Stainless Steel Trindles for Sale; and, Where did the Word “Trindle” Come From?

A pair of stainless steel trindles.

Trindles are used for flattening the spine of in-boards bindings after the boards are laced on, and prior to cutting the foreedge in a plough. This gives a smooth foreedge, without “stepping” of the signatures, which can result when rounding and backing after cutting. I recently designed some modern trindles in stainless steel. Essential for historical models and modern fine binding. 7 x 1.5 inches.

Available to purchase here.

End of sales pitch.

What’s up With the Word “Trindle”?

Usually, when a lecture or article begins with a dictionary definition of a particular term, I eye the closest exit or quickly switch tabs. After reading Arthur Green’s historical, technique based article on in-boards edge cutting and trindles in the new Suave Mechanicals 7 I found myself wondering about the origins of this unusual word.

My first stop: Mr. OED! The two volume quarter-scale print version with magnifying glass in a slipcase was one of the few books I brought with me in an overstuffed VW bug when I moved to NYC in 1989. Anyway — according to the dictionary — the word “trindle” has been around for centuries, most of time referring to proper names, or an object that is round or cylindrical.

From a google ngrams search, there is a reference dating from 1695 mentioning “trindle-pins” which may be some sort of fastening device for ships or buildings. This may lend credence to Green’s argument that Dirk DeBray’s use of long needles to flatten the spine are earliest trindles. For me, these two tools, while performing more-or-less the same function, are morphologically too different to be called the same name. Not every tool used to hit a nail is a hammer.

An early reference to trindles in Google Books. Source

Within English bookbinding literature, the earliest reference is found in Parry’s 1818 The Art of Bookbinding. They are simply described as “… two flat pieces of iron made the size and form of a folding -stick, to place between the back and boards of the book, before cutting the fore-edge (pp. 1-2). Folding sticks of this time are usually described as about 6-7 x 1 inches, and made from wood, ivory or horn. Trindles are one of the few tools Parry not only names, but describes how they is used. An implication they were uncommon at this point in time?

A few years earlier, the 1813 Circle of Mechanical Arts describes trindles without using the word, instead simply mentioning the technique as “… introducing 2 pieces of thin iron 4 or 5 inches long near the head and tail of the book, between the paste-board and the back…” (p. 77) Sounds like a trindle to me!

Two button sticks from my collection. The one on the top is roughly 7 x 1.5 x .039″

The top of the image is the quintessential trindle shape, roughly 6.75 x 1.5, and made by the English firm Bodil Parker brass foundry. They are quite thin and deflect when used to flatten the spine of a book, resulting in a foreedge that is less round than the spine when removed. The one on the bottom is more sophisticated, and has an English patent number that I can’t find information on. (Can anyone help?): “Patent No 116972/17” The various curves around the edges fitting around brass buttons of various diameters. The legs of this one would make it very difficult to use in bookbinding.

An American(?) hinged button stick in my collection. Super flexible.

In the 20th century, museums and manufacturers generally refer trindles as button sticks (or less commonly, button guards). They tend to be associated with military use, dating to around WWI, and made from brass. Brass — as opposed to the thin iron usually mentioned in bookbinding literature — makes sense in that it would not scratch the buttons, since they are made from the same material.

Google ngram for Trindle, which may or may not refer to bookbinding, declines right around the time the guillotine, out-or-boards schoolbook binding styles, and publisher’s cloth case binding becomes predominant, and trindles would have no longer been necessary. Hum. Source

Questions remain. Did bookbinders coin this term in the second quarter of the 19th century? Was it used in the trade commonly earlier? Why would binders create a new term for the more common term “button stick”? Is it workshop slang? Bookbinding does have its own idiosyncratic colloquial terminology. For example, most trades use the term “tommy bar” for a long tightening rod, which bookbinders call a “press-pin”. The search continues. Happy trindeling.

A Medieval Bookbinder’s Knife?

Actual medieval bookbinding tools are almost nonexistent. Apart from a few finishing tools, there really aren’t many documented, extant examples. That’s why a knife that John Nove brought to my attention is extraordinary. Could it really be a medieval bookbinder’s knife? A note associated with this knife claimed it might be.

Medieval Bookbinder’s Knife? Private collection. Photo: John Nove.

At first glance it looks similar to a typical “gift set” carving knife given to newlyweds in the 20th century. The tip looks to be slightly serrated, or perhaps just extremely pitted. The handle has the tonality of antler, but it is actually a carved, lightweight wood according to John. This strikes me as odd: historically, the handles of most knives tend to be a dense exotic woods, bone, horn, or antler. The blade is extremely rusted, while the handle is relatively intact. Is this a red flag?

The ferrule is very odd, one piece of metal hammered around the blade tang hole. Photo John Nove.

