Category Archives: bookbinding tools

Improved Corner Cutting Jig and Loaded Stick!

Bookbindings are often judged by a quick check of their corners and headcaps. There is no shortcut to making a great headcap, but this corner jig will allow you to make perfect corners every time, in leather, paper, cloth or vellum.

The Peachey Corner Cutting Jig

 

Corner cutting jig adjusted for the thickness of the board

 

A perfectly mitered corner

Earlier versions of this jig had a wood or brass body, I realized Delrin would be the perfect material, since it is dimensionally stable and it is easy to clean PVA off. Why did this take 15 years to figure out?! This jig is adjustable for any board thickness between 20 and 200 point. Perfect for one-off and essential for edition work.

$150.00  Purchase here.

TIP: To make an neater standard 45 degree corner, make an extra cut as shown by the dotted line in the diagram. This little triangle is then adhered to the edge (thickness) of the board. This eliminates a double fold of cloth, resulting in a more seamless corner.

This small extra cut creates a neater corner

 

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I’ve also improved the loaded stick, by making the head out of stainless steel so there is no danger of marking the pages. The latest batch has mahogany handles, though this will change. Comfortable hand carved handle, all are slightly different. Around 10 inches long, the stainless steel head is 2 x .5 inches, which gives it a pleasing heft, but not too heavy.

$150.00  Purchase here.

A selection of loaded sticks with stainless steel heads and mahogany handles

An Overview of Leather Paring Knives, Tools and Machines

Many bookbinders, when getting into leather binding, are surprised by the wide variety of leather paring knives and machines. In bookbinding terminology there are four basic styles of knives and they are named for the nations that generally use them: English, French, German and Swiss. Other leather crafts use different terminologies.

In addition to paring knives, many binders use paring tools and machines. Most commonly a modified 151 style spokeshave, a double edge razor blade paring machine, or more rarely a razor blade plane. If you have a lot of work, skins can be sent out to be split. A few also thin leather by sanding or grinding. Below are my observations on the advantages and disadvantages of all of these.

 

1. English Style Knives (a straight blade, usually around 45 degrees relative to the length)

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In North America, most binders use an English Style knife for edge paring, followed by a spokeshave for making a long, gradual bevels. This type of beveling is used for English style fine bindings and rebacking. The knife making firm G. Barnsley made the most common knives used by English bookbinders in the 20th century.

ADVANAGES

DISADVANTAGES

  • Can only be used for edge paring
  • You will need a different style knife, a spokeshave, or a razor blade paring machine to thin larger areas

 

2. French or Swiss Style Knives (usually a slightly rounded blade, Swiss knives do not have a handle)

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French style knives are very popular with fine binders, many of whom were French trained. One defining stylistic feature is a center mounted wood handle, however. The handle on the French knives has always puzzled me, since you tend to hold it more on the blade and rest your palm on the handle. The handle protrudes onto the leather, limiting the angle the knife can be held. To get lower paring angle, I was the first to introduce the top mounted wood handle.

ADVANTAGES

  • One knife can do it all, though some binders use this in conjunction with an English style knife
  • Can be used with a scraping motion for thinning anywhere in a skin, useful for headcap or spine areas
  • Round blades seem to stay sharp longer, since there is at least some area that is still sharp enough to get a “bite” into the leather

DISADVANTAGES

  • Much more difficult to resharpen
  • More difficult to learn to use
  • More difficult to control
  • Scraping with a knife is more dangerous than spokeshaving or using a razor blade paring machine

 

3. German Style Knives

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Joseph Zaehnsdorf. The Art of Bookbinding. 2nd. ed. (London: George Bell and Sons, 1890), 91.

I’ve only used these a couple of times, so don’t really have an opinion. I did have a German trained student who used it expertly.  The one I have is slightly flexible. In  Zaehnsdorf’s 1890 The Art of Bookbinding, the German paring knife looks like a regular chef’s knife. Even the modern versions have a wedge shaped taper, so that the back is fairly thick and the opposite edge is sharp. Did the modern German style knife morph from a regular chef’s knife?

