Karen Hanmer’s Five Essential Bookbinding Tools

Karen Hanmer

Bookbinder in solo practice, http://www.karenhanmer.com/

Only FIVE?!

Maybe that’s not so limiting after all. Two experiences have taught me that with tools it is true that less is more. First: observing time lost when someone is forever rummaging through their steamer trunk-sized toolbox. Second: over my career learning to work more efficiently. An important component of this has been finding several uses for whatever tool is in my hand rather than suspending work to reach for another.

These are the essential tasks I perform:

fold

sew

measure

mark

cut

apply

press

All of these tasks can be accomplished with a very modest toolkit made up of the following five items.

1. Folder. Bone for a sharp crease on paper, Teflon for surfaces that might become burnished. A Delrin Folder combines the best properties of both.

2. Needle. A #18 John James is strong enough to go through any paper text block and the eye is large enough to thread effortlessly with sizes up to 18/3, and with some persistence 12/3. I use the same size for sewing endbands.

A needle in a pin vise becomes an awl, which can also be used to score, scribe lines, mark measurements, clean tooling, and apply adhesive or color to precise areas. A pin vise is more versatile than an awl because it can be outfitted with any size needle, sharp or blunt. I favor this one over Jim’s because it is narrow, rolls up with other tools for travel.

3. Knife. If limited to one, I’ll take an ergonomic scalpel handle and outfit it with a #23 Havel’s blade.

4. Straight edge. Not cork-backed. To make them non-skid I’ve been saving the ½-inch that remains after cutting the finest grit micro finishing films to fit sharpening plates and adhering that to the back of all my straightedges. Too fine to scratch whatever I place the straightedge on, and adds almost no thickness to skew my cuts.

5. Brushes. A selection appropriate in size to the area of adhesive being applied.

I’m going to consider the final two items freebies since they can be scrounged up in any home or office:

Paper “rulers.” Narrow strips of unprinted waste paper used with a pencil tick or fold mark to transfer measurements from one material to another, functioning as no-cost dividers, and sometimes better because they can measure spine width and other non-flat surfaces. These can also be used to mask areas when applying adhesive and to mark the center of sections when sewing endbands. [Note: this is called comparative measuring]

Weights.

I’d supplement a larger kit with the following:

A microspatula.

Dividers.

A small rectangle of non skid shelf lining anchors a finishing press in place, keeps beginners’ work from sliding all over the bench when they are learning to case in, and an even smaller piece will help grip a needle for binders who are losing their dexterity.

A small brass triangle with a handle is easy to grip and position, can mark corners prior to covering, is a stable mini straight edge, and doubles as a light weight to aid in placement.

The variety of machinist square called a “footed square” ensures book blocks and boards are square, aids transfer of marks at the board edge to the point of lacing, and is another light-duty weight.

A thin, narrow folder is essential for forming headcaps and doubles as a short-handled microspatula.

An inexpensive English paring knife separate from the one I use to pare leather for utility cutting: back corners, pre shaping boards prior to sanding, and cutting off excess cords and leather “pegs” on historical bindings.

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.