Bookbinding, and the Care of Books - A handbook for Amateurs, Bookbinders & Librarians
by Douglas Cockerell
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Experience is required to judge what thickness of thread to use for any given book. If the sections are very thin, a thin thread must be used, or the "swelling" of the back caused by the additional thickness of the thread in that part will be excessive, and make the book unmanageable in "backing." On the other hand, if the sections are large, and a too thin thread is used, there will not be enough swelling to make a firm "joint." Broadly speaking, when there are a great many very thin sections, the thinnest thread may be used; and coarser thread may be used when the sections are thicker, or fewer in number. In the case of large manuscripts on vellum it is best to use very thick silk, or even catgut. Vellum is so tough and durable, that any binding of a vellum book should be made as if it were expected to last for hundreds of years.

In selecting the thickness of cord for a book, some judgment is required. On an old book the bands are best made rather prominent by the use of thick cord, but the exact thickness to be used is a matter for taste and experience to decide.

A very thick band on a small book is clumsy, while a very thin band on the back of a heavy book suggests weakness, and is therefore unsightly.

In bindings of early printed books and manuscripts an appearance of great strength is better than extreme neatness.

When the sewing is completed, the cords are cut off close to the lay cords, and then the keys will be loose enough to be easily removed. The knots remaining on the lay bands are removed, and the keys slung through one of them.


Fraying out Slips—Glueing up—Rounding and Backing


After sewing, the book should be looked through to see that all sheets and plates have been caught by the thread, and special attention should be given to end papers to see that the sewing lies evenly.

The ends of the cords should next be cut off to within about two inches of the book on each side, and the free portions frayed out. If proper sewing cord is used, this will be found to be very easily done, if a binder's bodkin is first inserted between the two strands, separating them, and then again in the centre of each separated strand to still further straighten the fibres (see fig. 34).

The fraying out of the thick cord recommended for heavy books is a more difficult operation, but with a little trouble the fibres of any good cord can be frayed out. Vellum or tape bands will only require cutting off, leaving about two inches free on each side. The free parts of the bands are called slips.

The book is now ready for glueing up. A piece of waste mill-board or an old cloth cover is put on each side over the slips, and the book knocked up squarely at the back and head. Then it is lowered into the lying press and screwed up, leaving the back with the protecting boards projecting about three-quarters of an inch. If the back has too much swelling in it or is spongy, it is better to leave the slips on one side free and to pull them as tight as possible while the book is held in the press, or a knocking-down iron may be placed on one side of the projecting back and the other side tapped with the backing hammer to make the sections lie close to one another, and then the slips pulled straight (fig. 35). The back must now be glued. The glue for this operation must be hot, and not too thick. It is very important that it should be worked well between the sections with the brush, and it is well after it has been applied to rub the back with a finger or folder to make quite sure that the glue goes between every section for its entire length. If the book is too tightly screwed up in the press, the glue is apt to remain too much on the surface; and if not tightly enough, it may penetrate too deeply between the sections. If the glue is thick, or stringy, it may be diluted with hot water and the glue-brush rapidly spun round in the glue-pot to break it up and to make it work freely.

Very great care is needed to see that the head of a previously trimmed book is knocked up exactly square before the back is glued, for if it is not, it will be very difficult to get it even afterwards.


The amount of rounding on the back of a book should be determined by the necessities of the case; that is to say, a back that has, through guarding, or excess of sewing, a tendency to be round, is best not forced to be flat, and a back that would naturally be flat, is best not forced to be unduly round. A very round back is objectionable where it can be avoided, because it takes up so much of the back margins of the sheets, and is apt to make the book stiff in opening. On the other hand, a back that is quite flat has to be lined up stiffly, or it may become concave with use.

The method of rounding is to place the book with the back projecting a little over the edge of the press or table, then to draw the back over towards the workman, and, while in this position, to tap it carefully with a hammer (see fig. 36). This is repeated on the other side of the book, and, if properly done, will give the back an even, convex form that should be in section, a portion of a circle. Rounding and backing are best done after the glue has ceased to be tacky, but before it has set hard.

Backing is perhaps the most difficult and important operation in forwarding. The sewing threads in the back cause that part to be thicker than the rest of the book. Thus in a book with twenty sections there will be in the back, in addition to the thickness of the paper, twenty thicknesses of thread.

If the boards were laced on to the book without rounding or backing, and the book were pressed, the additional thickness of the back, having to go somewhere, would cause it to go either convex or concave, or else perhaps to crease up (see fig. 37). The object of rounding is to control the distribution of this swelling, and to make the back take an even and permanently convex form.

If the boards were merely laced on after rounding, there would be a gap between the square ends of the board and the edge of the back (see fig. 38), though the convexity and even curve of the back would be to some extent assured. What is done in backing is to make a groove, into which the edges of the board will fit neatly, and to hammer the backs of the sections over one another from the centre outwards on both sides to form the "groove," to ensure that the back shall return to the same form after the book has been opened.

To back the book, backing boards are placed on each side (leaving the slips outside) a short distance below the edge of the back (fig. 39). The amount to leave here must be decided by the thickness of the boards to be used. When the backing boards are in position, the book and boards must be carefully lowered into the lying press and screwed up very tight, great care being taken to see that the boards do not slip, and that the book is put in evenly. Even the most experienced forwarder will sometimes have to take a book out of the press two or three times before he gets it in quite evenly and without allowing the boards to slip. Unless the back has a perfectly even curve when put in the press for backing, no amount of subsequent hammering will put it permanently right.

The backs of the sections should be evenly fanned out one over the other from the centre outwards on both sides. This is done by side strokes of the hammer, in fact by a sort of "riveting" blow, and not by a directly crushing blow (see fig. 41, in which the arrows show the direction of the hammer strokes). If the sections are not evenly fanned out from the centre, but are either zigzagged by being crushed by direct blows of the hammer, as shown in fig. 42, A, or are unevenly fanned over more to one side than the other, as shown in fig. 42, B, the back, although it may be even enough when first done, will probably become uneven with use. A book in which the sections have been crushed down, as at fig. 42, A, will be disfigured inside by creases in the paper.

It is a mistake to suppose that a very heavy hammer is necessary for backing any but the largest books. For flexible books a hammer with a comparatively small face should be used, as by its use the book can be backed without flattening the bands. It is well to have a hammer head of the shape shown in fig. 43. By using the thin end, the force of a comparatively light blow, because concentrated on a small surface, is effective.

At fig. 44 is shown an ordinary backing hammer.


Cutting and Attaching Boards—Cleaning off Back—Pressing


The first quality of the best black board made from old rope is the best to use for "extra" binding. It will be found to be very hard, and not easily broken or bent at the corners. In selecting the thickness suitable for any given book, the size and thickness of the volume should be taken into account. The tendency of most modern binders is to use a rather over thick board, perhaps with a view to bulk out the volume. For manuscripts, or other books on vellum, it is best to use wooden boards, which should be clasped. From their stability they form a kind of permanent press, in which the vellum leaves are kept flat. In a damp climate like that of England, vellum, absorbing moisture from the atmosphere, soon cockles up unless it is held tightly in some way; and when it is once cockled, the book cannot be made to shut properly, except with very special treatment. Then also dust and damp have ready access to the interstices of the crinkled pages, resulting in the disfigurement so well known and so deplored by all lovers of fine books.

For large books a "made" board, that is, two boards pasted together, is better than a single board of the same thickness. In making boards a thin and a thick board should be pasted together, the thin board to go nearest the book. It will not be necessary to put a double lining on the inside of such boards, as a thin board will always draw a thick one.

If mill-boards are used they are first cut roughly to size with the mill-board shears, screwed up in the "lying" press. The straight arm of the shears is the one to fix in the press, for if the bent arm be undermost, the knuckles are apt to be severely bruised against the end. A better way of fixing the shears is shown at fig. 45. Any blacksmith will bend the arm of the shears and make the necessary clips. This method saves trouble and considerable wear and tear to the "lying" press. Where a great many boards are needed, they may be quickly cut in a board machine, but for "extra" work they should be further trimmed in the plough, in the same way as those cut by the shears. After the boards have been roughly cut to size, they should have one edge cut straight with the plough. To do this one or two pairs of boards are knocked up to the back and inserted in the cutting side of the press, with those edges projecting which are to be cut off, and behind them, as a "cut against," a board protected by a waste piece of mill-board.

The plough, held by the screw and handle, and guided by the runners on the press, is moved backwards and forwards. A slight turn of the screw at each movement brings the knife forward. In cutting mill-boards which are very hard, the screw should be turned very little each time. If press and plough are in proper order, that part of the board which projects above the cheek of the press should be cut off, leaving the edges perfectly square and straight. If the edge of the press has been damaged, or is out of "truth," a cutting board may be used between the cheek of the press and the board to be cut, making a true edge for the knife to run on.

The position of the plough on the press is shown at fig. 46. The side of the press with runners should be reserved for cutting, the other side used for all other work.

