition, it is a common, useful tool for gradual beveling of leather, especially around the turnins and caps.  While a Scharfix or Brockman type paring machine is useful, you would have to do a lot of sanding if you want a long, gradual bevel found on English fine bindings, and for reducing thickness in the spine area.  It is invaluable for conservation, because one can selectively pare areas to the precise thickness desired.  It can also be used for the beveling of boards by skewing the blade to almost parallel to the board edge, which lowers the effective cutting angle. In a pinch you could shape wooden boards with it.

Although cobblers have been using specialized shoe shaves and heel shaves since the mid 19th C., it was only in the beginning of the 20th that shaves were used by bookbinders. Earlier binders either purchased leather of the required thickness, sent it back to a leatherseller to thin it for them, or in the second half of the 19th C. would use a French Knife.  Although today we tend to think of a French knife as having a gently curved cutting edge somewhat perpendicular to the length of the blade, and Salamon notes “This has a broad blade c. 2.5 in. wide, bevel sharpened across the end like a chisel, either straight or at an angle.”  (Salamon 1986, 57)  Dudin illustrates a similar knife shown below.  (Dudin 1997, 115)  These engravings are detailed and carefully observed- note the leather wrapped around the handle for comfort.

Defining features of a French knife seem to be a rather broad blade and a half tang wood handle mounted in the center of the blade; the shape of the  cutting edge seems superfluous.

Middleton mentions that spokeshaves became common about 40 years age (written in 1962), which would put it in the 1920’s. (Middleton 1963, 298) This is pure speculation, but perhaps the combination of WWI and the depression forced some leather tanners and curriers out of business and binders were forced to do the thinning themselves? Some French trained binders still send their skins for paring.   Perhaps the bookbinding leather market became too small?  I have often heard that WWI killed many trade bookbinders. Or was it the relatively new Stanley 151 spokeshave, with its precise blade adjustment, that simplified and speeded up the paring of relatively thin bookbinding leathers.

Zaehnsdorf in 1903, and Cockerell in 1902 don’t mention the use of a spokeshave. Pledger, in  1924 mentions the Fortuna Skiving Machine or using a knife, but no spokeshave. (Pledger 1924, 209) Mathews is the earliest bookbinding manuel that references the spokeshave for paring leather that I have found. He notes that for paring leather,

“…a steel spokeshave should be used. Some prefer what is termed a French Knife, but this is a somewhat laborious method, and the spokeshave is quicker, and, what is more important, it does the job much more evenly, and is therefore better. The blade of the spokeshave must be kept very sharp and finely set—that is to say, it should not project too far.” (Mathews 1929, 111)

Noting that a “steel” spokeshave should be used highlights how common wood bodied shaves must have been at the time of writing. Once a spokeshave is properly configured for leather work, the only difficulty some have is setting the blade at the right height, which is also commented on. Mathews advice is almost the same that James Brockman gave me in a workshop on leather covering.    He  taught me to hold the spokeshave upside down with the blade recessed at eye level, and advance it slowly until it was barely visible dark line. He noted that a properly set blade has a peticular, high pitched whispering sound when in use.  Using a spokeshave is very similar to using a wood plane- the tool should already be in motion before you start to make a cut.

As I started to collect older spokeshaves, I was surprised to learn that no one had conducted a type study of 151 style spokeshaves. Type studies are useful in dating, determining chronology and rarity of manufactured tools. A standard 151 sells used for between $15-45, but a 151R sells between $250-500, for example.  (Waltner N.D., 214) Studying the spread of tools, and their influence on the quality, speed and style of work performed gives us valuable clues to industrial and craft history.

According to Lamond, 151’s were manufactured in the US from 1911-1978, although production continued in England until around 1996.  (Lamond 1997, 206) No patents were ever issued for the 151, 151M  or 151R, though some early examples are marked “PAT. APPL. FOR”. (Lamond 1997, 205)  He notes that the 151 design is very similar to the Murray Adjustable Spokeshave, patented 1901, since they share a double screw to adjust the blade depth and angle (Lamond 1997, 207) The current veritas spokeshave is suprisingly similar to the Murray, in that the blade is notched on the edges to accept the adjustment knobs.

