Category Archives: bookbinding tools

Samson Paper Press

The Robert C. Williams Museum of Papermaking in Atlanta has one of the largest — and oldest — papermaking presses I’ve ever seen. Look at the size of the top beam, which is about two feet square!

The entire museum is fantastic. It started at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1939, consisting primarily of Dard Hunter’s papermaking books and artifacts. Then it moved to the Institute of Paper Chemistry in 1954, was added to over the years, and finally landed at Georgia Tech in 2003.

The “Samson Paper Press”, constructed in 1790, was used by Hodgkinson and Co. in Wookey Hole England until the early twentieth century, according to the label. I’m not sure if the name refers to this press in particular, or is a generic term for any massive press.

It has an iron thread which generates much more power than a wooden one, due to the reduction of friction. I’m starting to think that all images of early nineteenth century presses with a ball above the platen also have iron thread.  Samson has a ratchet wheel and pawl mechanism to prevent the platen from backing off when fully tightened.

The tommy bar, or press pin, is lying on the black plinth in front of the press and is about six feet long! Not visible is the iron renforcement on the end of the bar which fits into the four holed iron ball. I imagine Samson securely attached to the ceiling or wall, and three or four men working together to fully tighten it. The daylight is roughly 3.5 feet, which would be about the height of a typical post (a stack of the newly formed sheets and felts). Possibly a century of use might account for the deterioration on the lower wooden platen, or it may have been sunk into the earth under the floor. The uprights are iron faced on the two short sides. A few decades later, by the 1830’s, most presses were made completely or iron or steel, making Samson an interesting transitional press, incorporating both wood and iron.

Around the same time, the French papermaking press depicted in Diderot’s Encyclopédie appears to have wooden threads, but a similar iron ratchet mechanism to prevent it from backing off. I have a hard time believing a small wood pawl could withstand the compression.

Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, etc., eds. Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert. University of Chicago: ARTFL Encyclopédie Project (Autumn 2017 Edition), Robert Morrissey and Glenn Roe (eds), http://encyclopedie.uchicago.edu/.

 

Phive Star Light

The Phive CL-1 illuminating a book being sewn on a Nokey sewing frame.

My first workbench light was a twin tube florescent I found on the street.  The long tubes illuminated very evenly, without casting shadows from my own hands while I was working. Eventually the buzz from the ballast became intolerable, and I switched to a 100 watt round swing-arm adjustable style, which most people use.

Recently, I decided to try out the Phive CL-1 LED lamp. So far it is a great light. It looks high-tech, the arm is easy to position, and more importantly stays in position. The 5000k color temperature is pretty close to daylight. The area where the LED’s are mounted is very small, so you can position it close to yourself or to your work.

The bulb does not seem to be replaceable, but the lifespan is estimated to be 50,000 hours, which is 17 years at 8 hours a day — very close to my own working lifespan.

Using a Modified 151 Spokeshave to Bevel Binder’s Board

Designer binders, conservators who replicate wooden boards with laminated museum board, and others sometimes have to create a bevel or chamfer in book board. Often this is accomplished by sanding, which is at best a very slow process, and at worst an easy way to create a disgusting amount of dust.  A downdraft table and PPE is recommended.

Beveled book boards were very common in the nineteenth century. Various contraptions were invented to do this, including a specialized board shear that cut at 45, rather than a 90 degrees, a jigged foot clamp and large chefs knife, and a machine that used a woodworkers jack plane running in a track. Large production shops sometimes had a board beveling machine with a rotary blade, but most of us are not so lucky.

As the video below illustrates, it is also possible to bevel binder’s board quite efficiently with a modified 151 spokeshave, a tool which is usually used to thin leather over large areas. Note how much I skew the spokeshave, and how it is in motion when I start the cut. Also listen to the sound: this is what a properly adjusted sharp blade sounds like. Even after spokeshaving, it may still may be necessary to refine the board edge a bit with some coarse sandpaper.