 

4. Modified 151 Spokeshave

spokeshave

A modified 151 style spokeshave is a powerful and effective tool for making long, gradual bevels in leather; ideal for rebacking or an English style full leather binding. It can also be used to bevel binders board. It is a lot of fun to use. These were originally intended for woodworkers, and I think binders started to modify these for leather starting in the 1920’s. Here is some of my research, and a tentative type study of 151 style spokeshaves.

ADVANTAGES

  • Much faster than a French knife for reducing leather thickness over a large area
  • Less chance of tearing through leather, especially with a shaving collector
  • A must for calf, which tears or gets marked in a razor blade paring machine

DISADVANTAGES

  • Difficult to modify a regular 151 style spokeshave
  • There is a bit of a learning curve to learn to use them
  • The leather must be clamped to the stone or glass, or the leather can be traditionally held with your stomach
  • Can’t be used with leather smaller than 6 inches or so in one direction, to allow for room for clamps and motion of the spokeshave

 

5. Razor Blade Leather Paring Machines: Scharffix, Bockman Paring Machine, and the forthcoming Felsted Skiver

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Pre-Production Felsted Skiver. Photo: Malcolm Raggett, http://www.felstedskiver.com

Razor blade paring machines, including the Scharffix, Brockman and the new “Felsted Skiver” all use a very similar arrangement: a double edge razor blade suspended above an anvil or roller. These are very useful for thinning small or large areas flat. Razor blade machines excel at paring leather very thin. Common bookbinding applications include millimeter bindings, spines and corners for half bindings, and most commonly leather labels. A spokeshave is sometimes used to clean up ridges created from overlapping cuts on larger pieces.

My favorite paring machine is the original style Brockman, which is not available new anymore.  One advantage of his design is a curved bed for for the razor blade, which gives it significant rigidity and positions it to cut into the the leather straight on, rather than at an angle. Older hand held double edge razor blade handles also bend the blade like this. Brockman told me he made the first 100 of them himself, which are painted blue, and the later black ones were manufactured for him. A third green cast version was briefly produced in the 2000s (?), which looked very nice, but I haven’t tried it.

There are rigidity problems with many Scharffix machines, so make sure to test them out before purchase.

I’m looking forward to trying out the newest machine, the Felsted Skiver. Malcolm Raggett designed and is selling these. He has tested a variety of commercially available double edge razor blades, which is very useful research, and confirmed the Feather as one of the best blades.. But as I mentioned, I haven’t tried them out yet.

ADVANTAGES

  • Short learning curve
  • The best for paring very thin, flat areas of leather, like labels or half-leather bindings

DISADVANTAGES

  • Difficult to create bevels (at least for me)
  • Almost impossible to use on vegetable tanned calfskin
  • Blades wear out quickly and need to be replaced
  • Some of the machines can be tempermental
  • Changing the blade can alter the cutting depth

 

6. Razor Blade Planes

I wrote a brief history of them, then added some tips on their use, and later recorded my failed attempt to make a better version.  I ended up tearing a lot of leather, and went back to using a 151 modified spokeshave and razor blade paring machine. One skin can be as expensive as any of these tools.

 

7. Sending your Skin to a Specialist

This used to be common for french design binders, who even indicated what thickness the leather should be at various areas, through use of a template.  I’ve heard these specialists are disappearing, though. We do have leather manufactures who will split a skin (or more likely a dozen) down to a certain thickness. This is an excellent option if you are an edition binder. If the skin is thick enough you can get both sides back. The machine that does this is like a toothless horozontal bandsaw. I’ve used Hohenforst Splitting Company and they did an excellent job on a difficult leather: undyed and unfinished calfskin.

 

8. Sanding or Grinding

I wouldn’t recommend either of these methods unless there are extraordinary circumstances. Not only do these methods produce a lot of hazardous dust, they are very slow and, at least in my experience, grinding is very uncontrollable. I have done this if the leather is exceptionally weak, or need to level chatter that has resulted from an improperly tuned spokeshave. In this case choose a very coarse sandpaper, around 80 US grit. Sanding an entire piece of leather for rebacking or covering is very tedious.

