Introduction: Bind a Book in Tooled Leather

Picture of Bind a Book in Tooled Leather

Turn an old ugly book with a broken cover into an heirloom-worthy hand-tooled masterpiece. After trying several methods, I think I've found a pretty good one. Here it is:

Step 1: Get the "Text Block" Ready

Picture of Get the "Text Block" Ready

The "text block" is the pages of the old book that you're going to re-bind. I go into a lot of detail on this step in one of my other instructables (here), but the basic gist is pretty simple:

Tear the old cover off:

Clean up any fuzz or paper left on the spine:

(If needed, repair the binding by "fan-gluing"... see this great link and video for instructions).

Cut and fold "endpapers" (some nice-looking paper folded in half along the grain):

Glue the "endpapers" to the "text block" with PVA glue (or Elmer's glue). Apply glue ONLY to 1/4" closest to the fold:

Add "headbands" (little decorative pieces of cloth) and a "super" (a reinforcing piece of cloth on the spine) using some more PVA glue:

You now have a "text block" ready to be bound in leather.

Step 2: Prepare the Leather

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First, get yourself some veggie-tanned leather (a type of leather that can be tooled and stamped). Thickness is totally personal preference, but you need two pieces a little bit bigger than your book.

Next, get (or make) yourself some patterns. I tend to google images of artwork (especially tattoos) and adapt them. You can also print up something directly (like the attached pdfs of my designs). NOTE: everything within about 3/4" of the edge closest to the spine will be covered up later, so don't bother with that area.

How big should the design be? An excellent question. The height should be 1/4" larger than your book, and the width should be 1/4" less wide than your book. For example, my text block (an old NASB study bible) was

6-1/2" wide and 9-1/4" high, so my leather pieces were

6-1/4" wide and 9-1/2" high.

Step 3: Tool the Covers

Picture of Tool the Covers

Tooling leather is a lot easier than you'd think. You can get some pretty cool-looking results even when you aren't doing things the "right" way. I'll go over the basic steps I took below, but if you want to level up your skilz, you should check out some of Tandy Leather's how-to videos or do some Youtubing.

To transfer your pattern to the leather, start by casing the leather. This is a step you'll do over and over again to keep the leather ready for tooling. Get the leather damp with a sponge, then wait for it to turn almost back to its normal color again... it should still be cool to the touch.

Use a "modelling tool" (or a blunt pencil, or a chopstick) to transfer your pattern onto your cased leather.

Use a swivel knife to score the pattern lines (remember to re-case the leather as it dries out):

Then use a beveler to bevel the edges. The beveler's slanted edge should face away from the raised area (to the right in the picture below):

Finally, use background tools to fill in any areas you want to look like shadows:

You can get fancier with pear shaders, texturing tools, etc., but 90% of the time the swivel knife, beveler, and background tools are all you need.

Step 4: Finish the Covers

Picture of Finish the Covers

To make the edges look nice, start by using an edge beveler to round the sharp corners.

Then burnish the edges (get them wet with water or gum traganth* and rub them with a slicker until they shine).

*gum traganth is supposedly "the stuff", but I haven't noticed it working much better than water

Optional: "mask" some areas of the design with a clear finish. This will make them turn out lighter when the antique is applied. I masked the leaves of the tree with one coat and the apple, snake eye, and snake tongue with three coats.

Apply a leather antique gel (or some other stain / colorant). Antiquing gel is easy: just rub it into all the cracks and wipe off the excess (the longer you let it sit before wiping off the excess, the darker it will end up).

Apply a few clear-coats for some extra protection.

Then buff everything with a clean cloth or paper towel and admire. Note the tongue, eye, and apple, which were heavily masked with clear coat before applying the antiquing gel:

Step 5: Connect the Covers With a Soft Leather Spine

Picture of Connect the Covers With a Soft Leather Spine

I've found that soft leather tends to work much better for the spine (the book opens easier and the cover doesn't want to tear away from the pages). Find yourself a nice, thin (2 or 3 oz / 2 or 3 mm) piece of chrome-tanned leather and cut it to size. The goal is for the spine to overlap the covers by about 1 inch when the covers are placed on the book.

The diagram below shows three things:

  1. The soft leather will wrap around the spine and overlap the front and back covers.
  2. The soft leather needs to be about two inches taller than the covers.
  3. [Optional] - You can also cut a thin cardboard "stiffener" the width of the spine and the height of the covers.

My covers were 9-1/2" tall, so my soft leather spine was 11-1/2" tall.

My spine width (textblock plus two covers) was about 2", so to allow for about 3/4" of overlap on each cover (when it is placed 3/8" from the spine), my soft leather spine was 2 + 2*(3/4+3/8) = 4-1/4" wide.

Next (optionally), use a skiver to thin the edges of the leather spine. This will make it lay down more nicely against the leather covers.

Finally, line up your two leather covers, your thin leather spine, and your [optional] thin cardboard spine stiffener. Glue the overlapped regions with PVA glue, then fold the top and bottom of the thin leather spine down and glue those as well.

Turn over the finished book cover: you now have a "case" ready to glue to your textblock.

Step 6: Glue on the Covers

Picture of Glue on the Covers

Apply glue to the front end paper, then carefully fold the front cover down onto the textblock. Repeat for the back cover. I recommend a piece of scrap paper behind the first page to protect the textblock while you're gluing.

Put the newly-glued book on a nice flat counter or piece of wood. Optionally, put knitting needles, long pencils, or chopsticks in the un-glued zone between the spine and the tooled leather cover.