The plough knife for mill-boards should not be ground at too acute an angle, or the edge will most likely break away at the first cut. The shape shown at fig. 47 is suitable. The knife should be very frequently ground, as it soon gets blunt, which adds greatly to the labour of cutting.

After an edge has been cut, each side should be well rubbed with a folder to smooth down any burr left by the plough knife. Then a piece of common paper with one edge cut straight is pasted on to one side of the board, with the straight edge exactly up to the cut edge of the board. Then a piece of paper large enough to cover both sides of the board is pasted round it, and well rubbed down at the cut edge. After having been lined, the boards are nipped in the press to ensure that the lining paper shall stick. They are stood up to dry, with the doubly lined side outwards. The double paper is intended to warp the board slightly to that side, to compensate for the pull of the leather when the book is covered. If the board is a double one, a single lining paper will be sufficient, the thinner board helping to draw the thicker. The paste for lining boards must be fairly thin, and very well beaten up so as to be free from lumps. It is of the utmost importance that the lining papers should stick properly, for unless they stick, no subsequent covering of leather or paper can be made to lie flat.

When the lined boards are quite dry, they should be paired with the doubly lined sides together, and the top back corner marked to correspond with the marks on the top back corners of the book. Then near the top edge, with the aid of a carpenter's square, two points are marked in a line at right angles to the cut edge. The pair of boards is then knocked up to the back and lowered into the press as before, so that the plough knife will exactly cut through the points. The same operation is repeated on the two remaining uncut edges. In marking out those for the fore-edge, the measurement is taken with a pair of compasses (fig. 48) from the joint of the book to the fore-edge of the first section. If the book has been trimmed, or is to remain uncut, a little more must be allowed for the "squares," and if it is to be cut in the plough, it must be now decided how much is to be cut off, remembering that it is much better to have the boards a little too large, and so have to reduce them after the book is cut, than to have them too small, and either be obliged to get out a new pair of boards, or unduly cut down the book.

The height of the boards for a book that has been trimmed, or is to remain uncut, will be the height of the page with a small allowance at each end for the squares. When a pair of boards has been cut all round, it can be tested for squareness by reversing one board, when any inequality that there may be will appear doubled. If the boards are out of truth they should generally be put on one side, to be used for a smaller book, and new boards got out. To correct a badly cut pair of boards, it is necessary to reduce them in size, and the book consequently suffers in proportion. If the boards have been found to be truly cut, they are laid on the book, and the position of the slips marked on them by lines at right angles to the back. A line is then made parallel to the back, about half an inch in (see fig. 49). At the points where the lines cross, a series of holes is punched from the front with a binder's bodkin on a lead plate, then the board is turned over, and a second series is punched from the back about half an inch from the first. If the groove of the back is shallower than the thickness of the board, the top back edge of the board should be bevelled off with a file. This will not be necessary if the groove is the exact depth. When the holes have been punched, it is well to cut a series of V-shaped depressions from the first series of holes to the back to receive the slips, or they may be too prominent when the book is bound. It will now be necessary to considerably reduce the slips that were frayed out after sewing, and to remove all glue or any other matter attached to them. The extent to which they may be reduced is a matter of nice judgment. In the desire to ensure absolute neatness in the covering, modern binders often reduce the slips to almost nothing. On the other hand, some go to the other extreme, and leave the cord entire, making great ridges on the sides of the book where it is laced in. It should be possible with the aid of the depressions, cut as described, to use slips with sufficient margin of strength, and yet to have no undue projection on the cover. A slight projection is not unsightly, as it gives an assurance of sound construction and strength, and, moreover, makes an excellent starting-point for any pattern that may be used. When the slips have been scraped and reduced, the portion left should consist of long straight silky fibres. These must be well pasted, and the ends very slightly twisted. The pointed ends are then threaded through the first series of holes in the front of the board, and back again through the second (fig. 50). In lacing-in the slips must not be pulled so tight as to prevent the board from shutting freely, nor left so loose as to make a perceptible interval in the joint of the book. The pasted slips having been laced in, their ends are cut off with a sharp knife, flush with the surface of the board. The laced-in slips are then well hammered on a knocking-down iron (see fig. 51), first from the front and then from the back, care being taken that the hammer face should fall squarely, or the slips may be cut. This should rivet them into the board, leaving little or no projection. If in lacing in the fibres should get twisted, no amount of hammering will make them flat, so that it is important in pointing the ends for lacing in, that only the points are twisted just sufficiently to facilitate the threading through the holes, and not enough to twist the whole slip.

To lace slips into wooden boards, holes are made with a brace and fine twist bit, and the ends of the frayed out slips may be secured with a wooden plug (see fig. 52).

Old books were sometimes sewn on bands of leather, but as those sewn on cord seem to have lasted on the whole much better, and as, moreover, modern cord is a far more trustworthy material than modern leather, it is better to use cord for any books bound now.


When the boards have been laced on and the slips hammered down, the book should be pressed. Before pressing, a tin is put on each side of both boards, one being pushed right up into the joint on the inside, and the other up to the joint, or a little over it, on the outside. While in the press, the back should be covered with paste and left to soak for a few minutes. When the glue is soft the surplus on the surface can be scraped off with a piece of wood shaped as shown in fig. 53. For important books it is best to do this in the lying press, but some binders prefer first to build up the books in the standing press, and then to paste the backs and clean them off there. This has the advantage of being a quicker method, and will, in many cases, answer quite well. But for books that require nice adjustment it will be found better to clean off each volume separately in the lying press, and afterwards to build up the books and boards in the standing press, putting the larger books at the bottom. It must be seen that the entire pile is exactly in the centre under the screw, or the pressure will be uneven. To ascertain if the books are built up truly, the pile must be examined from both the front and side of the press. Each volume must also be looked at carefully to see that it lies evenly, and that the back is not twisted or out of shape. This is important, as any form given to the book when it is pressed at this stage will be permanent.

Any coloured or newly printed plates will need tissues, as in the former pressing; and any folded plates or diagrams or inserted letters will need a thin tin on each side of them to prevent them from marking the book.

Again, the pressure on hand-printed books must not be excessive.

The books should be left in the press at least a night. When taken out they will be ready for headbanding, unless the edges are to be cut in boards.


Cutting in Boards—Gilding and Colouring Edges


The knife for cutting edges may be ground more acutely than for cutting boards, and should be very sharp, or the paper may be torn. The plough knife should never be ground on the under side, as if the under side is not quite flat, it will tend to run up instead of cutting straight across. Before beginning to cut edges, the position of the knife should be tested carefully by screwing the plough up, with the press a little open, and noting whereabouts on the left-hand cheek the point of the knife comes. In a press that is true the knife should just clear the edge of the press. If there is too much packing the knife will cut below the edge of the press, and if too little, it will cut above.

"Packing" is paper inserted between the knife and the metal plate on the plough, to correct the position of the knife. When by experiment the exact thickness of paper necessary for any given knife is found, the packing should be carefully kept when the knife is taken out for grinding, and put back with it into the plough.

The first edge to be cut is the top, and the first thing to do is to place the boards in the position they will hold when the book is bound. The front board is then dropped the depth of the square required, care being taken that the back edge of the board remains evenly in the joint. A piece of cardboard, or two or three thicknesses of paper, are then slipped in between the end paper and the back board to prevent the latter from being cut by the knife. The book is then carefully lowered into the press, with the back towards the workman, until the top edge of the front board is exactly even with the right-hand cheek, and the press screwed up evenly. The back board should show the depth of the square above the left-hand cheek. It is very important that the edge of the back board should be exactly parallel with the press, and if at first it is not so, the book must be twisted until it is right.

The edges can now be cut with the plough as in cutting mill-boards. The tail of the book is cut in the same way, still keeping the back of the book towards the workman, but cutting from the back board.

Cutting the fore-edge is more difficult. The waste sheets at each end of the book should be cut off flush with the edge of the board, and marks made on them below the edge showing the amount of the square, and consequently how much is to be cut off. The curve of the back, and consequent curve of the fore-edge, must first be got rid of, by inserting a pair of pieces of flat steel called "trindles" (fig. 54) across the back, from the inside of the boards. When these are inserted the back must be knocked quite flat, and, in the case of a heavy book, a piece of tape may be tied round the leaves (see fig. 55) to keep them in position. A pair of cutting boards is placed one on each side of the leaves, the back one exactly up to the point that the edge of the board came to, and the front one as much below that point as it is desired the square of the fore-edge should be. The trindles are removed while the book is held firmly between the cutting boards by the finger and thumb; book and boards are then lowered very carefully into the press. The top edge of the front cutting board should be flush with the right-hand cheek of the press, and that of the back a square above the left-hand cheek (see fig. 56). A further test is to look along the surface of the right-hand cheek, when, if the book has been inserted truly, the amount of the back cutting board in sight should exactly correspond with the amount of the paper to be cut showing above the front board. It will also be necessary before cutting to look at the back, and to see that it has remained flat. If it has gone back to its old curve, or the book has been put into the press crookedly, it must be taken right out again and the trindles inserted afresh, as it is usually a waste of time to try to adjust the book when it is in the press. The leaves are cut in the same way as those of the head and tail.


