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.

Alessandro Sidoti’s Five Essential Book Conservation Tools

Alessandro Sidoti

Book Conservator, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze

Curved polished needle.  As I sew only for conservation purposes I always use blunt needles that I made through the years, even though I use a specific needle for every sewing structure I still think as this as an essential tool, the curved shape is a must for linked stitches and for in-situ reinforcements.

Pin vice. In most of my work instead of using awls I tend to prefer a pin vice mounted with a curved, pointed, blunt or straight needle.

Try square in steel. For most of my work I use my selfmade tri-square in solid steel with a brass handle, it is useful both for cutting and scoring purposes.

Stanley 28-109 slim knife. I have many other knives around, some that I made and some that I bought, but most of the time my hand reaches for this one first.

Ivory folder.  I made it from the handle of a kitchen knife that I bought at an antique market, even though I like to use more modern tools I think that my hand is used to it more than others, I polished it with micro mesh to 12000 grit and this make it very smooth thus leaving very little marks on the surface. The firmness compared to the teflon folder makes it more durable and its pointed shape reaches for every corner.

What I would still miss a lot, depending on the size of the book are: brushes for adhesives, tweezers for delicate work, a proper awl, if there is some wood involved my low angle block plane, if there is paring of leather involved my self made paring knife and my Stanley modified spokeshave. But I have to say that most of the paring work happens in rebinding work that I try to avoid, though this is not always possible.

 

Tom Conroy’s Five Essential Bookbinding Tools

Tom Conroy asked me an intriguing question.  What are the five most essential bookbinding tools? And why?

I asked a number of bookbinders and conservators to weigh in, and will roll out their answers, one a day, for the next week or so. It is a deceptively intriguing question, as well as being an engrossing distraction. And possibly contentious!

Spoiler alert, if you want to think about this a bit without prejudice, scroll down no further!

Tom Conroy with his pride and joy: a Bertrand Frères Percussion Press. Note the aluminum foil to protect forearms from getting greased.

Tom Conroy

Bookbinder and Book Historian, Berkely, CA.

Bone folder, of course, first; and then I would say knife and straightedge. Spring dividers. Needle. Its a bit more complex than that, of course. My favorite folder is about six inches long, tapers gradually almost from the butt end, and is strongly curved (when “flat” on the bench the tip is raised by almost 5/8″), and is broadly useful for folding, rubbing down, casemaking, and covering; but it is a bit big for working headcaps, definitely too big or a lot of paper treatment and probing where I like a thin folder, and I avoid creasing with it since creasing wears tips so quickly; so actually, several folders are necessary. Well, the more the better, really. A knife and straightedge normally require a cutting board as well, and a knife requires sharpening equipment (disposable blades are never sharp enough) My preferred bench knife is a “small McKay” used by shoemakers and is perfect for use with a straightedge and for disbinding, generally useful, even for light paring, but it it is too short for slitting paper and too small for serious leather paring. Dividers: almost any will suffice, really bad ones are very rare (though I have seen them), and I can, with a strong grimace, imagine making do with just one pair. My preference, though, is 6″ Starrett “Fay” style, with the screw piercing almost-rectangular legs. Needles: now there’s a essay, good ones haven’t been made for at least half a century now, but some needle is indispensable. It’s hard to stop at five. My first thought, before I remembered needles, I had a paste brush on the list (at least 1-1/8″ diameter, usable for hot glue in desperation, but never for PVA); but then I recalled Bernard Middleton pasting up leather for rebacking by grabbing a handful out of the pot and scrubbing it in with the flat of his hand….I think he did it to shock the young folks, that workshop was full of French-style design binders and newly-minted program conservators, and while Bernard was as gentle and quiet as any man I have ever seen, once in a very great while he would show a touch of teasing, immediately hidden away again. I’d find it hard to do without awls (four main kinds in constant use for binding, and others for leatherworking and woodworking). Long tweezers and needle-nosed pliers would be hard to do without. But, on balance: bone folder, straightedge, knife, dividers, needle.