If you are laminating your own boards (de rigueur for high end work), it is a good idea to paste a few layers of colored paper to the level you intend to bevel, in order to judge how deep you are spokeshaving. Since binder’s board is quite abrasive, an A2 or PM-V11 blade is a necessity. And the blades do wear more quickly than when shaving leather. It would be smart to dedicate one blade just for board.

 

Whatsit #3

It has been almost a decade since my first two whatsit posts,  Whatsit #1 and #Whatsit #2. Number 2 was identified by Tom Conroy, #1 is still a bit of a mystery. For those unfamiliar with this colloquial American term, a “whatsit” is an unidentified object, short for “what is it”? The Mid-West Tool Collectors association often features a number of them in their quarterly publication, The Gristmill. You get a lot for your annual membership from them, including a reprint of a classic tool oriented book. The Early American Industries Association usually features a panel discussing a number of them in front of a live audience. Full bore geeky fun!

Recently a colleague has sent me images of a seriously odd, unidentified tool she found in her conservation lab.  She first thought it was some kind of cloth cutting tool, but it didn’t really work. This makes sense given the conically shaped brass end of it: a cloth cutter would have to have two steel blades. The shape of the handle indicates it is used by pushing forward, but I’ve never seen anything like it.

Here is a more detailed description of the business end. “The cone is not solid.  The brass sheet overlaps the wooden handle for about 1.25 in.  The cone is secured on the handle with two brass “pins” (visible in the photos, 1 pin on each side) onto the handle.  The blade-like part opens wider than is shown in the photo.  I can move it to a  90° angle with the cone.  When I open the blade fully and squint at the base of the blade, it looks as though the same pin(s) attaching the cone to the handle may also attach the blade to the handle.  Maybe it’s a single pin that runs all the way through.” She later mentioned the blade opens to almost 90 degrees.

The size of the brass end seems too large for bookbinding applications, my first guess is it is a type of gardening tool called a dibber or dibble.  Possibly the blade would aerate the soil or cut small roots??  It is odd how new the handle and brass cone looks when compared to the wear and discoloration on the blade.

But I’m not sure of any of this And why did it end up in an institutional book conservation lab? I’m stumped.

ADDED: Sept. 27, 2017. MYSTERY SOLVED!  John Nove, coment below, and in a personal email sent me the identification.  It is a  Humboldt Sharpener for Cork Borers.  Well done John! https://www.humboldtmfg.com/cork-borer-sharpener.html

 

 

The stamping reads ” MADE IN WEST GERMANY”

This is the other side. Even the blade pivot pin is made of brass, which suggests light duty use.

New! Bookbinder’s Hammer for Sale

Quite likely, one of the last things the bookbinding world needs — besides another introductory bookbinding manual —  is a new specialized hammer. There are serviceable backing hammers commercially availaible for under $100 that just take a little filing of sharp edges and polishing of the face to work. Many people use old cobblers hammers that can be picked up for around $12 at flea markets. A froiture is arguably easier to use, and in most cases performs  as well or even better. Sometimes, a little piece of wood and any old hammer will do. Many times, with older books, your fingers are the only tools you really need.

But who cares!

I wanted to make the best bookbinder’s hammer possible, without consideration of the final cost.

I originally wanted this to be some kind of “tool art”. Then I recalled someone who told me anytime you put the word art after that of an object, there is a very good chance it is not art, but some kind of craft with pretenses to art. That said, it is very difficult for functional objects to be considered as Art. Still, there might be some kind of framework within tool-artifact-user interactions.

More practically, this hammer has a non-rusting stainless steel head, one face domed and one flat, with a slight texture to both faces which help move the paper, and a very comfortable applewood handle. The idea for the textured head came from an old brass hammer with a damaged and pitted head, that I use on leather. Somewhat counterintuitively, the textured surface marks the leather less, since the force is not concentrated at one specific spot, making it flat. The handle shape was derived from a jewelers chasing hammer and an old Hammond cobbler’s hammer I own.

This hammer can be used for backing, sewing compression, beating down slips, hammering corners, or any time you need a little extra persuasion. Like to get a client to cough up a little more dough for a particular project. This is a tool that could pay for itself the first time you use it.  The polished cylindrical body of the hammer can be used froiture like to smooth out a spine.

