Book binding for fun and profit

My dad is a book binder. Though I haven’t spoken to him much for years, he’s still doing it, and when I was a child I helped with the family business. Because when I say my dad is a book binder, I don’t mean as a hobby. He makes hand bound blank books using Renaissance equipment and techniques, each one a numbered and unique work of art. He still sells them at a few Renaissance Fairs, though not nearly as many as we used to go to when I was a child.

There’s a lot involved in making a book by hand. There was cutting and folding the paper into signatures 1, stitching them together, gluing the spine, then rounding the spine out with a hammer. Then there was cutting down the book-boards to make the case 2 and then sanding their edges so they were rounded instead of sharp. On the book block itself he would glue a strip of ribbon material to serve as headbands and protect the back edges of the pages. Next came the choosing of end-papers, usually something pretty and marbled, and the choosing of the material of the covers. My dad has worked with a huge range of materials, from faux fur to real fur to leather to marbled paper and even tapestry or woven fabric. Once chosen, these must be glued to the boards, and the boards are also glued to the end-papers, and then the whole case is glued to the spine of the book (but not along the whole spine or it won’t open properly). Once it is all properly assembled, the whole thing goes into an old hand-winched press to be pressed flat until all the glue dries. Some final flourishes might be added, such as speckling the edges of the pages with different colored ink, or tooling the leather of the cover. Then voila! It’s a book!

Two small books. One has a floral tapestry cover and a gold lock. The other has an orange and black leopard print cover with a brown leather spine.
These are two of my personal books bound by my father.

This isn’t the only way to bind a book by hand by any stretch, there are many ways to do so. I don’t know all of them myself, but a friend recently told me about a local print-shop that is holding a class on doing Coptic binding, a very ancient way of binding books together that leaves the spines exposed. I have Opinions about this as a commercial form of binding (that is not. a. sturdy. binding for multiple users!), but I decided to take the class to learn more about it, learn what it IS good for (apparently good for sketchbooks?), and learn how to do it myself. I’ve never really thought of myself as a book binder sort….but books and all their ways are in my blood and bone and I’m always learning new skills about them.

Anyway, will certainly report back after the workshop! Stay tuned!

  1. The individual sections of pages that are bound together
  2. The case is the outside covers of a book, usually referring to a hard bound book

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