Gilding the edges of a book cut in boards is much the same process as that described for the trimmed book, excepting that when gilt in boards the edges can be scraped and slightly sand-papered. It is the custom to admire a perfectly solid gilt edge, looking more like a solid sheet of metal, than the leaves of a book. As the essential characteristic of a book is, that it is composed of leaves, this fact is better accepted and emphasised by leaving the edges a little rough, so that even when gilt they are evidently the edges of leaves of paper, and not the sides of a block, or of something solid.

To gild the edges of a cut book the boards should be turned back, and cutting boards put on each side of the book flush with the edge to be gilt. For the fore-edge the book must be thrown up with trindles first, unless it is desired to gild in the round, a process which gives the objectionable solid metallic edge.

After the edges have been gilt they may be decorated by tooling, called "gauffering."

This may be done, either by tooling with hot tools directly on the gold while the leaves are screwed up tightly in the press, or by laying another coloured gold on the top of the first and tooling over that, leaving the pattern in the new gold on the original colour. But, to my mind, edges are best left undecorated, except for plain gold or colour.

If the edges are to be coloured, they should be slightly scraped, and the colour put on with a sponge, commencing with the fore-edge, which should be slightly fanned out, and held firmly, by placing a pressing-board above it, and pressing with the hand on this. The colour must be put on very thinly, commencing from the centre of the fore-edge and working to either end, and as many coats put on as are necessary to get the depth of colour required. The head and tail are treated in the same way, excepting that they cannot be fanned out, and the colour should be applied from the back to the fore-edge. If in the fore-edge an attempt is made to colour from one end to the other, and if in the head or tail from the fore-edge to the back, the result will almost certainly be that the sponge will leave a thick deposit of colour round the corner from which it starts.

For colouring edges almost any stain will answer, or ordinary water-colours may be used if moistened with size.

When the colour is dry the edge should be lightly rubbed over with a little beeswax, and burnished with a tooth burnisher (see fig. 57).

In addition to plain colour and gilding, the edges of a book may be decorated in a variety of ways. The fore-edge may be fanned out and painted in any device in water-colour and afterwards gilded; the painting will only show when the book is open. The fore-edge for this must be cut very solid, and if the paper is at all absorbent, must be sized with vellum size before being painted. The paints used must be simple water-colour, and the edge must not be touched with the hand before gilding, as if there is any grease or finger-mark on it, the gold will not stick evenly. Painting on the fore-edge should only be attempted when the paper of the book is thin and of good quality. More common methods of decorating edges are by marbling and sprinkling, but they are both inferior to plain colouring. Some pleasant effects are sometimes obtained by marbling edges and then gilding over the marbling.




Modern headbands are small pieces of vellum, gut, or cord sewn on to the head and tail of a book with silk or thread. They resist the strain on the book when it is taken from the shelf. The vellum slip or cord must be of such a depth, that when covered with silk it will be slightly lower than the square of the boards. The cut edge of the vellum always slants, and the slip must be placed in position so that it tilts back rather than forward on the book.

To start, ease the boards slightly on the slips and pull them down with the top edges flush with the top edge of the leaves. If this is not done the silk catches on the projecting edges as the band is worked. Stand the book in a finishing press, fore-edge to the worker, and tilted forward so as to give a good view of the headband as it is worked. The light must come from the left, and well on to the work. A needle threaded with silk is put in at the head of the book, and through the centre of the first section after the end papers, and drawn out at the back below the kettle stitch with about two-thirds of the silk. The needle is again inserted in the same place, and drawn through until a loop of silk is left. The vellum slip is placed in the loop, with the end projecting slightly to the left. It must be held steady by a needle placed vertically behind it, with its point between the leaves of the first section. The needle end of silk is then behind the headband, and the shorter end in front. The needle end is brought over from the back with the right hand, passed into the left hand, and held taut. The short end is picked up with the right hand, brought over the needle end under the vellum, and pulled tight from the back. This is repeated; the back thread is again drawn up and over the band to the front, the needle end crosses it, and is drawn behind under the vellum slip, and so on. The crossing of the threads form a "bead," which must be watched, and kept as tight as possible, and well down on the leaves of the book. Whenever the vellum or string begins to shift in position, it must be tied down. This is done when the needle end of silk is at the back. A finger of the left hand is placed on the thread of silk at the back, and holds it firmly just below the slip. The needle end is then brought up and over the slip, but instead of crossing it with the front thread, the needle is passed between the leaves and out at the back of the book, below the kettle stitch, and the thread gradually drawn tight, and from under the left-hand finger. The loop so made will hold the band firmly, and the silk can then be brought up and over the slip and crossed in the usual way. The band should be worked as far as the end papers, and should be finished with a double "tie down," after which the front thread is drawn under the slip to the back. Both the ends of silk are then cut off to about half an inch, frayed out, and pasted down as flatly as possible on the back of the book.

The band should be tied down frequently. It is not too much to tie down every third time the needle end of the silk comes to the back. To make good headbands the pull on the silk must be even throughout.

When the ends of the silk are pasted down, the ends of the vellum slip are cut off as near the silk as possible. The correct length of the headband is best judged by pressing the boards together with thumb and finger at the opposite ends of the band, so as to compress the sections into their final compass. If the band then buckles in the least, it is too long and must be shortened.

The mediaeval headbands were sewn with the other bands (see fig. 32), and were very strong, as they were tied down at every section. Modern worked headbands, although not so strong, are, if frequently tied down, strong enough to resist any reasonable strain. There are many other ways of headbanding, but if the one described is mastered, the various other patterns will suggest themselves if variety is needed. For very large books a double headband may be worked on two pieces of gut or string—a thick piece with a thin piece in front. The string should first be soaked in thin glue and left to dry. Such a band is worked with a figure of eight stitch. Headbands may also be worked with two or three shades of silk. As vellum is apt to get hard and to break when it is used for headbanding, it is well to paste two pieces together with linen in between, and to cut into strips as required.

Machine-made headbands can be bought by the yard. Such bands are merely glued on, but as they have but little strength, should not be used.

Where leather joints are used, the headbands may be worked on pieces of soft leather sized and screwed up. If the ends are left long and tied in front while the book is being covered, they may be conveniently let into grooves in the boards before the leather joint is pasted down. This method, I think, has little constructive value, but it certainly avoids the rather unfinished look of the cut-off headband.


Preparing for Covering—Paring Leather—Covering—Mitring Corners—Filling-in Boards


After the headband is worked, a piece of brown or other stout paper should be well glued on at the head and tail, care being taken that it is firmly attached to the back and the headband. When dry, the part projecting above the headband is neatly cut off, and the part on the back well sand-papered, to remove any irregularity caused by the tie-downs attaching the headband. For most books this will be quite sufficient lining up, but very heavy books are best further lined up between the bands with linen, or thin leather. This can be put on by pasting the linen or leather and giving the back a very thin coat of glue.

The only thing now left to do before covering will be to set the squares and to cut off a small piece of the back corner of each board at the head and tail, to make it possible for the boards to open and shut without dragging the head-cap out of place. The form of the little piece to be cut off varies with each individual binder, but I have found for an octavo book that a cut slightly sloping from the inside cutting off the corner about an eighth of an inch each way, gives the best result (see fig. 58). When the corner has been cut off, the boards should be thrown back, and the slips between the book and the board well pasted. When these have soaked a little, the squares of the boards are set; that is, the boards are fixed so that exactly the same square shows on each board above head and tail. A little larger square is sometimes an advantage at the tail to keep the head-cap well off the shelf, the essential thing being that both head and both tail squares should be the same. In the case of an old book that has not been recut, the edges will often be found to be uneven. In such cases the boards must be made square, and so set that the book stands up straight.

When the slips have been pasted and the squares set, tins can be put inside and outside the boards, and the book given a slight nip in the press to flatten the slips. Only a comparatively light pressure should be given, or the lining up of the headbands or back will become cockled and detached.


While the slips are being set in the press the cover can be got out. Judgment is necessary in cutting out covers. One workman will be able, by careful cutting, to get six covers out of a skin where another will only get four. The firm part of the skin is the back and sides, and this only should be used for the best books. The fleshy parts on the flanks and belly will not wear sufficiently well to be suitable for good bookbinding.

The skin should be cut out leaving about an inch all round for turning in when the book is covered, and when cut out it must be pared. If the leather is of European manufacture most of the paring will have been done before it is sold, and the leather manufacturer will have shaved it to any thickness required. This is a convenience that is partly responsible for the unduly thin leather that is commonly used. The better plan is to get the leather rather thick, and for the binder to pare it down where necessary. For small books it is essential, in order that the covers may open freely, and the boards not look clumsy, that the leather should be very thin at the joint and round the edges of the boards. For such books it is very important that a small, naturally thin skin should be used that will not have to be unduly pared down, and that the large and thicker skins should be kept for large books.