The adjustment screws allows the user to raise or lower the blade without having to take it out of the shave and remove the cap. In 1911, a dozen 151’s sold for $6.00. (Lamond 1997, 209) At that time there were 23 different Stanley styles of spokeshaves available for specific functions—by the 1980’s only the 151 and 151R were being made in England. (Lamond 1997, 206)

Since the blades are easily interchanged, and wear out, it is dangerous to assign too much meaning in dating them, but sometimes it was the only clue I had, and sometimes wear patterns, dirt, and damage convinced me that they had been together for a long time.  This is the type of information that many tool collectors like to remove in an attempt to “restore” their tools to a pristine, unused condition.  Even an improperly sharpened blade, or a old blade with a factory grind contains many clues to how it was used (or not used), and I argue should be preserved.  Many tool collectors gleefully love (read bordering on obsessional) to clean and polish their finds.  Eventually the market, I predict, will give them pause. I have seen it happen in books and furniture, and those who have rechromed, milled and buffed and otherwise “Prettified” their tools will end up destroying monetary value along with historic evidence.


Early 20th C.

Shaves tend to have a partial chamfer around the top of the keyholes. Large pockets behind the blade. Overall build quality is higher, threads fit tighter,  the blade caps usually fit very precisely. No “Made in ….”  Information under the handles. With or without thumb rests.  Smooth casting.

Mid 20th C., Postwar?

“Made in USA” or “Made in ENG” cast into body under handles. Small pockets behind the blade.  Often “649” cast into underside of blade cap. Slightly rougher casting surface.

Late 20th C.

Red or Orange painted blade caps.  “Made in …” left off most recent models, except on the blade, which indicates the bodies are now being made overseas, perhaps India or China.

There are huge gaps in our knowledge about the history of tools—which surprises me given the number of 151 style spokeshaves produced in this century.  I have no clue how many.  Any and all corrections, additions, conjecture, images of different types of 151’s are welcome, I intend to keep incorporating new information on this page.  Please leave a comment or email me if you have information. If you have more than a passing interest in spokeshaves, Lamond’s highly illustrated, encyclopedic “Manufactured and Patented Spokeshaves” is a must.  And believe it or not, it is a good read as well.

NOTE: Most of these spokeshaves are virtually identical if viewed from the front, therefore I have provided pictures of the back, plus details, which illustrate casting variations.

CREDIT:  Thanks to Tom Lamond and Tom Conroy for alerting me to errors.



This was the Stanley spokeshave looked like in 1911.  There are no adjustment knobs, and its overally size is smaller than a 151. They were sold at about half the price of a 151, were introduced to the market earlier, between 1850-1870 and were made in the USA until 1974. (Lamond 1997, 206)  The pockets are marked with “640” and the blade cap is marked “649”, which corresponds to Lamond’s type “G”. (Lamond 1997, 388)

THE STANLEY 151, TYPE 1, 1911-?

This model lacks thumb rests, unlike all later 151’s. The Model number is cast in the middle of the back and reads, “No 151” in raised letters against a recessed rectangular background.  The deep pockets behind the blades seem an indication of age- later models have small pockets.  The sweetheart logo on this blade dates between 1923-1936.  Perhaps this model, without thumbrests, seemed too similar to the 51, to justify twice the price?

THE STANLEY 151, TYPE 2, 1913-1919 (?)

This has thumbrests, is painted blue (the only one I have seen so painted) The black of blade cap is marked “x1 / 10” which is similar to Lamond’s “K” type blade cap. (Lamond 1997, 388) The logo on the blade dates between 1913-1919.  This is also the last type to have what I call “large pockets” behind the blade, pictured on the bottom of this image.


As above but the back of the left handle is marked in raised small san serif “MADE IN USA”


Back of the left handle is marked in a larger san serif “MADE IN U.S.A.” With periods between the “U.S.A.”   Back of the blade in numbered “649”  There are many extant examples of this type, or persisted for a long time. Three of the shaves I examined had blades with the “Sweetheart” logo, but, again the blades are often switched for various reasons. This version of the “SW” logo was used 1923-1936.