Add some weight and leave to dry for a day or two.

Carefully open your book. If you've done everything right, you'll now have a very durable and open-able spine.

Step 7: Admire and Enjoy

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You should now have a beautiful copy of the Bible / Harry Potter / Webster's Dictionary that's fun to look at, fun to feel, fun to show off, and even fun to read (unless it really is Webster's Dictionary). It should be very durable: mine's seen heavy use for almost a year now and seems to be no worse for wear.

Thanks for reading.


AbeV (author)2017-11-07

Amazing work!

I'm getting ready to start something similar. What weight of leather did you use? Also, does the cover end up fairly stiff? Thanks!

solobo (author)AbeV2017-11-09

I used 8 oz (1/8"). The cover ended up a little stiff... not as stiff as a hard-back book though. If you hold the middle of the cover down with one hand and lift up on the edge with the other you can bend it about 2" before it feels like it might crease.

r2diaz2 (author)2017-04-09


What a fantastic project, and an incredibly well written instructable. Great stuff!

Thank you!

solobo (author)r2diaz22017-04-10


Rockincityrollergirl (author)2017-02-20

Where is the link

Which link?

nevermind i made a mistake

No, you're right, I mentioned PDFs in step 3 and forgot to attach them. They're attached now! Thanks for pointing that out.

glad i helped

I think

you mentioned a pdf file I was curiouse were it was

caracoda (author)2016-10-26

Congratulations on your win! I saved your tutorial, it is great! Thank you for sharing!

MxLeather (author)2016-10-25

Thank you for sharing and explaining your process!

solobo (author)MxLeather2016-10-25

no problem!

halledean (author)2016-10-19

This is so awesome and you explained it really well!

Now I totally have to make a leather book cover!

solobo (author)halledean2016-10-20

Thanks! Yes, do it, and post a picture!

HollyMann (author)2016-10-19

Amazing! Im in the contest too and I think you deserve to win the big prize! This is gorgeous! Id like to do this on my Bible in the future...or, make a gift for a friend. Thanks for sharing!

solobo (author)HollyMann2016-10-20

Thanks! Definitely give it a try, it's pretty fun.
And nice pencil case!

Modern Rustic Workshop (author)2016-10-15

Brilliant project! I really like the look of the tooled leather binding!


mia tata (author)2016-10-11

Great work! Great instructions!

LaughingLaird made it! (author)2016-09-21

Great instructions!

solobo (author)LaughingLaird2016-09-21

Nice, looks great!

amcgamcg (author)2016-08-29

Your humour is great and the work is fabulous. You get my vote.

solobo (author)amcgamcg2016-08-31


Miguel Augusto (author)2016-08-25

Awesome! Great job! Congratulations

mary111 (author)2016-08-16

good job

Cats Dragon (author)2016-08-09

This is awesome and beautiful. Thank you for posting and your instructions are excellent!

solobo (author)Cats Dragon2016-08-09


KROKKENOSTER (author)2016-08-06

This is a fantastic article and something that I was looking for for years! I have a lot of books that the moment you opened the book to read it the pages become loose. I wonder if the bookbinder factories really want the books to be read! The glue becomes brittle after it was standing for a couple of months at the bookshops! Thanks a googal for this Instructable ( Googql is ten with 99 zeros!)

solobo (author)KROKKENOSTER2016-08-06

Thanks, glad it was helpful!

deluges (author)2016-08-06

Beautiful work!

But you're not very delicate withe this piece of art in the video ;p

solobo (author)deluges2016-08-06

thanks! and ha, yes: I was trying to show it's durability.

deluges (author)deluges2016-08-06


craigm74 (author)2016-08-04

Very nice! Love this!

solobo (author)craigm742016-08-05


Gartholameau (author)2016-08-04

This ible deserves a standing ovation on its own and should be used as an example for new members to understand how to demonstrate step-by-step instructions. And that's not all, you give us a wonderful finished book. I'm so stoked about getting some of my hospital books (my wife's name for books I'm not allowed to put on the shelves...yet) and following this process. Thanks so much. Kudos!

solobo (author)Gartholameau2016-08-05

Thanks! Good luck with the hospital books: post pictures if you get a chance.

gsholl (author)2016-08-05

Outstanding! Best overall book binding tutorial I've seen.

solobo (author)gsholl2016-08-05


Laral (author)2016-08-04

Wow, that looks so cool!

JustinaF (author)2016-08-04

M A R A V I LL O S O!!!!!

Muchas gracias.

solobo (author)JustinaF2016-08-04


GurubandhuK (author)2016-08-04

Do you use a certain type of paper for the inside of the book and where do you purchase it? Very nice job.

solobo (author)GurubandhuK2016-08-04

I got some sheets from a local art store; they make acid free paper especially for end sheets, but I just found some that I thought looked nice.

eltel16 (author)2016-08-04

This is excellent, your book binding and leather work is fantastic, I would love to try it, your instructions and pictures are just as fantastic so I guess it leaves me no choice but to try it!! Thank you for taking the time to show us.

solobo (author)eltel162016-08-04

No problem, glad it's helpful.

the r (author)2016-08-04

Wow... That is REALY cool. I just want ro say, I know what I'm doing after my current sketchbook is full! Great job!

solobo (author)the r2016-08-04


Maggs♍️ (author)2016-08-04

Excellent method, carefully explained. I appreciate your tips and explanations regarding pitfalls one can encounter. I can hardly wait to make my own!

Thank you so much for your instructions


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