Binders like using large skins because there is much less waste, but if these skins are used for small books, so much of the leather substance has to be pared away, that only the comparatively brittle grained surface remains. By the modern process of dyeing this surface is often to some extent injured, and its strength sometimes totally destroyed.

When the cover has been cut to size the book is laid on it with the boards open, and a pencil line drawn round them, a mark being made to show where the back comes. The skin is then pared, making it thin where the edge of the boards will come. Great care must be taken that the thinning does not commence too abruptly, or a ridge will be apparent when the leather is on the book.

The paring must be done quite smoothly and evenly. Every unevenness shows when the cover is polished and pressed. Care is needed in estimating the amount that will have to be pared off that part of the leather that covers the back and joints. The object of the binder should be to leave these portions as thick as he can consistently with the free opening of the boards. The leather at the head-caps must be pared quite thin, as the double thickness on the top of the headband is apt to make this part project above the edges of the board. This is a great trouble, especially at the tail, where, if the head-cap projects beyond the boards, the whole weight of the book rests on it, and it is certain to be rubbed off when the book is put on the shelf.

The method of paring with a French knife (fig. 60, A)—the only form of knife in use by binders that gives sufficient control over the leather—is shown at fig. 59. To use this knife properly, practice is required. The main thing to learn is that the knife must be used quite flat, and made to cut by having a very slight burr on the under side. This burr is got by rubbing the knife on the lithographic stone on which the paring is done. The handle of the knife should never be raised to such a height above the surface of the stone that it is possible to get the under fingers of the right hand over the edge of the stone. Another form of knife suitable for paring the edges of leather is shown at fig. 60, B.

To test if the leather has been sufficiently pared, fold it over where the edge of the board will come, and run the finger along the folded leather. If the paring has been done properly it will feel quite even the whole length of the fold; but if there are any irregularities, they will be very apparent, and the paring must be gone over again till they have disappeared. When even, the book must be again laid on the leather with the boards open, and a pencil line drawn round as before. If there are leather joints they will have been pared before the book was sewn, and care must be taken in paring the turn-in of the cover that it is of the same thickness as the leather joint, or it will be impossible to make a neat mitre at the back corners.


Before covering, the book must be looked at to see that the bands are quite square and at equal distances apart. Any slight errors in this respect can be corrected by holding the book in the lying press between backing boards and gently tapping the bands from one side or the other with a piece of wood struck with a hammer. This is best done when the back is cleaned off, but by damping the bands slightly it may be done just before covering. The squares must be looked to, and the edges of the board well rubbed with a folder, or tapped with a hammer, to remove any burr that may have been caused by the plough knife, or any chance blow. The back is then moistened with paste, or, in the case of a very large book, with thin glue, and left to soak. The cover can then be well pasted with thickish paste, that has been previously well beaten up. When the cover is pasted, it can be folded with the pasted sides together and left to soak for a few minutes while the back is again looked to, and any roughness smoothed down with the folder. Before covering, the bands should be nipped up with band nippers (see fig. 61) to make sure that they are sharp. The coverer should have ready before covering a clean paring stone, one or two folders, a pair of nickeled-band nippers, a clean sponge, a little water in a saucer, a piece of thread, and a strip of smooth wood (boxwood for preference), called a band stick, used for smoothing the leather between the bands, a pair of scissors, and a small sharp knife, a pair of waterproof sheets the size of the book, and, if the book is a large one, a pair of tying up boards, with tying up string, and two strips of wood covered in blotting-paper or leather. It is best to have the band nippers for covering nickeled to prevent the iron from staining the leather. The waterproof sheets recommended are thin sheets of celluloid, such as are used by photographers.

When these things are ready, the pasted cover should be examined and repasted if it has dried in any place. The amount of paste to be used for covering can only be learned by experience. A thick leather will take more than a thin one, but, provided the cover sticks tight at every point, the less paste used the better. If there is too much, it will rub up and make very ugly, uneven places under the leather; and if there is too little, the cover will not stick.

Take the pasted cover and look to see which is the better side of the leather. Lay the front of the book down on this exactly up to the marks that show the beginning of the turn-in. Then draw the leather over the back and on to the other side, pulling it slightly, but not dragging it. Then stand the book on its fore-edge on a piece of waste paper, with the leather turned out on either side, as shown at fig. 62, and nip up the bands with nickeled band nippers (see fig. 63). After this is done there will probably be a good deal of loose leather on the back. This can be got rid of by dragging the leather on to the side; but by far the better plan, when the back is large enough to allow it, is to work up the surplus leather on to the back between the panels. This requires a good deal of practice, and is very seldom done; but it can be done with most satisfactory results. The book should now have the leather on the back stretched lengthways to make it cover the bands, but not stretched the other way, and the leather on the boards should lie perfectly flat and not be stretched at all. The leather on the fore-edge of the board is then rubbed with the hand on the outside, and then on to the edge, and then on the inside. The edge and the inside are smoothed down with a folder, and any excessive paste on the inside squeezed out and removed. When the fore-edge of both boards has been turned in, the head and tail must also be turned in. A little paste is put on to that part of the leather that will turn in below the headband, and this portion is neatly tucked in between the boards and the back. The turned-in edge must lie quite evenly, or it will result in a ridge on the back. The leather is turned in on the two boards in the same way as described for the fore-edge, and the edge rubbed square with a folder. At fig. 64 is shown a convenient form of folder for covering. At the corners the leather must be pulled over as far as possible with two folders meeting at the extreme point, the object being to avoid a cut in the leather at the corner of the board. The folds so formed must be cut off with the scissors (see fig. 65, A), then one edge tucked neatly under the other, (B). Care must be taken throughout not to soil the edges of the leaves.

At the headband the fold of leather, pared thin for the purpose, must be squeezed together with a folder and pulled out a little to leave an even projection that can be turned over to form a head-cap. When both ends have been turned in, in this way, the boards must each be opened and pressed against a straight-edge held in the joint (fig. 66) to ensure that there is enough leather in the turn-in of the joint to allow the cover to open freely; and the leather of the turn-in at the head and tail must be carefully smoothed down with a folder.

The book may now be shut up if a waterproof sheet is put at each end to prevent the damp of the cover from cockling the paper. It must then be stood on its fore-edge and the bands again nipped up with a pair of nickeled band nippers, and the panels between the bands well pressed down with the band stick to cause the leather to stick at every point. A piece of thread is tied round the back from head to tail, squeezing the leather in the gap caused by the corners of the board having been cut off. The book is then turned up on end, resting the tail on a folder or anything that will keep the projecting leather for the head-cap from being prematurely flattened. The head-caps (fig. 67) must now be set. To do this the first finger of the left hand is placed behind it, and a sharp folder is pressed into the corners of the head-cap between the headband and the thread. The leather is then tapped over the headband, and the whole turned over on the stone and rubbed at the back with a folder. This operation requires great nicety. The shape of head-cap is shown at fig. 67. The nice adjustment of head-caps and corners, although of no constructional value, are the points by which the forwarding of a book is generally valued.

If the book is a large one, it will be best to tie it up. The method of tying up is shown in fig. 68. The tying up cords will make marks at the side of the bands, that are not unpleasant on a large book. If they are objected to, it is best to tie the book up for about half-an-hour, and then to untie it, and smooth out the marks with the band stick. Even with small books, if the leather seems inclined to give trouble, it is well to tie them up for a short time, then to untie them, to smooth out any marks or inequalities, and to tie them up again.


A book that has been covered should be left under a light weight until the next day, with waterproof sheets between the damp cover and the end paper to prevent the sheets of the book from cockling through the damp. When the cover is thoroughly set the boards should be carefully opened, pressing them slightly to the joint to ensure a square and even joint. If, as is sometimes the case, the turn-in of the leather over the joint seems to be inclined to bind, the cover should be merely opened half-way, and the leather of the turns-in of the joint damped with a sponge, and left to soak for a short time, and then the cover can usually be opened without any dragging. A section of a good joint is shown at fig. 69, A, and a bad one at B.