I’m unclear if this 151M fits in here.  There was no “Made in xxx” marking on the underside of the handles, but the blade had a “SW” logo and “649” cast into the bottom. Black.

I’ve also seen photos of what I think is a type 4, marked “MADE IN ENG” on the left, and marked “2CX” on the right, and the blade cap marked “X1/13”. Black.  Again, I’m not sure if it fits in here.


The first with a orange or red blade cap.  The “No 151” is cast into the body without the rectangular boarder. Most seem to be marked “MADE IN ENG”. This one was purchased at TALAS in the late 1980’s.  Lamond notes no 151’s were made in USA after 1978. (Lamond 1997, 206) This image also illustrates how I like the bottom shaped for leather work.


I bought this from Buck and Ryan, March 2008 in London.   No casting marks on the body, but at least the blade is marked “Made in England.”  I suspect the body was made in India or China.


These Red ones are made of Malleable Iron, and were common in the 1970’s? Record identified them as “RECORD No. A151” stamped on the outside of the blade cap.  Overall, the Records have slightly thinner handles, and the mouth tends to be quite large.  According to the book Planecraft: Hand Planing by Modern Methods, “Record Cast iron spokeshaves are designated with O to preface the number whilst unbreakable spokeshaves are prefaced with A; thus Record spokeshave 0151 is a cast iron tool, painted blue, whilst Record Spokeshave A151 is unbreakable, and painted a bright red.”  This book also has an illustration, which I assume is from the original 1934 edition, in which the sides of the blade cap are stamped “Record” on the left side, and “A151” on the right with the letters raised.  At least four places in this text the Malleable Iron spokeshave is strongly recommended, and since it was not that much more expensive than the normal one, I wonder why both were kept in production. (Hampton, 1982, 194)  The current Record A151 spokeshaves are painted blue, however, like the one below.

I bought this one from Buck and Ryan, March 2008, in London.  I purchased a similar one in a hardware strore in Mexico City in January, 2008 that was marked “ENGLAND”  Now they read “IRWIN” where the “ENGLAND” once was. Like the new Stanley’s, the blade is marked “Made in England”.  Both of these have a nicely chamfered blade cap screw that is diamond knurled, thicker and more comfortable than any Stanley.


AMT (American Machine and Tool Co.) made copies of a number of planesand spokeshaves out of cast brass, made in Taiwan, portions of the black painted brass ground away.  The casting is completely different that the other 151’s.   I like the heft of these and find it attractive, but for unknown reasons it has never worked very well, perhaps because of the brass?

India 151 Clone

These were sold by Tools for Working Wood from around 2004-7.  I also used to modify and sell them, but they got so sloppy in the manufacturing that I would have to buy at least 2 spokeshaves, piece them together to get one useable one.  There are no marks on the body or the blade.


draper ft.

draper inside

I recently photographed this 151 clone labeled “Draper”.  The crude casting on the body look to be of Chinese or Indian origin, but the adjustment nuts are very nicely machined and knurled– better than the current Stanley or Record.  Any other information would be appreciated.


The 152 was made from 1911-1942, according to Lamond, (p. 206)  Except for the handles, which are flatter, this seems identical to the 151 Type 3 or 4, with “649” cast into the unpainted blade cap and small pockets. This model would be very difficult to modify or use on leather, since you would have no finger clearance.





I’m throwing these photos of a Stanley 53 in because Eric Burdett has a picture of it in his introduction (pp. 26-27) and mentions starting out with the mouth small and opening it slightly until it starts to cut.  I haven’t heard about any other bookbinders using a number 53.  The blade on this particular shave had a slight camber, which as I was resharpening it discovered that the bevel was at a slightly higher angle on the edges, so that it was originally formed by slightly lifting the blade as a higher angle on the sides.  It works fairly well, the adjustable mouth does control the depth of the cut much easier than raising or lowering the blade, but its angle would be impossible to lower, so it does chatter somewhat.