Conclusion

After saying all of this, I think any knife made from good steel, properly hardened, that is hand sharpened, can work. I did some testing of tool steels and a summary is posted here. But I do think it is easiest to start with a hand sharpened knife, like the ones I sell in my store, in order to feel what sharp is, then learn to maintain this by stropping and eventually by resharpening.Happy paring!

Jeff Peachey Het Belang Van Goed Gereedschap

According to Google translate, the title of this article roughly translates as; “Jeff Peachey The Importance of Good Tool”.

It is vaguely unnerving to have a multi-page article written about you in a language you can’t understand.

But I’m not complaining!  The author of this piece, Henk Francino and I talked for quite some time (in English) about how tools — specifically hand tools — seem to be increasingly under-appreciated, and under-valued by contemporary society.

Isn’t knowing “how-it-was-made” a key component in understanding an object, and the tools used an important aspect? Are only materials to be conserved? Is it even possible to conserve technique? If so, aren’t the tools a critical aspect?

 

Read it all: Hank Francino, “Jeff Peachey Het Belang Van Goed Gereedschap” in Handboekbinden,  Vol. 9, No. 4, 2016. (pp. 112-117).

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“Jeff Peachey Het Belang Van Goed Gereedschap” in Handboekbinden, Vol. 9, No. 4., 2016. (pp. 112-117)

 

New Store for Peachey Bookbinding Tools!

I’ve set up an online store at peacheytools.com for all the tools I make and sell.  There is  a used tool section (which also includes some experimental unique tools I’ve made) with some great deals to kick things off.

https://www.peacheytools.com

https://www.peacheytools.com

Miniature Bookbinding Tool Set

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Miniature set of bookbinding tools, 1/6th Scale.

The Miniature Bookbinding Tool set is once again available for sale. I took a couple of years off to rest up my muscles. Ironically, it takes more strength to hold these while grinding and filing, than normal sized ones. The tools are made 1/6th scale, i.e. the Delrin sharpening plate on the left is two inches long, not twelve. They are made from the same materials the larger ones are, but please don’t expect to actually use them, they are much too small to hold comfortably. If you want a knife to use to make miniature books, I recommend my Flexible Mini Knives, and the cutting area can be made narrow if you desire, just let me know. The Miniature Bookbinding Tool Set is for the miniature book enthusiasts (you know who you are) or a gift for the binder who has everything. Seventeen tools are included, l-r: a Delrin sharpening plate, Peachey style French knife, Flexible paring knife, bone folder, small Powell shaped lifting knife, heart shaped finishing tool, brass triangle, engineers square, bookbinder’s hammer, swiss style paring knife, pallet, dissection scalpel, large Powell shaped lifting knife, French paring knife, cord wrapped paste brush, English style paring knife, and a strop. Supplied in a cherry box.

Miniature Bookbinding Tool Set: $800.00

Order here.

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Elaine Nishizu, a bookbinder in Los Angles California, made this beautiful box to house a set of these tools. It is in the Guild of Book Workers California Chapter Member Exhibition, 2016. Elaine describes it: “The box structure has a reversible spine that folds back on itself like a Jacob’s ladder. It’s covered in Japanese paper and a French printed paper by Claude Braun. The box is lined with black ultra suede and has a magnetic closure.” Note: this box does not come with the tool set.

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Elaine Nishizu’s box to house the miniature tool set.

Twelve Ways of Testing Knife Sharpness

1. Visual inspection. When looking directly at the blade edge, with a light source behind you, are there any reflections? If so, these are dull, bent or chipped areas. The cutting edge should be an almost invisibly smooth black line.

2. Visual inspection, with magnification. When looking at the side of the blade, the smoother it is, the sharper it is, and presumably the longer the edge will last. Brent Beach, for example, measures wear in terms of pixels in a microscopic image at 200x. Leonard Lee’s Complete Guide to Sharpening has a number of electron microscope images of blade edges. Take heart, though, even a “sharp” edge will look like the Rocky Mountains if enlarged enough.

3. Shave a few hairs on your arm. If it is sharp enough to shave, it is probably pretty good. WARNING: THIS IS DANGEROUS

4. Rest the blade on a pen held at a 15 degree angle. If the blade, with just the weight of the knife catches the plastic, it is sharp. If it slides off, it is dull. The closer to parallel the pen and the knife are, the sharper the blade is.

