Introduction: How to Leather Bind a Paperback

Picture of How to Leather Bind a Paperback

Turn an ordinary paperback book into a leather bound masterpiece... without any fancy tools or techniques.

I've spent quite a few hours scouring bookstores, libraries, and the web for the answer to a simple question: how can I put leather on my paperback book? There are plenty of book binding Jedis out there, but I'm not interested in restoring an old manuscript, learning about the history of scrolls and codices, or building my own cutesy journal with expensive hand-made paper and fancy stitches. I just want to take a piece of leather and glue it to my paperback and have it look nice.

Well, I tried the "just glue it" method. Twice. It didn't work so well. After taking apart some old books, gleaning what I could from book-binding manuals at the library, and analyzing what went wrong, I tried a third time. This is a record of my third attempt, which was pretty successful, pretty easy, and, well, pretty cool.

UPDATE: for a slightly different method, check out Leather Binding a Paperback: A New and Improved Guide.

Step 1: Measure

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Write down the width, height, and depth of your paperback book. Also, write down the thickness of the leather and cardboard you plan to use.

In my case:

Width = 6"

Height = 9"

Depth = 3/4"

Leather Thickness = 1/16"

Cardboard Thickness = 1/16"

Step 2: Prepare Outer Surface for Gluing

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Some paperbacks are shiny. Glue doesn't stick to shiny. Rough the outsides with some sandpaper, steel wool, etc.

Step 3: Obtain Glue, Leather, Cardboard

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  1. Glue: I used a $6 bottle of bookbinding PVA from Amazon (here). It feels exactly like Elmer's Glue, but it's supposed to be more flexible and long-lasting. You'd probably be fine with Elmer's, or Mod Podge, since you don't really need flexibility for this project. There are also recipes for "wheat paste", a glue made from flour and water, that is pretty common for bookbinding. I've never tried it.
  2. Leather: I used cow-hide upholstery leather, sold for $10/pound from the scrap bin at Tandy Leather. I got a piece big enough for 6 or 7 books for $13. Any leather will probably be fine, as long as it's flexible. My first two attempts involved thick veggie-tanned leather that I had done some carving on, but it didn't work very well.
  3. Cardboard: I used the backs of several cheap notebooks. I would recommend springing for some stiffer cardboard at a craft store or something, if you have the time/money/energy.

Step 4: Add Headbands (Optional)

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What are headbands? They are cool-looking little things right at the top and bottom of the spine.

Do they have a purpose? No. But they look cool, and they're easy to make/fake, so why not?

Fold cloth over cord, glue, then glue to the spine at both ends.

EDIT: kewpiedoll99 was kind enough to point out that FAKE/FAUX headbands (like these) have no practical purpose, but signature bound books often have sewn headbands that increase the structural integrity of the book. Here is a fantastic tutorial she found on sewing headbands on signature bound books:

Step 5: Cut Cardboard

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Cut three pieces of cardboard.

All three should be 1/4" taller than your paperback (height + 1/4"). In my case: 9" + 1/4" = 9-1/4".

Two should be 3/8" less wide than your paperback (width - 3/8"). In my case: 6" - 3/8" = 5-5/8".

One should be as wide as the depth of your paperback, plus two leather thicknesses, plus two cardboard thicknesses (depth + 2*leatherThickness + 2*cardboardThickness). In my case: 3/4" + 2*1/16" + 2*1/16" = 1".

Hopefully the diagram makes this more clear.

Step 6: Align Cardboard With Masking Tape

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Use a few pieces of masking tape to align the three cardboard pieces with 1/2" spaces between them. The masking tape is temporary.

If you want to get technical, the space should probably be 1/2" plus the thickness of the leather. If you can measure / hold / tape cardboard that precisely, more power to you.

Step 7: Cut Leather

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Cut your leather so that it is overhangs the cardboard by 1/2" on all sides.

Draw the outline of the perfectly centered cardboard on the leather. This will make aligning things easier later on.