Many have differing ideas on what is necessary.  For many years I used an unmodified Record, and would have to tediously sand large areas where the blade would “chatter”, leave a series of ridges.  I find eight modifications need to be made to make the spokeshave an easy to use, precision tool.  The effective cutting angle is reduced, the adjustment knobs are trued, the surface area of the sole is reduced to lessen leather stretching and the front edge is rounded, the sides of the sole are beveled,  the mouth is opened (or closed by shimming the blade bed) to about .040”, the blade bed is flattened and dampened with an epoxy/ paper laminate and the Hock A2 blade is sharpened and the corners slightly rounded.

I believe Middleton was the first to mention specific modifications to the spokeshave. “No varieties of this tool are specially made for bookbinders, so usually it is necessary to modify it by widening the gap between the blade and the guard to prevent clogging. It is a good thing, also, to grind part of the bottom of the tool to give it a shallower angle when in use, because a steep angle gives too much of a scraping action” (Middleton 1963, 236)

Johnson also mentions a couple of modifications: filing the mouth slightly bigger so that parings do not jam, giving the blade a longer bevel and curving it so that only the center does the cutting. (Johnson 1978, 89)  Mark Esser in his GBW article below also mentions rounding the blade. Burdett doesn’t use a 151, and I havn’t been able to identify what model it is, but it appears to have an adjustable mouth and is on the far left of the photograph.  (Burdett 1975, 27)

*** As of May, 2009 the new Records require much more extensive work shimming the mouth if you lower the cutting angle on the bed. It is much easier to start with a Stanley***

Information of how to modify a spokeshave for bookbinding is available at:

The first article, in “Skin Deep” from hewit.

Mark Esser published additional comments on in the GBW Newsletter No. 154.

Tom Conroy and I added additional comments in the GBW Newsletter No. 155.

Here is a large bibliography of resources on how to use and fine tune a spokeshave, although for wood.

Mario Rodriguez”s “The Spokeshave” Fine Woodworking, January/ February 1997. 69-73.


First, some wise words from Burdett: “The use of the spokeshave demands confidence born of experience–sometimes bitter” (Burdett 1975, 173)  A few general observations:

  1. The blade needs to be very sharp and only protrude a few thousands of an inch below the sole.
  2. Make sure the blade is level, and not cutting deeper on one side.  Your skin can rapidly be ruined if this is the case.
  3. The spokeshave needs to be in motion before it starts to cut the leather, sort of a swooping motion.
  4. Hold it lightly with your fingers and thumb– you don’t need to have a death grip completly around each handle.
  5. Keep the front edge of the spokeshave pressed flat on the leather.
  6. Ordinarily the spokeshave moves fairly quickly.  Once the leather gets very thin it is advisable to go slowly to avoid tearing. Press down a little harder on the front of the spokeshave, and lighter on the blade.
  7. If the blade starts to chatter, re-sharpen and make sure you have modified it correctly for leather.
  8. If the leather keeps puckering in the mouth, and gets cut through, the mouth is too big and the blade needs to be shimmed from behind.
  9. Be vigilant about cleaning bits of leather from under the leather–they can cause tears or an uneven thickness.
  10. Skewing the blade in use, and approaching the leather from differing angles helps get a clean cut and not just skate across the surface.
  11. Watching the color of the leather change is a good visual indication of the depth of the cut.  Folding the leather over on top of itself doubles any thickness discrepancies for quick identification of areas that need more work.
  12. Goatskin is the easiest to spokeshave.  Calf and Tawed skin are more difficult.


1911 Stanley R. & L. Co. Catalogue No. 110.

Burdett, Eric. 1975. The Craft of Bookbinding. New York: Pitman Publishing Co.

Cockerell, Douglass. 1902. Bookbinding and the care of books… NY: D. Appleton and Co.

Dudin, M. 1977. The Art of the Bookbinder and Gilder. Leeds, England:The Elmente Press.

Hampton, C.W. and E. Clifford.  1982.  Planecraft: Hand Planning by Modern Methods. Woburn, Mass.: Woodcraft Supply Corp.

