Tag Archives: bookbinding tools

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.

Bookbinder’s Apron?

Someone — not me! — converted a standard WWII M-1937 Canvas Field Cooking Outfit Bag into an apron. When not used as an apron, the tools store in the appropriately labeled pockets. Although I can’t condone altering historical artifacts, this is a pretty cool idea.

Someone should make a Bookbinder’s Apron/ Tool Roll. What are the essential bookbinding tools?

Currently my most used tools are: two 1″ Princeton Brush Co. Gesso brushes, two #8 Princeton Brush Co. flat hog bristle brushes, a Delrin Hera, a large Jim Croft elk bone folder, a Green River Shop knife, a Japanese water brush, a 5″ Mundial scissors, Dumont and Sons #2a and #5 tweezers, a M2 Paring knife, a Pentel .7mm mechanical pencil, a thick steelcraft 12″ tempered ruler, an NT A-300GR snap-off knife, a Caselli Micro-spatula, a Delrin folder, and a 6″ Stevens dividers.

Add an adjustable neck, side-ties long enough to knot in front, and you have your first sale right here!

 

 

Vesalius, Sixteenth Century German Bookbinding Thread and Dissection Tools

Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica libri septem, 1543, 235. Source: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/historicalanatomies/Images/1200_pixels/Vesalius_Pg_235.jpg

While looking at the surgical tools in De Humani Corporis, I ran across an interesting bit of information from a Cambridge University Online Exhibition. The image is huge, and can be examined in detail. In the text, Vesalius mentions that either silk threads or bookbinder’s threads could be used to prepare a cadaver. In his opinion, German bookbinding thread is the best quality, since it is stronger, thinner, and more well-twisted than thread from other countries. I haven’t noticed this about German 16th C. sewing thread (in large part due to the inflexible spines, see the post below) but it is certainly true for their typically tightly cabled sewing supports. One takeaway is that the thread bookbinders used was the best quality available. Vesalius also describes heating a needle  in order to bend it into a “C” or parenthesis shape, a practice bookbinders still perform today. I’m assuming these bent needles, labeled “N” are stuck in bookbinding thread wrapped up in a bun shape.  This is likely the earliest image of bookbinding thread.

Anthropodermic bibliopegy, or the binding of books in human skin, has a lurid and enduring fascination. Here; however, we have the cadaver fabricated using a bookbinding material and borrowed or shared tools: Bibliodermic anthropegy???

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More tools appear on the title page of this book, where a man is stropping or sharpening his razor under the dissection table. The portrait of Vesalius also contains a partially hidden razor lying on the table as he holds body parts of a cadaver. In this case, the razor represents his practical knowledge and experience. His intellectual and theoretical prowess is symbolized by the inkwell and manuscript page on the table behind arm.

The Cambridge exhibition considers that these are ordinary tools, altered by Vesalius, a testament to his manual dexterity. He didn’t need “fancy” instruments, but could use commonly available ones. I wonder about this interpretation, though. Given how many tools even today are shared — and altered — by many crafts, I wonder how many specialist instruments were made only for surgeons. There is no mention of this kind of specialization in J.B. Himsworth’s 1953 The Story of Cutlery, Although it is an excellent resource, it is far from comprehensive.

 

Detail: Title page, Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica libri septem, 1543. Source:https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/historicalanatomies/Images/1200_pixels/Vesalius_TitlePg.jpg

 

Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica libri septem, 1543, xii. Source:https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/historicalanatomies/Images/1200_pixels/Vesalius_Portrait.jpg

 

 

 

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

german-knife

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)

 

The Financial Benefits of Buying What You Love

As a retailer of bookbinding tools, I cannot recommend too highly the fantastically excellent advice of Carl Richards. In his NY Times article, “The Financial Benefits of Buying What You Love“, he lays out a strong case for buying what you really want, rather than settling for a cheaper option. It is not too much different than the old adage, “Buy the best tools you can afford”.

Seriously, though, I think almost every time I have not heeded this advice for a variety of rationalizations — the tool is too expensive, I’m not going to use it that much, I don’t need something that good, etc… — I have regretted it.

As his napkin illustration summarizes: you buy it, you love it, and you keep it. And even if you fall out of love, you still have something of value to resell, rather than more garbage.