The next operation will be to fill in the board and mitre the corners. To fill in the boards, a piece of paper as thick as the turn-in of the leather (engineer's cartridge paper answers very well) should be cut a little smaller than the board, with one edge cut straight; then with the straight edge adjusted to the back of the board, and a weight placed on the centre, the paper is marked round with dividers set to the intended width of the turn-in of the leather. Then with a sharp knife, paper and leather may be cut through together. The paper should then be marked to show its position on the board, and the ragged edges of the leather trimmed off. This will leave an even margin of leather on three sides of the inside of the board, and a piece of paper that will exactly fit the remaining space. The corners must next be mitred. To do this, both thicknesses of leather are cut through from the corner of the board to the corner of the inside margin. The knife should be held slightly slanting to make a cut, as shown at fig. 70. The corners should then be thoroughly damped, and the overlapping leather from both sides removed, leaving what should be a neat and straight join. If the leather at the extreme corner should prove to be, as is often the case, too thick to turn in neatly, the corners should be opened out and the leather pared against the thumb nail, and then well pasted and turned back again. The extreme corner may be slightly tapped on the stone with a hammer, and the sides rubbed with a folder, to ensure squareness and sharpness. When all four corners have been mitred, the filling in papers can be pasted in. As they will probably stretch a little with the paste, it will be well to cut off a slight shaving, and they should then fit exactly. When the boards have been filled in and well rubbed down, the book should be left for some hours with the boards standing open to enable the filling-in papers to draw the boards slightly inwards to overcome the pull of the leather.

In cases where there are leather joints the operation is as follows: The waste end paper is removed, and the edge of the board and joint carefully cleaned from glue and all irregularities, and if, as is most likely, it is curved from the pull of the leather, the board must be tapped or ironed down until it is perfectly straight. If there is difficulty in making the board lie straight along the joint before pasting down, it will be well first to fill in with a well pasted and stretched thin paper, which, if the boards are left open, will draw them inwards. If the leather joint is pasted down while the board is curved, the result will be a most unsightly projection on the outside. When the joint has been cleaned out, and the board made to lie flat, the leather should be pasted down and mitred. The whole depth of the turn-in of the covering leather in the joint must not be removed, or it will be unduly weakened. The mitring line should not come from the extreme corner, but rather farther down, and there it is well to leave a certain amount of overlap in the joint, for which purpose the edge of the turn-in leather and the edge of the leather joint should be pared thin. After pasting down the leather joints the boards should be left open till they are dry (see fig. 71). The turn-in and leather joint are then trimmed out, leaving an even margin of leather all round the inside of the board, and the panel in the centre filled in with a piece of thick paper.

When corners and filling in are dry, the boards may be shut up, and the book is ready for finishing.

It is a common practice to wash up the covers of books that have become stained with a solution of oxalic acid in water. This is a dangerous thing to do, and is likely to seriously injure the leather. Leather, when damp, must not be brought in contact with iron or steel tools, or it may be badly stained.


Library Binding—Binding very Thin Books—Scrap-Books—Binding on Vellum—Books covered with Embroidery


Specifications III and IV

To produce cheaper bindings, as must be done in the case of large libraries, some alteration of design is necessary. Appearance must to some extent be sacrificed to strength and durability, and not, as is too often the case, strength and durability sacrificed to appearance. The essentials of any good binding are, that the sections should be sound in themselves, and that there should be no plates or odd sheets "pasted on," or anything that would prevent any leaf from opening right to the back; the sewing must be thoroughly sound; the sewing materials of good quality; the slips firmly attached to the boards; and the leather fairly thick and of a durable kind, although for the sake of cheapness it may be necessary to use skins with flaws on the surface. Such flawed skins cost half, or less than half, the price of perfect skins, and surface flaws do not injure the strength of the leather. By sewing on tape, great flexibility of the back is obtained, and much time, and consequent expense, in covering is saved. By using a French joint much thicker leather than usual can be used, with corresponding gain in strength.

To bind an octavo or smaller book according to the specification given (III, page 307); first make all sections sound, and guard all plates or maps. Make end papers with zigzags. After the sections have been thoroughly pressed, the book will be ready for marking up and sewing. In marking up for sewing on tapes, two marks will be necessary for each tape. When there are several books of the same size to be sewn, they may be placed one above the other in the sewing press, and sewn on to the same tapes. It will be found that the volumes when sewn can easily be slid along the tapes, which must be long enough to provide sufficient for the slips of each. The split boards may be "made" of a thin black mill-board with a thicker straw-board. To "make" a pair of split boards the pieces of straw-and mill-board large enough to make the two are got out, and the straw-board well glued, except in the centre, which should previously be covered with a strip of thin mill-board or tin about four inches wide. The strip is then removed, and the thin black board laid on the glued straw-board and nipped in the press. When dry, the made board is cut down the centre, which will leave two boards glued together all over except for two inches on one side of each. The boards then are squared to the book in a mill-board machine. The back of the book is glued up, and in the ordinary way rounded and backed. The edges may be cut with a guillotine. The ends of the tapes are glued on the waste end paper, which should be cut off about an inch and a half from the back. The split boards are then opened and glued, and the waste end papers with slips attached are placed in them (see fig. 72), and the book nipped in the press. To form a "French joint" the boards should be kept about an eighth of an inch from the back of the book. The book is then ready for covering. The leather must not be pared too thin, as the French joint will give plenty of play and allow the use of much thicker leather than usual. If time and money can be spared, headbands can be worked, but they are not absolutely necessary, and a piece of string may be inserted into the turning of the leather at head and tail in the place of them. When the book is covered, a piece of string should be tied round the joints, and the whole given a nip in the press. The corners of the boards should be protected by small tips of vellum or parchment. The sides may be covered with good paper, which will wear quite as well as cloth, look better, and cost less.

The lettering of library books is very important (see Chapter XV).


Books consisting of only one section may be bound as follows:—A sheet of paper to match the book, and two coloured sheets for end papers, are folded round the section, and a "waste" paper put over all. A strip of linen is pasted to the back of the waste, and the whole sewn together by stitching through the fold. The waste may be cut off and inserted with the linen in a split board, as for library bindings. The back edges of the board should be filed thin, and should not be placed quite up to the back, to allow for a little play in the joints.

The leather is put on in the ordinary way, except that the linen at the head and tail must be slit a little to allow for the turn in. If waterproof sheets are first inserted, the ends may be pasted, the boards shut, and the book nipped in the press. By substituting a piece of thin leather for the outside coloured paper, a leather joint can be made.


Scrap-books, into which autograph letters, sketches, or other papers can be pasted, may be made as follows:—Enough paper of good quality is folded up to the size desired, and pieces of the same paper, of the same height, and about two inches wide, are folded down the centre and inserted between the backs of the larger sheets, as shown at fig. 73. It is best not to insert these smaller pieces in the centre of the section, as they would be troublesome in sewing. If, after sewing, the book is filled up with waste paper laid between the leaves, it will make it manageable while being forwarded.

It is best to use a rather darkly-toned or coloured paper, as, if a quite white paper is used, any letters or papers that have become soiled, will look unduly dirty.

Autograph letters may be mounted in the following ways:—If the letter is written upon both sides of a single leaf, it may be either "inlaid," or guarded, as shown at fig. 74, A. A letter on a folded sheet of notepaper should have the folds strengthened with a guard of strong thin paper, and be attached by a guard made, as shown at fig. 74, B; or if on very heavy paper, by a double guard, as shown at fig. 74, C. Torn edges of letters may be strengthened with thin Japanese paper.

Thin paper, written or printed only on one side, may be mounted on a page of the book. It is better to attach these by their extreme edges only, as if pasted down all over they may cause the leaves to curl up.

Letters or any writing or drawing in lead pencil should be fixed with size before being inserted.

Silver prints of photographs are best mounted with some very quick-drying paste, such as that sold for the purpose by the photographic dealers. If the leaf on which they are mounted is slightly damped before the photograph is pasted down, it will be less likely to cockle. If this is done, waterproof sheets should be put on each side of the leaf while it dries. If photographs are attached by the edges only, they will not be so liable to draw the paper on which they are mounted; but sometimes they will not lie flat themselves.

In cases where very thick letters or papers have to be pasted in, a few more leaves of the book should be cut out, to make a corresponding thickness at the back.


Vellum covers may be limp without boards, and merely held in place by the slips being laced through them, or they may be pasted down on boards in much the same way as leather.

If the edges of a book for limp vellum binding are to be trimmed or gilt, that should be done before sewing. For the ends a folded piece of thin vellum may replace the paste-down paper. The sewing should be on strips of vellum. The back is left square after glueing, and headbands are worked as for leather binding, or may be worked on strips of leather, with ends left long enough to lace into the vellum (see p. 151). The back and headbands are lined with leather, and the book is ready for the cover.

A piece of vellum should be cut out large enough to cover the book, and to leave a margin of an inch and a half all round. This is marked with a folder on the under side, as shown at fig. 75, A. Spaces 1 and 2 are the size of the sides of the book with surrounding squares; space 3 is the width of the back, and space 4 the width for the overlaps on the fore-edge. The corners are cut, as shown at 5, and the edges are folded over, as at B. The overlap 4 is then turned over, and the back folded, as at C. The slips are now laced through slits made in the vellum.

A piece of loose, toned paper may be put inside the cover to prevent any marks on the book from showing through; and pieces of silk ribbon of good quality are laced in as shown, going through both cover and vellum ends, if there are any, and are left with ends long enough to tie (see fig. 76).

If paper ends are used, the silk tape need only be laced through the cover, and the end paper pasted over it on the inside.