Johnson, Arthur. 1978. The Thames and Hudson Manual of Bookbinding.  London: Thames and Hudson.

Lamond, Thomas C.  1997. Manufactured and Patented Spokeshaves and Similar Tools: Identification of the Artifacts and Profiles of the Makers and Patentees. N.P.: Thomas C. Lamond.

Middleton, Bernard. 1963. A History of English Craft Bookbinding Technique. NY and London: Hafner Publishing.

Matthews, William.  1929. Bookbinding: A Manual for those interested in the Craft of Bookbinding, London: Victor Gollancz.

Pleger, John J.  1924. Bookbinding. Revised Ed. of Bookbinding and Its Auxiliary Branches. Chicago: The Inland Printer Co.

Salamon, R.A.  1986. Dictionary of Leather-Working Tools c. 1700-1950.  Mendham, NJ:Astragal Press.

Waltner, John.  N.D. Antique and Collectable Stanley Tools; 2001 Pocket Price Guide.  N.P.: John Waltner.

Zaehnsdorf, J.W.  1903.  The Art of Bookbinding. A Practical Treatise. London: George Bell and Sons.

And in This Corner: Conservators in Private Practice vs. Institutional Conservators?

“…the pursuit of important issues is always divisive and controversial, because it challenges the status quo. In my view, this is almost always the equivalent of being committed.”

– José Orraca, one of the founders of CIPP, in an Address to the CIPP in Vancouver, 1987 (1)

It has been 22 years since the Conservators in Private Practice Speciality Group (CIPP) was formed in an unscheduled meeting in Washington DC. According to Susan Barger, “The goals of this group were to provide support for conservators in private practice, to cultivate respect among conservators who worked in different settings, and to encourage wider participation in the AIC.” (2) Forming an new specialty group within AIC was no easy task, and the founders of CIPP displayed remarkable pluck and courage by encouraging the larger AIC board of directors to recognize the special needs of private practitioners. CIPP members initiated the AIC referral system and are responsible for many inventions in the field.

From the beginning, however, there were tensions between those who worked for institutions and those in private practice. For a while, there was a two tiered membership in CIPP, with “Real” CIPP allowed voting rights and “Occasional” CIPP (coined COPP, Conservators Occasionally in Private Practice) allowed to be nonvoting members. The following definition of a CIPP was adopted: “A conservator in private practice is an individual whose only employment in the profession of the conservation of artistic and historic works is as a proprietor or employee of a private, independent, conservation service or facility, and who is not a staff employee of any non­profit institution. CIPP Bylaws 1987.” (3) This important distinction performed a valuable function by preventing conflicts of interest from the staff of institutions and regional centers in developing the agenda of CIPP.

Things, however, have changed in past 22 years.

The membership of CIPP has hovered around 400 for most of its existence; current estimates rank the number of actual private practice conservators at 1,700. The job market, which once held to a fairly stark line between institutional and private practice, now offers a number of positions that blur the boundaries, and these positions seem to be becoming more prevalent, due to Cultural institutions adopting a corporate business model, rather than a philanthropic one. Now, for example, there are “project conservators” who work regularly for an institution for 10 years or more without benefits, underpaid institutional staff moonlighting evenings and weekends to make ends meet, labs who’s administrative workload has overwhelmed the staff so that they must hire those in private practice to do treatments, conservators who leave the institution to raise children while working freelance, large non and for profit conservation centers who don’t consider themselves to be in private practice, institutional conservators who have to work on non institutional work to raise money, and many, many other types of arrangements. Job situations have become much temporal and fluid in the past 20 years. Conservators move back and forth between private practice and institutional jobs several times in their career. Concentrating on differences has not allowed the mission of CIPP to flourish.

Things need to change in the next 22 years.

