Category Archives: bookbinding tools

A Very Long Tool Roll. And Fantastic Students at The Conservation of Leather Bookbindings Workshop, Emory University.

A very, very, very long tool.

Soyeon Choi, aka. Cat Lady, brought the longest tool roll I’ve ever seen to The Conservation of Leather Bindings Workshop last week at Emory University. It is over 42 inches long and has 16 pockets, each of them stuffed full. Soyeon made it out of cotton fabric. Yet it was not large enough to house all her travel tools, so she brought an additional smaller red one, which is partially visible in the image above. It is always fun to geek out over the tools everyone brings.

In contrast, a “large” tool roll from Highland Hardware of Atlanta is a modest 21 inches in length. It was great to finally visit Highland, BTW, and I bought a gorgeous Auriou hand-cut woodworking rasp there.

Kim Norman, Head of Conservation, and the consummate Emory Conservation Lab crew made this workshop fly. But the best thing about it were the students. Because everyone came with substantial experience in bookbinding, and brought different books with different problems, the discussions were amazing, thoughtful, informative, and filled with practical information. Everyone benifited from thinking about the books others brought, as well as working on their own.

Plans are already in the works to repeat this workshop, which will be announced here.

At the end of week long workshops, I ask the students to vote for a class member who they feel deserves a prize, and explain why. Soyeon Choi won overwhelmingly, for asking pertinent questions, and she added a pair of small bone folders designed for making headcaps to her already overstuffed tool roll.

Payne, Pots, and Bills

Portrait of Roger Payne.  Source: Recent Antiquarian Acquisitions, The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University. A huge version of this is image is available at: https://lewiswalpole.wordpress.com/2013/11/14/rogerus-payne-2/

I suppose most bookbinders are familiar with this depiction of Roger Payne.  I first encountered it as Plate 59 in Edith Diehl’s Bookbinding: Its Background and Technique, which was the second book on bookbinding I read in 1988. The scene is often referred to as a “dingy garret”,  though to be fair, many slightly later depictions of binderies, ca. 1830’s, are in a similar state, with cracked plaster, dirty looking walls, etc….

There is something appealing about the scene, a locus of honest, if impecunious, craft. His timid, almost mouselike  glance conveys an earnestness. He seems weak, leaning on a book in press to support his thin frame. The press tub itself is so dinky I can’t imagine using it to back a book — how would the press itself stay stable on it? The book on the press is also in an  odd position. It is difficult to believe a binder would press down on the spine like this, when the book is only supported by the foreedge boards. There are other oddities. Why are there books lying on the floor? Why is he wearing slippers and torn pants? Should we chalk it up to the artistic imagination of the artist who drew him?

And what are in the three pots that have spoons or brush handles sticking out of them? Are they barley broth pots as one theory advances, which he was supposedly fond of? Or are they glue pots?  The one in the brightly burning fire would likely be too hot and ruin the glue. The one on the mantle might be a good temperature to actually use. Could the one in the window be kept cool for storage? Or, again, are we back to speculating about an artist’s imagination.

We do have actual evidence of Payne and his work, found in the books he bound, and his invoices, written in his own hand, and very detailed for the time.

Handwritten bill from Roger Payne, The Morgan Library and Museum. # MA 3889.

There is a collection of 35 of them bound together at the Morgan Library and Museum. Accession Number: MA 3889, Unfortunately, they are separated from the books that he bound.  What a loss! There are a number of Payne’s bindings in the Morgan’s collection.

While they do not reveal the mystery of his pots, they do reveal a kind and conscientious bookbinder, as in the above bill.  He mentions reducing the price by one days work because he wasn’t happy with the quality of the result.

His bindings are beautiful, with his often lauded tooling, carefully handled straight grain morocco, and often exceedingly thin boards that are invariably dead flat even today. He is still a role model!

Heat Treated Tonkin Bamboo Hera Blanks for Sale

Tonkin Bamboo. Note the large areas of black power fibers. Compare this to the endgrain of a chopstick.

Hera are small Japanese tools useful for a variety of scraping, lifting, and delaminating tasks. They are common in paper conservation. Tonkin is a dense, flexible and strong type of bamboo that handmade fishing rods are made from. More about Tonkin.  Heat treating increases the elasticity of the bamboo.

Even so, hera with very thin and flexible tips can wear and can crack, so they need to be maintained by sanding, carving, reducing the width, or even shortening.  Once you have the skills to make a hera, they are easy to maintain. If you want to keep things simple, shape it with your Olfa knife, sand it with 220 grit, then finish it with 600 grit.  More tips on shaping bamboo.

These blanks are roughly 6 inches long, and 1/4 – 3/8 inch wide.  If you want to make two narrow hera, you could split a wider blank.  Just ask me for the widest one I have. Making your own tools to the exact size and shape you need is rewarding and satisfying.