I use a hatchet to rough out the American apple wood, and then refine the shape with a spokeshave. The hammer has an oval eye to prevent the handle from twisting, and a stainless steel wedge to secure it. The handle is then sanded, lightly oiled and polished to 3 microns. The resulting surface is incredibly smooth. Apple wood was traditionally used for saw and other tool handles.

The stainless steel head has a one inch diameter, and is about two inches in length, though this varies with the length of the handle. The eight to nine inch long apple wood handles are all unique, but I make them generally to the shape depicted below.

This hammer very comfortable, well balanced, and extremely aesthetically pleasing. But Art?

Bookbinder’s Hammer: $425.00.  Purchase here.

 

 

 

Colophon Book Arts Supply Reopens With an Online Store: An Interview With Mary Uthuppuru

One aspect of the bookbinding, book conservation and book arts scene that I especially enjoy is its community. People get into this archaic field mainly because they love books and bookbinding. While it is all too easy to shop from the salesmen at the Walmart/ Amazon of the bookbinding supply world, it is worthwhile to search out and purchase supplies from smaller specialized vendors — who are often trained bookbinders — and who can provide first hand information about their products. Because of their knowledge, bookbinder/vendors are often innovators in the field, which also should be supported. And they usually care about the long term survival of bookbinding as as art and craft, not just making money from selling stuff, which is important to me.

Colophon Book Arts Supply is one of these specialized shops, and was recently purchased by Mary Uthuppuru. Mary began her career as a conservation technician at the Lilly Library, and in 2010, became a full time book artist and book binder working under the name Spring Leaf Press at her home studio in Bloomington, Indiana. She creates artist books, bindings, boxes, and prints inspired by science, literature and nature. Mary is ecstatic to bring her experience to this new role as the owner of Colophon.

Mary Uthuppuru, the ecstatic new owner of Colophon.

Mary kindly agreed to answer a few questions about her background and interests.

 

1)  How did you get interested in book arts/ book conservation. Who were your mentors?

I found my way to the book arts during my Art History undergraduate days at Indiana University. Yara Cluver teaches a class about artist books which was my first interaction with the concept of book as artwork. However, I didn’t “catch the bug” until I began working for Jim Canary, head of conservation, at the Lilly Library. I was pursuing a masters in Library Science with a concentration in Special Collections when I obtained a student position in the lab. Jim was one of my first mentors, as I know he has been for countless others. Under Jim’s guidance, I began to learn the intricacies of conservation and developed an appreciation for all aspects of the book arts as well as a respect for the history from which it all comes. It doesn’t hurt that all of this happened within one of the finest Special Collections Libraries in the world!

Andrea Peterson is another mentor for me though she wouldn’t necessarily think so. I have drawn heavily from her experience as a professional artist in the way that she assimilates the demands of a production papermaker and artist while working with her family to run a dynamic home life. Andrea is more than generous with her honest guidance and openness about her own successes and failures which has influenced the decisions I’ve made over the last few years in my own pursuits.

Now, Nancy Morains is mentoring me through the process of running a retail business. Throughout this transition, Nancy has generously given guidance on every aspect of running Colophon. She has always made herself available to answer any questions I have and I anticipate our relationship growing even stronger over time. I am so thankful for the generosity of the people I’ve been lucky to meet during my development so far. They all seemed to have popped up at just the right time with their advice or example.

2)  What is your favorite bookbinding tool? Why?

It is hard to choose, but I think it is safe to say that my favorite and most used tool is the 9mm metal handled Olfa knife with snap off carbon blades. I use it all of the time and for cutting, there is no alternative. It cuts with precision but is also a work horse when it comes to cutting through binder’s board by hand. Plus, it fits in my pocket…with its blade retracted of course.

3)  What is your favorite book structure?