What was once necessary to demarcate the differences between those working in an institution and privately is becoming an impediment towards professional respect and exchange of knowledge. What was once healthy adolescent individuation is in danger of becoming resentful coveting. Some CIPP members envision a fairy tale scenario about the ease of the life of an institutional conservator, and resent the institutional authority conferred on those in positions of power, since we have to create reputations for our business and ourselves. Exaggerated rumors of this anger and resentment dissuade younger conservators from joining CIPP. Rather than spending our time looking inward (which is also a grave danger for AIC as a whole) we need to look for ways our particular interests and skill sets can interact with the whole of conservation.

Conservators in institutions need conservators in private practice— for special projects, referrals, expertise outside of their specialty, etc. And conservators in private practice need institutional conservators—for referrals, access to expensive equipment, research, etc. The relationship is becoming more symbiotic, not antagonistic. The skill sets inside and outside institutions are remarkably similar. Running a business, working within time and cost constraints, performing treatments, managing projects, supervising and training staff, documentation and analysis are similar in both contexts. At least in the book conservation field, if cost cutting and redirecting of funding towards digitization continues the majority of conservators could soon be in private practice.

Ultimately the goal of all conservators is the same: advancing the body of knowledge that allows us to provide the best possible preservation for the cultural property entrusted to our care.

(This is an expanded version of an address I gave to the Conservators in Private Practice Specialty Group of the American Institute for Conservation on April 24, 2008 at the 36th Annual Meeting held in Denver, Colorado.)


1. Barger et al. “CIPPing Champagne” AIC Newsletter, Lead Article, January 2007.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

An Unusual 18th C. French Headband Press?

I’m very interested in 18th C. French bookbinding structures, techniques and tools. Pictured below is a French headbanding press taken from M. Dudin’s “The Art of the Bookbinder and Guilder”, Plate IX. If anyone has ever seen one of these, please let me know. It is a bit difficult to discern the dimensions, but I would estimate is it around 15 inches long, and the cheeks about 2-3 inches thick.  I have never seen a press like this—the handles are placed somewhat like a wood clamp, so that one end can accommodate the book while it hangs off the table.  Wood clamps, however, thread from either side of the press so they can be grasped by both hands and spun in a circle to rapidly tighten or loosen. The description of the plate states: “Figure 13, the book in position in the headbanding press; C  D, side-pieces of the press;  EE  FF, the screws which tighten it; o, the core of the headband…”  (Dudin 1977, 112)

It is the only traditional press I have seen that clamps the book outside of the screws, and it puts the book in a somewhat precarious position hanging off the edge of the table.  In this illustration, the angle of the press cheeks doesn’t make sense to me- if it is accurate, press cheek D would only make contact with the book around the spine, and the foreedge would gape.  If anything, it would make more sense to clamp the foreedge tightly, and the spine loosely to facilitate passing the needle and sewing thread.  Given the careful attention to detail prevalent in the rest of the illustrations, I am hesitant to dismiss it as a mistake, however.

Since I couldn’t find an example to experiment with, I decided to make a replica.  I purchased a Beale Wood threader kit (available from Lee Valley), and made the press below out of some quarter sawn cherry from upstate NY.  The handles were turned on a small Jet wood lathe, and the cherry cheeks were hand planed with a Stanley #6 with a Hock A2 plane blade.  The press with finished with two coats of boiled linseed oil and lightly sanded with a 320 grit sanding sponge.  A coat of Renaissance wax was then applied. Too thick of a finish on book-presses can interfere with the friction necessary to hold the book steady, and necessitate extreme clamping pressure, especially with this style of press.

The cheeks are 15 inches long, and  2 x 2 3/8″ wide, but they seem quite large in comparison to the engraving. As I was making this, it seemed absurd to make the cheeks smaller– they might deflect when tightened, their small surface area might mark the boards, they might tip side to side or the press could fall off the table. The book in the photo, already headbanded and covered, is about 6″ tall and bound in 18th C. French style.  

