Todd Pattison’s Five Essential Bookbinding Tools

Todd Pattison’s five essential bookbinding tools.

Todd Pattison

Conservator at the New England Historic Genealogical Society

When Jeff asked me to pick my five most essential tools for bookbinding, I thought about what the most important ones were for making a book and so I chose a needle, a bone folder, scissors, an OLFA knife and a Swiss paring knife.

The needle was pretty obvious when I started to think about some of the first tasks involved with making a binding. You can fold and tear pages by hand to create signatures but page attachment for me involves sewing with a needle. The needle can also be used to poke holes, scratch line, and just generally pick at things (who doesn’t like to do that) so it has some versatility as well.

I use a bone folder for so many bookbinding tasks that it seemed a natural one to include. I’m showing the one that I also use for box-making; one end has been shaped into a 90-degree angle to be able to work in corners. I broke my favorite bone folder about 10 years ago, it was basically the only bone folder that I used, and since losing it I haven’t really found another one that I like that much to replace it.

The scissors and the OLFA knife might be a little redundant as they are both used for cutting but the way I use them is different enough that I decided to keep both. I tend to use them quite a bit and the thought of not having either one at my disposal is a little strange. There was some back and forth about dropping out the scissors and replacing it with a 90-degree triangle, a brush or a ruler, but I eventually decided to keep the scissors instead. I actually do a lot of measurements without a ruler by measuring materials against a book by eye, I can use my fingers or a scrap of board to apply adhesive and I think I can come up with a right angle some other way if I needed to.

Leather is such a beautiful material to cover a book with and I really enjoy working with it so my last tool is a paring knife, it’s kind of a must for me. I’m showing a Swiss version that I purchased in 1983 so it has gotten a lot of use and I like how versatile it is. I also own a right and left English knife but the curve of the Swiss knife kind of combines both so if I’m restricted to just one paring knife, I’ll include it.

I really hope that I’m never limited to only five tools but if that happens those are the ones I would choose.