Step 8: Glue Leather to Cardboard

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Glue the leather to the cardboard, with the tape side up (so you can remove the tape when you're done).

Be careful; PVA dries quickly. Glue one sheet at a time.

A paint brush is helpful for spreading the glue evenly.

Use a weight to press the glued pieces so they dry flat.

Step 9: Cut the Leather Corners

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Cut the corners of the leather so they'll fold up evenly. Cutting a nice 45-45-90 triangle off of each corner works well.

I cut a tad too much off on mine, so the leather folds don't quite meet each other. Try to avoid this.

Step 10: Fold and Glue the Leather Edges

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Fold up each leather edge and glue it in place.

I found a ruler helpful in getting a nice fold and holding down the edge to stay in place.

Step 11: Add Filler Cardboard (optional for Thin Leather)

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Your leather now leaves little lips at the edges of your cardboard. This might be ok if you have very thin leather, but if you don't, you'll want to fill in the gaps with cardboard that is about the same thickness as your leather.

Cut three pieces to fit and glue in place.

Use a weight (as always) to hold everything down as the glue dries.

This is a good time to admire how your book is about to fit into this cover.

Step 12: Glue the Cover to the Paperback

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Put a sheet of paper (preferably wax paper) between the front cover and first page of your paperback. Repeat with the back cover and back page. This will keep any glue from getting on your pages.

Glue one cover at a time, making sure that the new leather cover hangs over the edge of the paperback by 1/8" on all sides.

Don't glue the spine or hinge sections (see diagram). If you glue these, the book won't open properly.

When everything is glued, put weights on top of the closed book and let the glue dry for a long time (several hours). Use nice flat boards to avoid putting dents in the leather cover.

Step 13: Laser Engrave (Optional)

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Since I designed the original cover for this particular book, I happened to have the graphics files. I was also lucky enough to have access to a laser cutter/engraver. I used these to burn the cover design onto the front and back of the leather cover.

An alternative would be to use a soldering iron to hand-burn your own design, or to paint one, or to just leave the cover blank (you minimalist you).

Step 14: Clean Up and Admire

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Use some rubbing alcohol to clean up any stray glue... and you're done.

Thanks for reading!

Thane is my first novel. Check out my website and facebook page to learn more about the book and its sequel (an awesome tale about teenage medieval secret agents), read some of my short stories, and see my food experiments on the way to perfect biscuits, pancakes, hash browns, and (someday) all the other greats.


pjacob1 made it! (author)2015-01-17

I made this using Goat Leather. Thank you so much for the tutorial. I modified the process a bit though.

I wish I had a laser engraver.

solobo (author)pjacob12015-01-17

Looks awesome! Did you use two layers of cardboard and cut out the letters from one layer, kind of like the guy did in the Harley Davidson journal video?

It looks really nice. Thanks for posting a picture.

The PizzaGuy (author)solobo2016-12-08

Sorry to trouble you, but I have two more questions. 1. Can this method be used to make a book from scratch? Like say you take a bunch of A4 papers and bind it. 2. Can I use bonded leather?

solobo (author)The PizzaGuy2016-12-09

Yes and yes! Also, see my updated instructable with what I think is a slightly better method here:

sinzu (author)2016-12-14

thanks for this ible. do you have an idea of the minimum laser power required for leather engravings? I was wondering if kind of Chinese CNC laser engraver could works.

solobo (author)sinzu2016-12-15

I think engraving should be easy with just about any laser. I've cut through pretty thick leather using a 45-watt Epilogue.

The PizzaGuy (author)2016-12-07

How can you leather bind a notebook with those ringy things at the side?

solobo (author)The PizzaGuy2016-12-08

I'm not sure... I've never tried it. The best way might be to remove the rings, perfect-bind the pages, then proceed as usual. Another possibility would be to cut two separate pieces of leather and gluing them to the front and back covers (leaving the rings exposed).

moodelectable (author)2016-09-08

Its excellent :)

Oncer (author)2016-05-07

Headbands are there to stop you ripping the spine when taking the book off the shelf.