The Press is a bit awkward in use, because it is impossible to turn the book around without loosening the press.  And if you lean a hand on the book or end of the press it can start to tip. In the text, Dudin offhandedly mentions that for a single headband the book “…is placed between the knees, or better in a small press… called a headbanding press” (Dudin 1977, 42)  This seems to imply headbands were sewn seated, perhaps while seated at the sewing table? It is the only chair in any of Dudin’s illustrations of the bindery’s interior.  Perhaps this press is intended for larger books, which would be difficult to headband if standing on the table. Or maybe the press gave some support to the book while the bottom rested between the headbanders knees?  If the book were larger and heavier, however, I would really worry that it might tip it off the table. But having the headband at a lower height might explain the unusual method of clamping the book off the edge of the worktable. 

Dudin’s illustration, however, shows the book on a fairly narrow table which is not pictured in the interior of the bindery.   Diderot’s illustrations do not depict a press like this.  All of the other presses pictured, and in Dudin as well, have small handles, scarcely larger than the screw threads, unadorned and unshaped for hand use: a press-pin is used to tighten them.  Small, hand tightened presses for benchtop use are the norm now, a common one being the Dryad Model 1430B  amateur book press, which was sold in the US by Craftool in NY. Could this French headbanding press be a link to our modern, bench top (not tub-based), hand tightened presses? 

So much of craft knowledge has been lost– we are lucky to have Diderot and Dudin’s recording of the 18th C. structures, techniques and tools.  If only I could spend a day in an 18th C. bindery and see for myself!


Dudin, M. 1977. The Art of the Bookbinder and Gilder. Trans. R. Atkinson.  Leeds, England:The Elmente Press.

Diderot, Denis and Jean le Rond d’Alembert. 1751. Encylopedie ou dictionnaire raisonne des sciences, des arts et des métiers, par une societe de gens de letters.  Paris, David l’aine, le Breton, Durand.  


On April 28, 2008 Richard Minsky added:

 “I have several headbanding presses, including ones

purchased from Rougier & Plé in 1971. They all look like the one in

the drawing, but have the screws closer to the end of the press. I

have never seen one built like the drawing, or used that way.  It

makes no sense.  If the book is clamped as shown how can you put

the needle into the section? I think the drawing is wrong. As you

point out, it can’t really be as shown, with the press closed so

much at the far end and the jaws in contact all along the book.

Unless the book is wedge-shaped.

The press as I was taught to use it is while seated with one end of

the press in the lap and the other on the table, tilting the book

toward you, with the tail of the foredge clamped between the screws

of the press, at an angle. The spine is totally out of the press.”


And on April 28, 2008 James Reid-Cunningham added:

“The French finishing press is really rather common over there. Frank Lehman

sells one made by Frank Wiesner in Australia. It is listed on Lehman’s

website as “Peller Finishing Press Inspired by Swiss Master Bookbinder Hugo

Peller, the two press cheeks are extended on one end to hold the book

upright when sewing head-bands.” Hugo really didn’t invent this press, just

popularized it when he was here teaching in the 1980s.”


And on April 30, 2008 Frank Lehmann added:

“I use the headbanding press that Hugo Peller/Frank Wiesner developed 

together.  It’s basically a light weight finishing press that has one 

end extended a few extra inches beyond the screw.  


It is used just the way that the illustration from Dudin 

shows.  The book is clamped between the outer edges and hangs over the 

bench.  If the book is a heavy one, then all you need to do is put a 

weight on the other end to prevent it from tipping over.  You can 

easily position the book to do the headbanding while seated.  The 

innovation that Peller/Wiesner came up with was to round the cheeks of 

the extension.  This makes it easier to work on small books and 

prevents the silk thread from snagging on the cheeks.


I think the error in the illustration is one of visual perspective.  In 

use, the cheeks of the press are pretty close to being parallel.  I 

think the artist got a little bit carried away, trying to make the 

press recede into the background – although he forgot to make the 

cheeks diminish in size.


My guess would be that in the 18th Century, French binderies simply 

used finishing presses that had one end slightly extended beyond the 

screw.  That’s one of the nice things about this press – it makes 

headbanding much easier and doubles as a perfectly good finishing 

press.  The English used to use old ploughs to hold the book while 


NOTE: The Hugo Peller/Frank Wiesner headbanding press can be purchased from Frank Lehmann:


And on May 6, 2008 Tom Conroy added:

“On Dudin’s drawing of the headbanding press, I think

that the closeness of the cheeks at the far end is

perfectly well observed, and indicates the internal

structure of the press.