Purchase heat treated Tonkin hera blanks here, only $10.00/ each!

Top, bottom, and side views of a typical blank.

A finished hera. This is not difficult to do, but takes a bit of time.

An Ornate 17th Century Bookbinding Press

Bookbinder’s Stretcher [sic]. Possibly French, Walnut, 1670-1700. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

This is the most ornate finishing (?) press I’ve ever seen, as well as being one of the earliest dated ones. It is inaccurately described by the V&A as a book stretcher in the catalog, because in the early images (above and below) the tightening nuts were on the wrong side of the cheek. Usually tightening nuts like these are found on German or Netherlandish presses.

It would be nice to have a book stretcher on occasion, though.  Need to turn an octavo into a quarto?  No problem!  But was this really a book press, or a press intended for some other purpose? The 29 inch long cheeks are very, very thin in profile, and I imagine would deflect quite a bit even with just hand tightening.

Bookbinder’s Stretcher [sic]. Possibly French, Walnut, 1670-1700. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A later image shows the press assembled correctly, but it is still described as a book stretcher. Almost every non-functional inch of this remarkable press is covered with relief carvings. The tightening nuts are especially elegant.  It is made from walnut, a wood traditionally used for press boards in 18th century France.

Bookbinder’s Stretcher [sic] assembled correctly. Possibly French, Walnut, 1670-1700. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Many 17th century and earlier European woodworking tools, like planes, are encrusted with carving. Hand tools have became minimally decorated since the 20th century, all form deriving from efficient manufacture and use. The decorative deep carving must have taken a lot of extra time. Did the maker or consumer provide the agency? Was this a presentation piece, not intended to be used?  It seems to show very little wear, atypical of most presses. Or did the maker just want to make a beautiful tool? Do beautiful tools inspire binders to make beautiful books?

*****

Hats off to the V&A has a very progressive large image use policy.  You can download them instantly, share them widely, and even use them for publication. There are almost 750,000 searchable images on the V&A site. Let’s hope all institutions free their images.

V&A large image use form. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Keep it Clean: Preserving the Life of 3M Finishing Film

One of the most common mistakes in sharpening is to allow your stone or film to glaze over. This significantly increases sharpening time, since the knife is not abraded by the grit, but is burnished against embedded steel. Not using enough lubricant is a common reason for this, as is not regularly cleaning your substrate. Depending on the size of the grit, either a microfiber rag or a white vinyl eraser works best.

My sharpening setup, above, consists of a bright swing arm lamp mounted directly above a cork faced workbench (PSA cork shelf liner), a microfiber rag, a large squeeze bottle of water, and the Peachey Sharpening System. I find it more comfortable to sharpen at a lower height, around 34 inches, than my regular bookbinding workbench. Many hundreds of knives have been sharpened here!

The microfiber rag is perfect for cleaning larger grit 3M micro-finishing film, from 80 to around 15 microns. This rag was white when I purchased it, a testament to how well it picks up and retains small metal particles. I also use it to clean off the knife between grits in order to examine the scratch patterns.

For 5 micron and smaller grits, a white vinyl eraser works wonders.  Pictured above is the neon lime green  1 micron film, which glazes quite easily. Using the eraser on coarser grits eats it up too quickly.

Of course, over time, the abrasive will wear to the point nothing much happens, and you will need to replace it. I can usually sharpen ten knives or so on one piece of 2 x 11 inch film.

By using plenty of water as a lubricant, and cleaning the film after each use, the effective working life of finishing film will be prolonged.

August Eickhoff French Style Paring Knives

A pair of August Eickhoff french style paring knives, made in New York, 19th century.

A side benefit of my regrinding and knife sharpening service is that I get to see some interesting antique knives. These August Eickhoff knives are beautifully made, have a wonderful balance, a lovely patina, and given the amount of distal taper (both on the blade and the tang) must have been forged. Eickhoff also made round knives (aka. head knives) for leatherworkers which occasionally show up for sale today. In the late 19th century, Eickhoff was located at 381 Broome St, NYC, making scissors, woodworking tools, and resharpening knives. He served on the NY Board of Education, and advertised his wares in a Teachers College Educational Monograph. It may be time to make a few reproduction Eickhoff knives.

Long Live the Superstrop

I introduced the Superstrop about eight months ago, and have been using this one for over a year without having to recharge the substrate, which is a .1 micron Poly Crystalline Diamond spray.  And last month, seven students used it to make a total of 24 leather bindings. So I’m guessing one application of the diamond compound, which comes with a new strop, will last at least a number of years under normal use. The substrate itself is more durable than leather. It holds the small diamond particles in place, allows them to move around a little to expose sharp edges, and doesn’t glaze over.The small knife at the top right is a prototype paper conservation scraping knife. Get the Superstrop here