RussellS8 (author) Oncer2016-06-03

Thanks. I was going to say the same thing.

kwhitacre (author)2014-07-15

I have bound books for years. One trick that helps to spread the glue quickly and thin is to use an old credit card. I also wanted to say that the cardboard in bookbinding is called Davie board and is more dense than just cardboard. It may be a bit difficult to come by, but if serious about binding books you may want to find where you can get it. Great instructable. I loved the whole premise. Quick, easy and not too involved.

solobo (author)kwhitacre2014-07-16

Great tip. I did a quick search for Davie board and came across this website: might be a good resource. Looks like they sell book binding supplies, allow you to pay through amazon, and even have some nice simple instructions for book making:

MariannaB6 (author)solobo2016-04-16 is a great website used by professionals. Everything they supply is archival.

legamin (author)kwhitacre2014-08-11

as a restorer I love to try to imitate the actual wood carved 'boards'. It's fun, it stretches my patience and the owner is thrilled!

EthanW4 made it! (author)2015-02-06

How much you will charge for do this things with my book. great Humor :) getmyleather

solobo (author)EthanW42015-02-07

Oh, I'm not really set up to leather bind books for other people... I appreciate your asking, but if you want to have a book leather bound, there are people out there that restore and bind books for a living; I would suggest contacting one of them.

MariannaB6 (author)solobo2016-04-16

I'm a professional bookbinder and conservator, you can see my work and request estimates at

Govind S Kumar (author)2015-08-30

Is it a good idea to engrave the cover design using heated mold and pressing against the leather before attaching to the book ?

solobo (author)Govind S Kumar2015-08-30

I'm not familiar with heated molds, but if they're a way of stamping / engraving the leather, I don't see why it would be a problem; sounds pretty awesome to me. Let me know if you try it, I'd love to see a picture!

Govind S Kumar (author)solobo2015-08-31

I'll try it. :)

mhooper1 (author)2015-08-06

I checked out the place you got the leather from, but I can't find any for the price you paid, did they get rid of it or just up the price? The cheapest I found was 20

solobo (author)mhooper12015-08-06

I found it in some bargain bin they had at Tandy Leather... they seem to always have some kind of leather for pretty cheap, though it's not always what you want.

kwhitacre (author)2014-08-11

One thing to note. Where gold (real) is used there is often a depression rather than being raised. This is to protect the gold. It is also why books have boxes that they slide into. The box protects the binding and the book's pages from dust and light. For those who wish to copy traditional techniques just keep in mind the main focus is to use adhesives and adornments that are as harmless as possible. Stay away from strong chemical based adornments for longer lasting results. After all you are putting in a lot of time, you don't want it rotting out in a few years. But it really can be fun. I sure enjoy it.

maven (author)2014-07-15

Did you put a glaze on the leather like I've seen reccommended for other Tandy leathercrafts? I think it is supposed to make the leather wear better and help prevent it from drying out and cracking. I'd also want to use acid free cardboard if you want the book to last. Great illustrations. I can't wait to try this with some of my favorite old books.

solobo (author)maven2014-07-15

I didn't do any glaze/finish in this case. I usually would do a glaze or some kind of finish with veggie tanned carving leather (which is pretty raw), but this leather appears to have some kind of finish on it already. Good idea with acid free cardboard. Good luck with the old books; I'd love to see how they turn out!

legamin (author)solobo2014-08-11

Fredelka Formula Leather Preservative/Restorer, which we get, in eight-ounce containers, from Brodart. Is the premier leather care restoration product for smooth leathers that are either new or near powdering (red rot). It must be used delicately and sparingly then left to fully absorb before shelving lest it stick to its neighbor and shred the surface of the leather on the next tug at the book. Cellugel is a product specifically for the regenerative treatment of red rot in both suede and in smooth leathers. The leather can soak up several applications before it's ready to be conditioned. And be patient.. Some leathers NEVER need to be sealed! They are content to be pulled down from the shelf and lovingly caressed with conditioner every four to six months.

