Bill Minter’s Five Essential Bookbinding Tools

Bill Minter

Inventor and Book Conservator, Penn State University Libraries.


Five Essential Tools for bookbinding is an intriguing question.

While thinking, I tried to imagine trying to bind a book on a deserted island, or at home during a pandemic. What tools are essential?

For a Simple/Basic Pamphlet:
Tool:   Needle — If paper were available, it can be folded without a bone folder, it can be wetted and torn, and then folded to a codex for sewing with thread, so the needle seems to be essential.

For a more elaborate book with some precise details:
Dividers (see note), straight edge, knife/cutter, and maybe a scribe (awl) or pointed bone folder?   No ruler, no scissors; no pencil, etc….

Note:  Initially, I thought dividers were needed, but then Karen Hanmer suggested a piece of paper for duplicating dimensions. Essentials!

PERHAPS the most important and essential tool (if we can call it a tool) is what we have learned. Someone shared their experience and their ideas that allows us to grow and expand beyond the basics. In essence, what we have learned is a tool that allows us to build beyond our inner talent. Someone inspired us to work beyond what we know, which allows us to experiment and grow ever more.

While we might have the very best tools, it is how we use our skill with those tools that is the ultimate and essential.

Cor Knops’s Five Essential Book Conservation Tools

Cor Knops’s five tools.

Cor Knops

Owner of Knops Boekrestauratie. Book conservator in private practice. Munstergeleen, Netherlands.

These are my five favorite tools for book conservation.

1. Stitch Cutter. This is a Swann-Morton disposable stitch cutter blade mounted in a cheap hobby shop handle. The blade is razor sharp and ideal to cut the sewing of books. You can easily cut the threads without any damage to the paper. The blade is also useful for many other delicate cutting operations. I don’t sharpen these blades: when blunt I mount a new one.

2. Olfa Cutter SA-C 1. This is my favorite snap-off blade knife. The blade angle is 30 degrees instead of the more common 60 degrees. Because of the sharper angle, it cuts delicate paper like Japanese paper without fraying. What I also like is the very slim dimensions of this knife. It’s only 11,5 wide x 4,3 mm thick, and without the blade 136 mm long. Also the non-coated stainless steel finish is very enjoyable to hold.

3. Curved Tweezer. Very fine and precise pointed tweezer. It allows you to pick up the finest things, and you might be surprised what you find in the gutter from books….

4. Curved scissors. This little scissors is only 117 mm long. Not so visible on the picture is that is has curved blades. This makes it ideal to cut in hard to reach places. Also nice is the metal spring which open up the scissors by itself. [Note: these are called “conjunctival scissors” in the US]

5. Dental Pick. I have many, many spatula and all kind of other small tools to ‘fumble’ with. But this miraculous tool is quite unique. It has two identical end tips. But the angles are opposite, so when releasing leather from a leather binding for instance, the funny thing is you can flip the spatula in one movement in your hand and the ‘angle of attack’ changes. It needs some practicing but it helps to work more efficiently.

Vriendelijke groeten,
Cor Knops

Andreas Dombrowskyj’s Five Essential Book Repair Tools

Andreas Dombrowskyj

Conservation Technician, Columbia University Libraries.
[ NOTE: I worked with Andreas beginning in the early 1990s at Columbia University’s Conservation Lab. Once they reopen, he will soon be completing 60 years of service! ]
1. My bone folder which I can’t do without.
Andreas uses an older version of this German bookbinding knife. Source:
2. My four knives which I use in different situations, they differ in size and  sharpness. Two are like the one above. What is good is about them is they have a certain amount of flex which I need when I’m peeling binders board from the back of the end sheet. In order to save original end sheets (often maps or other decorative designs), I have to go from the back of the end sheet. This involves peeling different types of binders boards, with different densities. and made of different materials. A sharp knife is needed to peel away the back of the end sheet.
I made this replica of Andreas’s rigid dull knife from memory. I think the shape was caused by 50+ years of work and resharpening, given the thickness of the spine of the blade.
The other two are smaller and have a more rigid back of the blade (see below). They are good for cleaning the book spines.  When I clean the back of the books, a dull knife like these is good because it is a scraping action and not a cutting one.
3. Scissors, a standard bookbinder’s model with one blunt end.
4. Micro-spatula, a Caselli, of course.
5. Sanding block, which is helpful when tip-ins are done. The sandpaper block  is used on any bits of paper that sticks out.
I could list others, but those are ones that I use most.