5. Do this same test holding the blade and GENTLY and see if it catches on your fingernail.  WARNING: THIS IS DANGEROUS.

6. Tsujigiri. This test likely seems a myth. Supposedly, at one time, samurais tested their swords by the number of torsos they could cut through in one stroke. The sharpest one was a #5. WARNING: THIS IS DANGEROUS, IMMORAL AND ILLEGAL.

7. For kitchen knives, see if they can penetrate a tomato or onion, with no downward pressure and no sawing. There are many variables in the toughness of the skin of a tomato though, I imagine.

8. Longer blades can be tested by slicing paper, even toilet paper. There are many youtube videos of this. Slicing cardboard, because of its consistent and abrasive nature, is often a field test of edge durability.

9. Feel the edge ACROSS THE BLADE with your finger, applying virtually no pressure. The smoother it feels the sharper it is. You should be able to feel any slight irregularities, indicating  a dull area. WARNING: THIS IS DANGEROUS.

10. Test it on a difficult to cut substrate like styrofoam, cork, or balsa wood.

11. Send the knife to CATRA. They will qualitatively test for initial cutting performance, edge durability, and edge geometry. This will, however, dull your knife, so it is designed for production samples.

12. Possibly the best test is just to use it. Providing you are familiar with the material you are using it on, you can often tell instantly if it is sharp depending on how much force you have to apply.

Review of the Delrin Folder by Benjamin Elbel

I’ve been following the career of Ben Elbel for a while.  Originally his onion skin binding structure caught my eye. It has a cleverly elegant design, and is one of the few genuinely new binding structures I have seen in the past 25 years. I met him in Amsterdam earlier this summer, and he was kind enough to write up a review of my large Delrin folder in his current newsletter, which is well worth subscribing to. 

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Benjamin Elbel

Benjamin (French nationality, 1983) fell in love with bookbinding while studying art in Strasbourg, France. From the beginning his interest has been towards the experimental side of the craft; however, determined to learn the ‘proper’ ways he embarked on a journey that took him to Switzerland (Ascona- Centro del bel libro), Germany (Göttingen- die Buchmanufaktur) and England (London- Shepherds Bookbinders, Book Works). After these years of working in the trade he started his own bindery, Elbel Libro Bookbinding in Amsterdam providing bespoke bookbinding services. Ben is known for his research in bookbinding and over the years has developed a number of innovative book and album structures such as the onion skin binding, which he shares via workshops and printed tutorials.

THE DELRIN FOLDER by Benjamin Elbel

In May, Jeff Peachey gave a workshop in the Netherlands (the workshop was organised by Herre de Vries, Natasha Herman, Wytze Fopma and Restauratoren Nederland, and took place at bindery FopmaWier). Jeff is an American bookbinder, conservator and tool maker, whose work I have long admired so when I heard he was going to be around I jumped on the occasion to invite him to the bindery.

Jeff made me a gift: a special folder that he’d made, called the ‘Delrin’ folder.

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Delrin is a plastic with a very low coefficient of friction, similar to Teflon, which means that it doesn’t leave shiny marks on materials. However, unlike teflon, it is hard.

I wasn’t sure at first, thinking ‘what do I need a new folder for?’ Also, I was suspicious about the low friction qualities. Only after a while did I start trusting it and seeing its qualities:

1. The friction really is very similar to Teflon. I now use it without fear on virtually anything, except perhaps very rough and very dark papers.

2. Its big size is really comfortable for rubbing down. If held like on the picture above, one can really cover large areas very quickly and apply a lot of pressure with less effort than with a small tool.

3. The thin tip is brilliant for rubbing material in grooves without leaving shiny marks and again, the large size means it can be held like a knife and used with maximum pressure.

As one can see on the pictures I have already used it a lot but it shouldn’t be a problem to re-grind it to refine the tip. Thanks a lot, Jeff, for introducing this new tool!

Republished from Elbel Libro Bookbinding, Newsletter, Summer 2016.  Sign up for it here.