A brief note: don't re shelf your books immediately after treatment. Allow the leather to become utterly dry to the touch (a few days if you used it sparingly)or else you risk a condition which is like the top surface of the skin 'sticking' to the volume next to it and that leather being shredded off in narrow difficult to repair strips.

jdc187 (author)2014-07-15

very nice I have been studying up on book binding for a while this was very helpful something I picked up along the way, use wax paper where gluing to prevent parts from sticking. I love the laser engrave idea never thought about that thanks. don't suppose you have any idea on how to trim the edges of the pages to make them all square?

solobo (author)jdc1872014-07-15

Definitely a good tip with the wax paper. I'm not sure on trimming the edges of the pages... do you have a book where the pages are ragged / not lined up very well, and you're trying to trim them to even it up?

legamin (author)solobo2014-08-11

there are large trimmers that cut the whole thickness of the book neatly and evenly under about a tonne of pressure. These machines run from small-$700 to industrial -$280,000 depending on your level of need and frequency of use. Printing houses that deal in significant volumes..think Random House..have millions invested and spend hundreds of thousands keeping them constantly sharp.

If this is a one off or a hobby and your not a 'tool geek' who literally fondles, greases, sharpens and polishes on a daily bases (more on rainy days!) then you may consider going to a local Kinko's or other self-publishing shop in town and generally they are happy to do it for under $10.00 per single cut. If you're having the binding removed make sure the binding to be removed is not convex as is the normal state in most books. Work it until it aligns flat before turning it in for cut. If you forget this step many pages in the middle will lose text.

suzannejb (author)2014-07-15

very neat! any ideas for adding structure/texture to the cover? For instance, there are horizontal "bumps" on some leather books.

solobo (author)suzannejb2014-07-15

Yes, definitely. The horizontal bumps on the spines of a lot of books are to mimic one of the old binding methods where cords were used to hold the front and back halves of the book together. In some cases the cords would be part of the sewing of the spine as well. There are a series of youtube videos on this: the videos are very long-winded and you might have to go to the 3rd or 4th one to see how he actually does the cords, but here's the first one if you're interested: You can also make cool patterns using different layers of cardboard with cutouts in them. I'm planning on giving this a try with one of my next projects. Here's a video of a guy using this technique to make a sort of embossed Harley Davidson symbol on his book:

legamin (author)solobo2014-08-11

cording in the spine can also take the place of your cardboard piece in the spine. Cording is essential to bringing your signatures into a solidly homogenous binding over the buckram and head ribon. If you are restoring a book with this type binding and are able to salvage the leather cover then killing bacteria in the leather that consumed the original cords is super important. A vacuum chamber with intense UV light over short periods of time in 0% humidity works really well and is not too difficult to build on your own. But you need to find a chemical answer for the long term because your repair should be made of identical materials to those used originally. If you are doing this for a client, make sure they are not expecting you to be using actual period materials throughout! I had a customer that forgot to mention this until picking up the book with a comment something like "oh, you DID use all period materials in this restoration...right?". In a rare frustrated but calm stubborn streak I offered no discount and suggested he be more clear in the future prior to work being commenced! (And he has been!). Period materials can literally take years to source so don't commit to a time frame until you are sure of what you can do.

Eu Tyto Alba (author)2014-07-15

Nice! Only thing I would add is some gold leafing on the edges of the pages. I've been wondering whether modelers enamel would do the trick, or of it was too chemical....

I have a ton of ugly paperbacks, and have turned my former dining room into a snazzy library, so they're driving me crazy. Will definitely be trying something like this.

solobo (author)Eu Tyto Alba2014-07-15

Gold leafing would be awesome, although I have no idea how to do it.