Another simple way of keeping a vellum book shut is shown at fig. 77. A bead is attached to a piece of gut laced into the vellum, and a loop of catgut is laced in the other side, and looped over the bead as shown.

If the book is to have stiff boards, and the vellum is to be pasted to them, it is best to sew the sections on tapes or vellum slips, to back the book as for leather, and to insert the ends of the slips in a split board, leaving a French joint, as described for library bindings. Vellum is very stiff, and, if it is pasted directly to the back, the book would be hard to open. It is best in this case to use what is known as a hollow back.

To make a hollow back, a piece of stout paper is taken which measures once the length of the back and three times the width. This is folded in three. The centre portion is glued to the back and well rubbed down, and the overlapping edges turned back and glued one to the other (fig. 78). This will leave a flat, hollow casing, formed by the single paper glued to the back of the book and the double paper to which the vellum may be attached. Or it is better to line up the back with leather, and to place a piece of thick paper the size of the back on to the pasted vellum where the back will be when the book is covered.

When the book is ready for covering, the vellum should be cut out and lined with paper. In lining vellum the paste must be free from lumps, and great care must be taken not to leave brush marks. To avoid this, when the lining paper has been pasted it can be laid, paste downwards, on a piece of waste paper and quickly pulled up again; this should remove surplus paste and get rid of any marks left by the brush. When the vellum has been lined with paper, it should be given a light nip in the press between blotting-paper, and while still damp it is pasted, the book covered, and the corners mitred. A piece of thin string is tied round the head-caps and pressed into the French joint.

Waterproof sheets are placed inside the covers, and the book then nipped in the press and left to dry under a light weight. If the vellum is very stiff and difficult to turn in, it may be moistened with a little warm water to soften it.

Books with raised bands have sometimes been covered with vellum, but the back becomes so stiff and hard, that this method, though it looks well enough, cannot be recommended. Vellum is a durable material, and can be had of good quality, but it is so easily influenced by changes of temperature, that it is rather an unsuitable material for most bindings.


To cover a book with embroidered material bind it with split boards, a French joint, and a hollow back, as described for vellum (see fig. 78). Glue the back of the book with thin glue well worked up, and turning in the head and tail of the embroidery, put the book down on it so that the back will come exactly in the right place. Press down the embroidery with the hand to make sure that it sticks. When it is firmly attached to the back, first one board and then the other should be glued, and the embroidery laid down on it. Lastly, the edges are glued and stuck down on the inside of the board, and the corners mitred. Velvet or any other thick material can be put down in the same way. For very thin material that the glue would penetrate and soil, the cover should be left loose, and only attached where it turns in. A loose lining of good paper may be put between the book and the cover.

The inside corners where the cover has been cut should be neatly sewn up. The edges of the boards and head-caps may be protected all round with some edging worked in metal thread. It is well in embroidering book covers to arrange for some portion of the pattern to be of raised metal stitches, forming bosses that will protect the surface from wear.

Should any glue chance to get on the surface, the cover should be held in the steam of a kettle and the glue wiped off, and the cover again steamed.


Decoration—Tools—Finishing—Tooling on Vellum—Inlaying on Leather


The most usual, and perhaps the most characteristic, way of decorating book covers is by "tooling." Tooling is the impression of heated (finishing) tools. Finishing tools are stamps of metal that have a device cut on the face, and are held in wooden handles (fig. 79).

Tooling may either be blind tooling, that is, a simple impression of the hot tools, or gold tooling, in which the impression of the tool is left in gold on the leather.

Tools for blind tooling are best "die-sunk," that is, cut like a seal. The "sunk" part of the face of the tool, which may be more or less modelled, forms the pattern, and the higher part depresses the leather to form a ground. In tools for gold tooling, the surface of the tool gives the pattern.

Tools may be either complex or simple in design, that is to say, each tool may form a complete design with enclosing border, as the lower ones on page 323, or it may be only one element of a design, as at fig. 100. Lines may be run with a fillet (see fig. 88), or made with gouges or pallets.

Gouges are curved line tools. They are made in sets of arcs of concentric circles (see fig. 80, A). The portion of the curves cut off by the dotted line C will make a second set with flatter curves. Gouges are used for tooling curved lines.

A "pallet" may be described as a segment of a roll or fillet set in a handle, and used chiefly for putting lines or other ornaments across the backs of books (see fig. 81). A set of one-line pallets is shown at fig. 80, B.

Fillets are cut with two or more lines on the edge. Although the use of double-line fillets saves time, I have found that a few single-line fillets with edges of different gauges are sufficient for running all straight lines, and that the advantage of being able to alter the distances between any parallel lines is ample compensation for the extra trouble involved by their use. In addition to the rigid stamps, an endless pattern for either blind or gold tooling may be engraved on the circumference of a roll, and impressed on the leather by wheeling.

The use of a roll in finishing dates from the end of the fifteenth century, and some satisfactory bindings were decorated with its aid. The ease with which it can be used has led in modern times to its abuse, and I hardly know of a single instance of a modern binding on which rolls have been used for the decoration with satisfactory results. The gain in time and trouble is at the expense of freedom and life in the design; and for extra binding it is better to build up a pattern out of small tools of simple design, which can be arranged in endless variety, than to use rolls.

Tools for hand-tooling must not be too large, or it will be impossible to obtain clear impressions. One inch square for blind tools, or three-quarters of an inch for gold tools, is about the maximum size for use with any certainty and comfort. Tools much larger than this have to be worked with the aid of a press, and are called blocks.


The first thing the finisher does to a book is to go over the back with a polisher and smooth out any irregularities.

Two forms of polisher are shown at fig. 82. The lower one is suitable for polishing backs and inside margins, and the upper for sides. Polishers must be used warm, but not too hot, or the leather may be scorched, and they must be kept moving on the leather. Before using they should be rubbed bright on a piece of the finest emery paper, and polished on a piece of leather. New polishers often have sharp edges that would mark the leather. These must be rubbed down with files and emery-paper.

Leathers with a prominent grained surface, such as morocco, seal or pig skin, may either have the grain rough or crushed flat. If there is to be much finishing, the grain had better be crushed, but for large books that are to have only a small amount of finishing, the grain is best left unflattened.

If the grain of the leather is to be "crushed," it may be done at this stage. To do this, one board at a time is damped with a sponge and put in the standing-press, with a pressing plate on the grained side, and a pad of blotting-paper, or some such yielding substance, on the other (see fig. 83). The press is then screwed up tight, and the board left for a short time. For some leathers this operation is best done after the binding has been finished and varnished, in which case, of course, the boards cannot be damped before pressing. No flexibly sewn book should be subject to great pressure after it has been covered, or the leather on the back may crinkle up and become detached.

The next thing will be to decide what lettering and what decoration, if any, is to be put on the volume. The lettering should be made out first (see page 215). If the book is to be at all elaborately decorated, paper patterns must be made out, as described in Chapter XVI.

For tooling the back, the book is held in the finishing press between a pair of backing boards lined with leather (see fig. 84), and the paper pattern put across the back, with the ends either slightly pasted to the backing boards, or caught between them and the book.

For the sides, the pattern is very slightly pasted on to the leather at the four corners. The book is then put in the finishing press, with the board to be tooled open and flat on the cheek of the press, unless the book is a large one, when it is easier to tool the sides out of the press.

The selected tools, which should be ready on the stove (see fig. 85), are one at a time cooled on a wet pad, and then pressed in their former impressions upon the paper. The degree of heat required varies a good deal with the leather used, and will only be learned by experience. It is better to have the tool too cool than too hot, as it is easy to deepen impressions after the paper is removed; but if they are already too deep, or are burnt, it will be impossible to finish clearly. Generally speaking, tools should hiss very slightly when put on the cooling pad. In cooling, care must be taken to put the shank of the tools on to the wet pad, as, if the end only is cooled, the heat is apt to run down again, and the tool will still be too hot.

Before removing the paper, one corner at a time should be lifted up, and the leather examined to see that no part of the pattern has been missed.

In some patterns where the design is close, or in which the background is dotted in, it will not be necessary to blind in every leaf and dot through the paper. If the lines with perhaps the terminal leaves are blinded in, the rest can be better worked directly through the gold. This method implies the "glairing in" of the whole surface. It is not suitable for open patterns, where the glaire might show on the surface of the leather.

If the book is only to have lines, or some simple straight line pattern, it is often easier to mark it up without the paper, with a straight-edge and folder. In panelling a back, the side lines of all the panels should be marked in at the same time with a folder, working against the straight-edge, held firmly at the side of the back. If the panels are worked separately, it is difficult to get the side lines squarely above each other. The lines at the top and bottom of the panel may be marked in with a folder, guided by a piece of stiff vellum held squarely across the back. If there are lines to be run round the board, they can be marked in with a pair of dividers guided by the edge of the board, except those at the back. These must be measured from the fore-edge of the board and run in with straight-edge and folder.