Is it a knife that maybe belonged to a bookbinder or bibliophile, hence the very cool handle decoration? Or is it an assemblage of some older and newer parts? Or something else?

The handle is what makes this knife so special. These intricately carved books are convincingly realistic. To me, the books look Gothic, and possibly Germanic, given the overall morphology. The sewing supports appear to be double cords or split tawed thongs, both appropriate to a Medieval book. The pronounced endbands, with the cores lying on the spine are also consistent with this. The clasps look like split thongs, possibly there is a pin attachment? The very rounded spine with pronounced supports extending onto the face of the board is typically Gothic. The carved representation of panels is also typical, though a little odd with the carved triangles, though this might be a limitation of the size of the original and the carver. After all, it only about an inch wide.

The curved, almost spiral grip in the center of the handle is similar to Medieval carved columns I have seen in the Cloisters at the MET. The traces of red (paint ?) on the page edges is somewhat unusual, yellow or a blue would be more common, if in fact it is a German binding represented. The overall length of the knife is 9 inches, with 5 inches for the blade. The blade is quite flexible, with the back measuring only .012 inch.

The elaborate handle seems out of place with a functional tool used by a craftsman, but there are many examples of very elaborate Medieval tools with zoomorphic designs carved into them. The ferrule is also strange with its scalloped collar. John Nove wondered if the blade might have been stuck into an older handle. Book-themed ornamentation on a knife like this might indicate a 19th c. page opening knife? The size is right for that as well.

If this is a medieval bookbinder’s knife in the German tradition, are there modern styles we can compare it to? And how would it have been used? I’d guess that all knives were originally undifferentiated for different trades. Knife-makers would make their knives for a variety of purposes. When did the specific needs for specific trades start? Even today, shoemakers and bookbinders, in the English tradition, use a the same Barnsley paring knife, older examples having an image of a shoe stamped on them.

Top: My Henckel 8 inch Chef’s knife. Bottom: Modern German style bookbinder’s leather paring knife.

I’ve noticed the similarities between German style chef’s and bookbinder’s knifes for a while. The primary one is the taper of the blade from the back to the cutting edge, parallel to the length of the knife. It doesn’t make sense functionally to make a paring knife like this, so German binders wrap the handle with leather, cord or thread to hold it more comfortably. The thin metal around the cutting edge is quick to resharpen, though. There are also the three cutlery rivets on the handles; these are technically called scales on a full tang knife.

Bauer and Franke, Handbuch der Buchbinderei, 1903. Thanks to Peter Verheyen for this reference

The text mentions that the Offenbacher shape is good for weaker leathers, and the Parisian shape is good for thicker leathers. For the leather to be held in the hand position depicted with the Parisian knife, the leather would have to be very thick, almost more of a tanned cowhide, rather than a typical bookbinding calf, sheep, or goat.

Detail p. 91. Zaehnsdorf, Joseph. The Art of Bookbinding. 2nd. ed. London: George Bell and Sons, 1890. <;

The paring knife in Zaehnsdorf’s manual has a similar shape to the medieval knife and moddern chef’s knifes, as do the ones in Peter’s 1928 Braunwarth & Luthke catalog, below. Most seem to have a taper towards the edge of the blade on the left, as indicated by the thicker black line indicating the back of the blade.

Braunwarth and Lüthke catalog from 1928. Collection: Peter Verheyen

To return to the central question. Is this knife a medieval bookbinder’s knife? Without having any scientific analysis of the materials (XRF? FCIR? Carbon dating on the handle?), or more information on province, and examining it in person, I can’t say for sure.

But I can say it is an intriguing object, worthy of further research, preservation, and hopefully clarification in the future.

New Design Delrin Hera. Two Versions. Just in Time for a Holiday Gift 2021!

This is one of my most used tools. It almost always seems to be in my hand while working.

The white version is very flexible at the tip, making it ideal for delicate tasks, lifting fragile materials, pigment consolidation, and pressure sensitive tape removal. The super thin, translucent tip bends to almost 90 degrees, allowing precise control of downward pressure while sliding under the tape carrier. It is also perfect for gently releasing tissue repairs from remay or hollytex.

The black version of Delrin is stiffer than the white, and the tip of this tool is thicker and stronger. It is useful for lifting, inserting adhesive, smoothing repairs, general smooshing, scoring, folding, marking, holding repairs in place, rebacking, etc… . Other uses. 

If you can’t decide between the two versions, the only reasonable option is to purchase both. The non-reflective surface is easy to photograph. Delrin does not rust and is food safe. But I doubt it tastes very good. Delrin, approximately 7 x .25 x .25″


NB: if you are interested in learning to make your own tools, we will make both of these (and 8 other tools) in upcoming Delrin and Bamboo Toolmaking workshops. More info here!

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