Sweet on converting the ugly paperbacks; post some pictures of how they turn out, if you get a chance.

Eu Tyto Alba (author)solobo2014-07-16

I saw some gold leafing in liquid form for sale in an Ace Hardware once. I'm GUESSING you can just paint it on, and do the same thing with modeler's enamel which is cheaper but still the shiniest artificial gold paint I've ever come across..... I'm just not sure whether the enamel might have chemicals that ruin paper long term.

It won't be any time soon unfortunately. For now I can't afford the leather. But I'll keep this in mind.

legamin (author)Eu Tyto Alba2014-08-11

liquid gold leaf is generally rubbed on over imprinted items when it actually contains gold that settles into and adheres to the imprint then bonds. There are types that "paint on". These are preferable on flat leather surface if you are very artistic but lack leather imprinting/carving/stamping skills. I wish now that I'd kept photos of all of my 'schoolin' over the years where I've taken on a difficult project for a four month delivery time frame and $1200 budget then had to sheepishly deliver it a month late having spent five hundred dollars out of my pocket more than I agreed to charge! But if you find cool old books at yard sales etc to practice on, it's a win-win...especially if it is a commodity yo can make a few dollars on as you go!

legamin (author)Eu Tyto Alba2014-07-15

if this is for a former paperback that you are up scaling then you might try the gold colored aluminum sheet or a gold rub that doesn't absorb too deeply. Years ago I bought about one pound of hand pounded 24k gold leaf spec. 1/4000th of an inch that I have used in the binding process but never the page edging... Now I find that material unaffordable! Glad I bought a lifetime supply! I have used a rubbing compound with 14k gold in a wax type base sold years ago at jewelry stores to touch up gold plate items such as watches. It's tough and it has lasted many years without smearing or absorbing too far. But I would stick to the fakes unless you're dealing with restoring a 14th C. prayer book to its former glory.

Eu Tyto Alba (author)legamin2014-07-16

Actually I happen to be good friends with an antiquarian book dealer who has come across such a rare book, except I forgot what century he told me. But he doesn't do restorations----just rescues from the jaws of unappreciative secondhand stores and estate/garage sales, then sells them to the right people.

I've never heard of a leafing rub. I'll look into it. Thanks! And it's good to know that it's durable. I was worried that anything so delicate might near instantly disolve into my finger oil, so that I might collect a book but be unable to handle and read it in the end. As a writer myself, like Mr. Solobo here, the most precious books of all, to us, are the ones that we ourselves have written. ;D

spark master (author)2014-07-16

Looks great, look arund for someone chucking a leather couch/sofa. Strip it all away if in good condition.

you get no choice in color(I failed in trying to redye the stuff), but free is nice. I have two full couch's worth. Good for simple stuff, (pouches/bellows/scabbards/leather hindges/leather covering for boxes or table inserts), and better, free!


legamin (author)spark master2014-08-11

leather from a couch has a 'hardened dye' and a deep chemical finish.. Many 'leather' couches have little actual leather and more chemical impregnation. Most furniture leather (while I do use it for inner parts of dress wallets etc because of its pliable nature) will not accept a dye but will often accept (greedily in most cases because most owners have never conditioned it) conditioner over and over again before being fully ready to be used.

solobo (author)spark master2014-07-17

Excellent idea.

legamin (author)2014-07-15

I'm pleasantly surprised by your final product as book binding is an arduous and time consuming journey. Many old world craftsmen even chose carving wood covers and then leather as hinges because of the difficulty of leather craft.