This is a tough question for me but I love books that open without a fight.  There is nothing better than a well sewn text block that allows pages to open easily but feels sturdy in your hands. I have recently been exploring the millimeter binding and it has a huge appeal to me. This binding has a sewn text block, which I love doing, and the binding comes together in such a way as to allow for limitless customization and design options. It is an elegant binding!

4)  How did you decide to take on the role as owner of Colophon, which has such a long history as a quality retail store that is based actual users, rather than a large corporate business. How do you feel your experience as a bookbinder and working in conservation impacts your business?

Like every other professional decision so far, timing had a big influence as well as life circumstance. I have been working as a private practice bookbinder and book artist for almost seven years now. Working towards my own objectives has been a privilege, but I was looking for a new endeavor to help with financial stability. When I heard Nancy was looking to find a new owner in pursuit of her retirement, I was thrilled with the idea. I would be able to continue to work at home, be in charge of my own schedule, and attend the events I love to go to every year. After talking about it with Nancy as well as other vendors in our field, I pursued the idea with seriousness and began seeking advice from professionals in Bloomington. I kept pursuing it and people kept helping me move forward! After some time, there didn’t seem to be a reason why I shouldn’t. Both Nancy and I agree that it just seems to fit.

The reason I even considered such a big undertaking was because of the nature of the store. It really does have a long history and the way that Nancy has fostered this community around the items she carries is nothing short of inspirational. Anyone talking with Nancy during a show immediately connects with her genuine nature; it has certainly show her uniqueness. It is her ability to connect with people that then turn into longtime customers that made me want to be a part of Colophon’s history. I value the one on one connection where people, both store owner and customer, have the chance to talk about the specifics of our trade and discover things that would benefit the larger community. It is a place of sharing that our field relies on. After all, the book arts is all in the details.

As for my experience, my difficulty in saying no to any new skill has already served me well and will continue to do so. My exploration throughout bookbinding as well as conservation has made me familiar with most of the supplies Nancy has carried and will provide me insight into the supplies I may want to carry in the future. Knowing about the various disciplines in our field gives me a chance to speak from experience in using the supplies in the shop. This makes it possible for me to advise people who aren’t quite sure about what they are looking for or to help people who have a problem to solve and just need the right solution. I love this kind of problem solving and the more I talk to people, the more I learn along the way.

5)  You spend a lot of time giving back to the book arts community, currently as a recent volunteer as (programs chair of Midwest chapter) of the Guild of Bookworkers. How do you juggle maintaining an active bindery, volunteering, and working as a retailer of supplies?  Do there various “hats” you wear mutually reinforcing, or are there potential conflicts of interest?

Having so much going on is tough. It was hard for me to say “no” to any opportunity when I first got started so I’ve had to learn how to manage my time in a way that would still allow me to meet my goals. It has all been a lesson in prioritizing jobs that have due dates and figuring out when I am most productive for each thing. For example, I am sharper with writing and computer work in the mornings, while the afternoons and evenings are better for bench work. But this is specific to me and ultimately, I have had to do things ungracefully till I figured that out.

For a time, having all of these things in my life were really beneficial. As a new-to-the-field bookbinder, I needed to connect with our community and the best way to do that was to take on the volunteer position as Programs Chair. I met everyone in my chapter through the events I organized and that extended to the national level. However, I held that position for 5 years and after a time it was clear that I needed to really focus on my private endeavors for a while so I stepped down from that role last year. That being said, I have replaced that volunteer role with some that are local to Bloomington.

Adding an online retail store will add a level of complication to my ability to schedule a multitude of responsibilities, but as I am discovering now, it just means that I have to be more selective with what I take on. The benefit of this restriction is that I can see more quickly what is worthwhile to me. Also, I am constantly reading about people and companies that find new ways to keep their work and life flowing smoothly.

6)  What is the one piece of advice you would give someone starting out in the book arts?

It was difficult for me to find my place within the limitless directions you can take in our field; there are just so many options. The most important factor in my development so far have been the people in our field. I would highly encourage a beginner to become involved with an organization that best represents their goals. Groups like the Guild of Book Workers are an unlimited resource when it comes to practical instruction or advice about the direction of your career. Besides, the people involved in organizations like this are the ones hiring people! So who better than them to go to for guidance!