When straight lines occur in patterns that are blinded through the paper, it will be enough if the ends only are marked through with a small piece of straight line, and the lines completed with straight-edge and folder, after the paper has been removed.

Unless the finisher has had considerable experience, it is best to deepen all folder lines by going over them in blind with a fillet or piece of straight line.

When the pattern has been worked in blind, either through a paper pattern or directly on to the leather with the tools, and any inlays stuck on (see page 213), the cover should be well washed with clean water. Some finishers prefer to use common vinegar or diluted acetic acid for washing up books. If vinegar is used it must be of the best quality, and must not contain any sulphuric acid. Cheap, crude vinegar is certain to be injurious to the leather. Porous leather, such as calf or sheep skin, will need to be washed over with paste-water, and then sized.

Paste-water is paste and water well beaten up to form a milky liquid, and is applied to the leather as evenly as possible with a sponge. When the paste-water is dry, the leather should be washed with size. Size can be made by boiling down vellum cuttings, or by dissolving gelatine or isinglass in warm water.

For the less porous leathers, such as morocco, seal, or pig skin, no paste-water or size is necessary, unless the skin happens to be a specially open one, or the cover has been cut from the flank or belly. Then it is best to put a little paste in the vinegar or water used for washing up. When the leather is nearly, but not quite, dry the impressions of the tools must be painted with glaire. Finishers' glaire may be made from the white of eggs well beaten up, diluted with about half as much vinegar, and allowed to settle. Some finishers prefer to use old, evil-smelling glaire, but provided it is a day old, and has been well beaten up, fresh glaire will work quite well.

The impressions of any heavy or solid tools should be given a second coat of glaire when the first has ceased to be "tacky," and if the leather is at all porous, all impressions had better have a second coat.

As glaire is apt to show and disfigure the leather when dry, it is best to use it as sparingly as possible, and, excepting where the pattern is very close, to confine it to the impressions of the tools. It is not at all an uncommon thing to see the effect of an otherwise admirably tooled binding spoilt by a dark margin round the tools, caused by the careless use of glaire. Glaire should not be used unless it is quite liquid and clean. Directly it begins to get thick it should be strained or thrown away.

The finisher should not glaire in more than he can tool the same day. When the glaire has ceased to be "tacky," the gold is laid on.

At first it will be found difficult to manage gold leaf. The essential conditions are, that there should be no draught, and that the cushion and knife should be quite free from grease. The gold cushion and knife are shown at fig. 86. A little powdered bath-brick rubbed into the cushion will make it easier to cut the gold cleanly. The blade of the gold knife should never be touched with the hand, and before using it, both sides should be rubbed on the cushion. A book of gold is laid open on the cushion, and a leaf of gold is lifted up on the gold knife, which is slipped under it, and turned over on to the cushion. A light breath exactly in the centre of the sheet should make it lie flat, when it may be cut into pieces of any size with a slightly sawing motion of the knife. The book with the pattern ready prepared, and the glaire sufficiently dry (not sticky), is rubbed lightly with a small piece of cotton-wool greased with a little cocoanut oil. The back of the hand is greased in the same way, and a pad of clean cotton-wool is held in the right hand, and having been made as flat as possible by being pressed on the table, is drawn over the back of the hand. This should make it just greasy enough to pick up the gold, but not too greasy to part with it readily when pressed on the book. As little grease as possible should be used on the book, as an excess is apt to stain the leather and to make the gold dull. After experiment it has been found that cocoanut oil stains the leather less than any other grease in common use by bookbinders, and is more readily washed out by benzine.

If the gold cracks, or is not solid when pressed on the book, a second thickness should be used. This will stay down if the under piece is lightly breathed upon.

For narrow strips of gold for lines, a little pad covered with soft leather may be made, as in fig. 87.

It will be found of advantage to first use the bottom leaf of gold in the book and then to begin at the top and work through, or else the bottom leaf will almost certainly be found to be damaged by the time it is reached. The gold used should be as nearly pure as it can be got. The gold-beaters say that they are unable to beat pure gold as thin as is usual for gold leaf; but the quite pure gold is a better colour than when alloyed, and the additional thickness, although costly, results in a more solid impression of the tools.

The cost of a book of twenty-four leaves three and a half inches square of English gold leaf of good ordinary quality is from 1s. 3d. to 1s. 6d., whereas the cost of a book of double thick pure gold leaf is 3s. to 3s. 6d. For tooled work it is worth paying the increased price for the sake of the advantages in colour and solidity; but for lines and edges, which use up an immense amount of gold, the thinner and cheaper gold may quite well be used.

Besides pure gold leaf, gold alloyed with various metals to change its colour can be had. None of the alloys keep their colour as well as pure gold, and some of them, such as those alloyed with copper for red gold, and with silver for pale gold, tarnish very quickly. These last are not to be recommended.

For silver tooling aluminium leaf may be used, as silver leaf tarnishes very quickly.

When the gold is pressed into the impressions of the tools with the pad of cotton-wool, they should be plainly visible through it.

The pattern must now be worked through the gold with the hot tools. The tools are taken from the stove, and if too hot cooled on a pad as for blinding-in. The heat required to leave the gold tooling solid and bright and the impressions clear will vary for different leathers, and even for different skins of the same leather. For trial a tool may be laid on the pad until it ceases to hiss, and one or two impressions worked with it. If the gold fails to stick, the heat may be slightly increased.

If the leather is slightly damp from the preparation the tools will usually work better, and less heat is required than if it has been prepared for some time and has got dry.

Before using, the faces of all tools must be rubbed bright on the flesh side of a piece of leather. It is impossible to tool brightly with dirty tools. A tool should be held in the right hand, with the thumb on the top of the handle, and steadied with the thumb or first finger of the left hand. The shoulder should be brought well over the tool, and the upper part of the body used as a press. If the weight of the body is used in finishing, the tools can be worked with far greater firmness and certainty, and with less fatigue, than if the whole work is done with the muscles of the arms.

Large and solid tools will require all the weight that can be put on them, and even then the gold will often fail to stick with one impression. Tools with small surfaces, such as gouges and dots, must not be worked too heavily, or the surface of the leather may be cut.

To strike a large or solid tool, it should first be put down flat, and then slightly rocked from side to side and from top to bottom, but must not be twisted on the gold.

A tool may be struck from whichever side the best "sight" can be got, and press and book turned round to the most convenient position.

It is difficult to impress some tools, such as circular flower tools, twice in exactly the same place. Such tools should have a mark on one side as a guide. This should always be kept in the same position when blinding-in and tooling, and so make it possible to impress a second time without "doubling." An impression is said to be "doubled" when the tool has been twisted in striking, or one impression does not fall exactly over the other.

The hot tool should not be held hovering over the impression long, or the preparation will be dried up before the tool is struck. Tooling will generally be brighter if the tools are struck fairly sharply, and at once removed from the leather, than if they are kept down a long time.

To "strike" dots, the book should be turned with the head to the worker, and the tool held with the handle inclining slightly towards him. This will make them appear bright when the book is held the right way up.

Gouges must be "sighted" from the inside of the curve, and struck evenly, or the points may cut into the leather. Short straight lines may be put in with pieces of line, and longer ones with a fillet.

A one line fillet is shown at fig. 88; the space filed out of the circumference is to enable lines to be joined neatly at the corners. That the lines may be clearly visible through the gold, the book should be placed so that the light comes from the left hand of the worker and across the line. It is well to have a basin of water in which to cool fillets, as there is so much metal in them, that the damp sponge or cotton used for cooling tools would very rapidly be dried up. When the fillet has been cooled, the edge should be rubbed on the cleaning pad, and the point exactly adjusted to the corner of the line to be run (see fig. 88). The fillet is then run along the line with even pressure.

For slightly curved lines, a very small fillet may be used.

When all the prepared part of a pattern has been tooled, it is well rubbed to remove the loose gold with a slightly greasy rag, or with a piece of bottle indiarubber which has been softened in paraffin. After a time the rubber or rag may be sold to the gold-beater, who recovers the gold. To prepare indiarubber for cleaning off gold, a piece of bottle rubber is cut into small pieces and soaked in paraffin for some hours. This should cause the pieces to reunite into a soft lump. This can be used until it is yellow with gold throughout.

When all free gold is rubbed off, the finisher can see where the tooling is imperfect. Impressions which are not "solid" must be reglaired, have fresh gold laid on, and be retooled. But if, as will sometimes happen with the best finishers, the gold has failed to stick properly anywhere, it is best to wash the whole with water or vinegar, and prepare afresh.

As an excess of grease is apt to dull the gold and soil the leather, it is better to use it very sparingly when laying on fresh gold for mending. For patching, benzine may be used instead of grease. When the gold is picked up on the cotton-wool pad, rapidly go over the leather with wool soaked in benzine, and at once lay down the gold. Benzine will not hold the gold long enough for much tooling, but it will answer for about half-an-hour, and give plenty of time for patching.