I would, however, point out that the binding cording that is woven into the top and bottom of the inner spine binding is not just "pretty". It is important to the integral structure and longevity of your binding. It's purpose is to rigidly lip over the densest part of the signatures where they are sewn/glued on both top and bottom. The reason is so that the relatively unsupported edges of the top and bottom of the spine, which tends to see most of all handling and shelf abuse, are well supported from both crushing and heavy wear from sliding and also from the yanking and pulling that occurs in the libraries where non-bibliophiles are allowed to over stuff shelves, yank and pull books by their spine at whim instead of reaching back and carefully rocking the book back and up with a washed hand. In these places, young sticky fingers run rampant and adults, ignorant of the long term value of the tactile work of art in ideas and wonder have no concern to learn the proper 'care and feeding' of a book. Thank you for sharing. I am always for a project that improves and preserves a book rather than parts it out by the page on eBay as "antique". I think our children and grandchildren will wonder in amazement as they wander through a physical library and smell the smell, take in the feel and even sound of a book in their hands. I'm leaving over 15,000 books from my library (everything except the medieval section which should rightly go to The Smithsonian). I see how they already treat them with great care.

solobo (author)legamin2014-07-16

Thanks! And I share your love for books; one of my favorite pastimes is visiting libraries, especially old ones.

You're talking about headbands, correct? kewpiedoll99 posted a link to an excellent tutorial on sewing headbands, and I can see that this would add a lot of strength to a book bound with signatures (as you say).

I'm not sure if there's a way to incorporate this into a paperbound book with a perfect binding; let me know if you have ideas.

Bookrestore (author)solobo2014-08-10

Me again...I don't know how committed you are to restoring your copy of "The Strange Story of...." But thought if the answer is "VERY!" Then you should check out this .pdf. ...which discusses the humidification process of old dry and brittle paper. What it does not cover is decomposition of the organic matter of old paper. For that you an look for a source on non-decomposing sizing. I've used, with good result both vegetable sizing. (Used commonly and perhaps exclusively prior to 13th C.). Or for mor modern documents an animal derived sizing (depending on your needs.). Of course to pursue this process of preservation you must dismantle your book page by page and be very careful to keep what is left of the cover intact. Regardless how how your efforts come out you must be forthcoming to any future buyer exactly what you have done and with what materials. If the cover is unsalvageable yet the book is salvageable you might prefer to find a book cover of an identical printing but with a more severely compromised book and replace it. This lowers value overall. But once the pages are freed and properly moisturized and pressed flat and dry then you are ready to size the paper. My first effort would be to try this process on your end papers to see what result works best on your paper and effects the print the least. Starch is undesirable because it dries and degrades more quickly in already compromised paper. The use of clear gelatin (the refined animal product) is less likely to degrade. However the dipping process can disturb print and pressing until dry in a stout gortex felt press will not go quickly. However I've had good luck with this traditional material. I've also used rawhide reduced to a slime, water added then blended into a fine completely liquid 'smoothie', more water added, strained through cheese cloth then daubed on the most delicate items...but this must be a very liquid product or you can cause shrinkage during drying and unwanted crinkling. There are many more methods and newer synthetic sizers. I've only had cause to seek out the old recipes because of my own clientele. I will be curious of your success. If you need more lengthy documentation on the subject I can point you to that.

legamin (author)solobo2014-07-19

Re: Headbands in paperback bindings..
I think in the restoration process I would carefully use a stationers press shear to shave the glue backing (and the cover and all binding).
Then I would use my hot glue binding press to individually insert the pages back into sewn/glued signatures with 1/8th inch over glued sig. Inserts...which then would get all sewn together while in the press (cool old binding screw press from late 1700's). After this a faux headband leaf then the headband proper that is well adhered to this using an all natural binding glue (recipe found in a great 350 year old book on re-binding books). After that the cotton/paper hinges to attach your inner boards that will be adhered to your leather.
I think, perhaps, that the headband is one of the critical pieces of the structure if one intends long book life under regular use.

solobo (author)legamin2014-07-20

Nice! That would be a lot more work, but you would definitely end up with a much cooler final result.

TrollFaceTheMan (author)2014-07-25

Love the Humor keep up the cool Instructables!!

solobo (author)TrollFaceTheMan2014-07-26


TrollFaceTheMan (author)solobo2014-07-27


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