7)  What products that Colophon currently sells are your personal favorites? What are unique to colophon?

For tools, I mentioned before the 9mm Olfa knife complete with the black carbon blades (those are key). That knife comes in two sizes, but I reach for the smaller of the two more frequently. I also love the Japanese screw punch with each of its 9 bits. It’s a classic that cuts perfect little holes in anything from from paper to book board to thin wood veneer.

As for materials, I can’t help but continue to collect the small colored Londonderry linen thread spools; there are so many colors to choose from! I’ve also been drawn into the duo and Dubletta cloths for both book and box making. The colors are stunning and as far as I know, they are unique to Colophon.

This list could be much longer, but for the sake of brevity those are the highlights to me!

8)  What are your future plans for Colophon? Will you try to develop the business into a teaching facility as others are attempting?

I will continue to develop the new website into a resource for the shop and the community. The shopping cart and online credit card payment feature is a big upgrade, but I will also continue to add photographs that help online shopping for tactile materials. Along the same lines, videos will appear showing people how to use some of the more mysterious tools.

Nancy had a section of the website that included resources for people looking to learn and I would like to expand that as well.

As for teaching, I love the idea of developing Colophon into a teaching resource. I have been doing some teaching myself over the last few years so it seems right to have Colophon develop in that direction though it might be a year or so before that comes to fruition. Currently, the shop is running from my house as well as a storage facility. Down the road though, I envision a physical space where the store will be centralized and people can come to take workshops as well as pick up orders in person.

9)  Are there potential new products or other developments we can look forward to?

I hope to fill out a few areas of the shop, specifically adhesives and bookbinding tools. There are a few things that would be valuable to have available alongside the other great stock, like conservation adhesives, and I will announce the new items on social media and listservs.

I’ve had great feedback from colleagues as to what types of things they are looking for. It is really helpful to get this kind of feedback so that I can anticipate what gaps there are in the shop that I may not have seen myself. I am always happy to take suggestions as to what items people would like to see available. If it makes sense to carry it and is feasible, I will do what I can to make it happen.

Finally, Colophon is now on social media! This is an area that I hope to develop alongside the website in order to keep shop items and announcements visible. Check out our twitter and Instagram feeds @colphonbookarts to stay up to date on new products, updates, and happenings.

 

***

 

I personally use a number of Colophon products. Two of my favorite are the Garniture linen cords and the colored Londonderry thread.

The Garniture cord Colophon sells is perfect for Gothic style historical models.

I use the Londonderry linen thread all the time. It comes in a variety of sizes.

There are many other Colophon products to list that I use on a regular basis, including quarter-sawn white oak book boards, Eska binders board, Rohhalbleinen book cloth, Brillianta book cloth, C&D linen cord, the Londonderry lacing thread (I love the softness of this thread!) and of course the Colophon Best Linen sewing thread.

Best of luck with your new venture Mary! I wish you and Colophon Book Arts continued success!

 

The Czeck Edge Ruler Stop

I purchased the Czeck Edge ruler stop about two months ago and keep finding more and more uses for it. It costs around $35 and clamps onto almost any ruler easily and securely.

In addition to a ruler stop, it is accurate enough to convert a ruler into a double square. Although marketed to woodworkers, bookbinders will also find it quite useful. The non-rusting anodized aluminum is slightly more compatible with binders boards, leather, paper and cloth than a hardened steel Starrett double square.

This tool is useful in circumstances where your dividers are not large enough, for example when centering a label in the middle of a bookboard.  It can be used for measuring a book without relying on quantification for boxmaking: simply set the stop for the measurement of the book, then transfer the distance with a knife to your board. It could be used for laying out tooling. I’m sure there are many more uses.

The small (3.75 x 1 x .5 inch with the knob) size is appropriate for books. This is a handy little tool at a reasonable price. Czeck it out! Sorry!

Here I am using it to position the catch plates when mounting clasps.