Imperfect tooling arises from a variety of causes. If an impression is clear, but the gold not solid, it is probably because the tool was not hot enough, or was not put down firmly. If only one side of an impression fails to stick, it is usually because the tool was unevenly impressed. If an impression is blurred, and the gold has a frosted look, it is because the leather has been burned, either because the tool was too hot, or kept down too long, or the preparation was too fresh.

To mend double or burnt impressions the leather should be wetted and left to soak a short time, and the gold can be picked out with a wooden point. When nearly dry the impressions should be put in again with a cool tool, reglaired and retooled.

It is very difficult to mend neatly if the leather is badly burnt. Sometimes it may be advisable to paste a piece of new leather over a burnt impression before retooling.

If a tool is put down in the wrong place by mistake, it is difficult to get the impression out entirely. The best thing to do is to damp the leather thoroughly, leave it to soak for a little while, and pick up the impression with the point of a pin. It is best not to use an iron point for this, as iron is apt to blacken the leather.

Leather is difficult to tool if it has not a firm surface, or if it is too thin to give a little when the tool is struck.

When the tooling is finished, and the loose gold removed with the rubber, the leather should be washed with benzine, to remove any grease and any fragments of gold that may be adhering by the grease only.

The inside margins of the boards are next polished and varnished, and the end papers pasted down. Or if there is a leather joint, the panel left on the board may be filled in (see Chapter XVII).

When the end papers are dry, the sides and back may be polished and varnished.

It is important that the varnish should be of good quality, and not too thick, or it will in time turn brown and cause the gold to look dirty. Some of the light French spirit varnishes prepared for bookbinders answer well. Varnish must be used sparingly, and is best applied with a pad of cotton-wool. A little varnish is poured on to the pad, which is rubbed on a piece of paper until it is seen that the varnish comes out thinly and evenly. It is then rubbed on the book with a spiral motion. The quicker the surface is gone over, provided every part is covered, the better. Varnish will not work well if it is very cold, and in cold weather both the book and varnish bottle should be slightly warmed before use. Should an excess of varnish be put on in error, or should it be necessary to retool part of the book after it has been varnished, the varnish can be removed with spirits of wine. Varnish acts as a preservative to the leather, but has the disadvantage, if used in excess, of making it rather brittle on the surface. It must, therefore, be used very sparingly at the joints. It is to be hoped that a perfectly elastic varnish, that will not tarnish the gold, will soon be discovered.

As soon as the varnish is dry the boards may be pressed, one at a time, to give the leather a smooth surface (see fig. 83), leaving each board in the press for some hours.

After each board has been pressed separately the book should be shut, and pressed again with pressing plates on each side of it, and with tins covered with paper placed inside each board. Light pressure should be given to books with tight backs, or the leather may become detached.

If, on removing from the press, the boards will not keep shut, the book should be pressed again with a folded sheet of blotting-paper in each end. The blotting-paper should have the folded edge turned up, and be placed so that this turned-up edge will be in the joint behind the back edge of the board when the book is shut.

A small nipping-press suitable for giving comparatively light pressure, is shown at fig. 89.


Most covering vellum has a sticky surface, that marks if it is handled. This should be washed off with clean water before tooling. The pattern is blinded in through the paper as for leather, excepting that the paper must not be pasted directly to the vellum, but may be held with a band going right round the board or book. It is best to glaire twice, and to lay on a small portion of gold at a time with benzine. As vellum burns very readily, the tools must not be too hot, and some skill is needed to prevent them from slipping on the hard surface.

Vellum must not be polished or varnished.


Inlaying or onlaying is adding a different leather from that of the cover, as decoration. Thus on a red book, a panel or a border, or other portion, may be covered with thin green leather, or only flowers or leaves may be inlaid, while a jewel-like effect may be obtained by dots, leaves, and flowers, tooled over inlays of various colours. Leather for inlaying should be pared very thin. To do this the leather is cut into strips, wetted, and pared on a stone with a knife shaped somewhat as at fig. 60, B. When the thin leather is dry the inlays of the leaves and flowers, &c., may be stamped out with steel punches cut to the shape of the tools; or if only a few inlays are needed, the tools may be impressed on the thin leather, and the inlays cut out with a sharp knife. The edges of the larger inlays should be pared round carefully. For inlaying a panel or other large surface, the leather is pared very thin and evenly with a French knife, and a piece of paper pasted on to the grained side and left to dry. When dry, the shape of the panel, or other space to be inlaid, is marked on it through the paper pattern, and leather and paper cut through to the shape required. The edges must then be carefully pared, and the piece attached with paste, and nipped in the press to make it stick. When the paste is dry, the paper may be damped and washed off. The object of the paper is to prevent the thin leather from stretching when it is pasted.

For white inlays it is better to use Japanese paper than leather, as white leather, when pared very thin, will show the colours of the under leather through, and look dirty. If paper is used, it should be sized with vellum size before tooling.

When many dots or leaves are to be inlaid, the pieces of leather, cut out with the punch, may be laid face downwards on a paring stone, and a piece of paper, thickly covered with paste, laid on it. This, on being taken up, will carry with it the "inlays," and they can be picked up one at a time on the point of a fine folder, and stuck on the book.

"Inlays" of tools are attached after the pattern has been "blinded" in, and must be again worked over with the tool, in blind, when the paste is nearly dry.

On vellum an effect, similar to that of inlays on leather, can be obtained by the use of stains.


Lettering—Blind Tooling—Heraldic Ornament


Lettering may be done either with separate letters, each on its own handle, or with type set in a type-holder and worked across the back as a pallet. Although by the use of type great regularity is ensured, and some time saved, the use of handle letters gives so much more freedom of arrangement, that their use is advocated for extra binding. Where a great many copies of the same work have to be lettered, the use of type has obvious advantages.

A great deal depends on the design of the letters used. Nearly all bookbinders' letters are made too narrow, and with too great difference between the thick and thin strokes. At fig. 90 is shown an alphabet, for which I am indebted to the kindness of Mr. Emery Walker. The long tail of the Q is meant to go under the U. It might be well to have a second R cut, with a shorter tail, to avoid the great space left when an A happens to follow it. I have found that four sizes of letters are sufficient for all books.

To make out a lettering paper for the back of a book, cut a strip of good thin paper as wide as the height of the panel to be lettered. Fold it near the centre, and mark the fold with a pencil. This should give a line exactly at right angles to the top and bottom of the strip. Then make another fold the distance from the first of the width of the back; then bring the two folds together, and make a third fold in the exact centre. The paper should then be as shown at fig. 91. Supposing the lettering to be THE WORKS OF ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON, select the size of letter you desire to use, and take an E and mark on a piece of spare paper a line of E's, and laying your folded paper against it, see how many letters will go in comfortably. Supposing you find that four lines of five letters of the selected size can be put in, you must see if your title can be conveniently cut up into four lines of five letters, or less. It might be done as shown at fig. 93. But if you prefer not to split the name STEVENSON, a smaller letter must be employed, and then the lettering may be as at fig. 94.

To find out the position of the lines of lettering on a panel, the letter E is again taken and impressed five times at the side of the panel, as shown at fig. 92, leaving a little greater distance between the lowest letter and the bottom of the panel, than between the letters. The paper is then folded on the centre fold, and, with dividers set to the average distance between the head of one letter and the head of the next, five points are made through the folded paper. The paper is opened, turned over, and the points joined with a fine folder worked against the straight-edge. It should leave on the front five raised lines, up to which the head of the letters must be put.

The letters in the top line are counted, and the centre letter marked. Spaces between words are counted as a letter; thus in "THE WORKS," "W" will be the centre letter, and should be put on the paper first, and the others added on each side of it. Some thought is needed in judging where to put the centre, as the difference in the width of such letters as "M" and "W" and "I" and "J" have to be taken into account.

As a general rule, lettering looks best if it comfortably fills the panel, but of course it cannot always be made to do this. The greatest difficulty will be found in making titles of books that consist of a single word, look well. Thus if you have "CORIOLANUS" to place on a back which is not more than 5/8-inch wide, if it is put across as one word, as at fig. 95 (1), it will be illegible from the smallness of the type, and will tell merely as a gold line at a little distance. If a reasonably large type is used, the word must be broken up somewhat, as at (2), which is perhaps better, but still not at all satisfactory. The word may be put straight along the back, as at fig. (3), but this hardly looks well on a book with raised bands, and should be avoided unless necessary.

The use of type of different sizes in lettering a book should be avoided when possible, and on no account whatever should letters of different design be introduced. Occasionally, when the reason for it is obvious, it may be allowable to make a word shorter by putting in a small letter, supposing that only thus could reasonably large type be used. It is especially allowable in cases where, in a set of volumes, there is one much thinner than the others. It is generally better to make some compromise with the lettering of the thin volume, than to spoil the lettering of the whole set by using too small a letter throughout (see fig. 115).

On very thin books it is sometimes hardly possible to get any lettering at all on the back. In such cases the lettering is best put on the side.

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