In the 18th century, a few wooden-screw presses,

vises, etc. had pegs, “garters”, or other keys to make

the near cheek follow the handles when the press was

opened; but most did not. When the screw was run-out

with a non-keyed press, the handles would simply move

out of the near cheek; for the cheeks to separate you

had to push them apart with your hand. If you look at

Dudin’s exploded drawings of presses, ploughs, etc.,

you will (if I remember correctly) see that some of

them show the peg key but most do not. Landis’

“Workbench Book” has information on early French vises

and screws that indicates the same thing, with the

place of the peg taken by a similar scructure called a

“garter”. As late as the end of the 19th century many

wooden-screw woodworkers’ vises were unkeyed.


With a non-keyed press, when you place an object

between the jaws but outside the screws, and tighten

the press, the near screw will be active and bear on

the object. However, as you close the far screw it

will have nothing to pull against, and in consequence

the cheeks will skew inward just as is shown in the

drawing; in fact this skewing inward will happen even

if the far screw is not tightened. For comparison, the

two screws in a traditional all-wooden handscrew for

woodworking are superficially very similar to this

press; but one of them pulls on the cheeks to close

the handscrew, while the other pushes on the cheeks to

close it.

It seems to me that the angling-in of the headbanding

press shown by Dudin shows that this was an unkeyed

tool; more, it seems to me that the tool was at this

point in process of evolution from  an unusual use of

a press that coincidentally had extra length beyond

the screws into a special-purpose adaptation.”



The above comments got me looking again at Plate X from Dudin. (Dudin 1977, 115)   This clearly shows the peg “l” on the standing press at the top middle piece marked “H”. As Conroy mentioned, this would fit into the groove  marked “m” on the  standing press screw at the left.  It also shows that in the small press in Fig. 25, identified in the text as a headbanding press, and it does not have a key.  “Figure 25, headbanding press seen assembled at S and and in detail in the illustration above; TT tt, the sidepieces; vv the two screws; x book.” (Dudin 1977, 114)

The book is inserted in the press as Minsky mentioned in his comments above, but it is unclear if the spine is completely out of the press or not.  The book is positioned outside of the press screws, not between them as is usual. Was the earlier depiction of the book hanging off the table just for the purposes of showing the headband, or like most tools is this press designed to be used in various ways by different workers?  

Again the engraving is confusing- the spacing of the screws on the cheek closest to the viewer appear equidistant from each end, while on the farther cheek they look much more like the headband press pictured previously.   The cheeks are unmistakably parallel, however they seem to be positioned much further apart than the thickness of the book.  The book, in fact, seems to be canted at a strange angle within the press. This would only be possible with some kind of shim in the press, which would be strange to say the least. The left screw does not seem to match up properly with it’s handle. The perspective in most of these engravings is very accurate– consider the standing press in the bottom left corner.  

It almost looks like, if the book is sewn on five cords, and the bottom support is hidden, that the edge of the book rests on the screw of the press and the corner of the book on the table.  Dudin, when describing the spacing and number of sewing stations states “…octavo, twelvemo, and smaller volumes with five bands.” (Dudin 1977, 17) But the height to width ratio of the 18th C. French books of I have seen makes me think the boards of this book must end about at the front cheek, so it would only be sewn on four cords.

The book also seems to be covered, which might suggest that that it was staged for purposes of illustration rather than depicted as it was used.


On May 8, 2008, Tom Conroy added:

“Looking at Dudin’s headbanding press images, I’m going

to offer my own odd-perspective notion. In the use

picture [ ed. The first picture in this post], I think that the area beyond the far screw

looks long; possibly not as long as the area holding

the book, but still not just a stubbed-off length like

a modern finishing press. This would be in accord with

the square views; and the extra length on the right

(far) end would help to counterbalance the book and

the part hanging off the edge of the bench. Worth

considering, anyway.”



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