Adhesive Binding Notebook

Introduction: Adhesive Binding Notebook

About: Librarian, archivist, art historian, and occasional crafter

* This tutorial needs some slimming down, but, in the vein of digital humanities projects, it's better to have content out than perfect content. I'll eventually get around to editing heavily later. Thanks for your patience in the mean time! *

The why and what of the Adhesive Binding

The adhesive (also referred to as perfect) binding is the method of choice for cheaper book production, such as magazines or paperback books. This binding first came into use during the second World War. Books provided the only form of entertainment and escapism available to soldiers, making them highly prized items. However, hardcover bindings—which were all that was in commercial production in the West up to that point—were expensive to produce, used large amounts of limited resources, and took up a good bit of space in a soldier's pack. As money, paper, and space were limited during the wars, publishers needed to find an alternative binding form that used less of all of the above. Thus, the perfect binding was born. This binding consists of either single sheets of paper (as seen in Instructables user activists' tutorial) or folded sheets of paper stacked together and glued along the spine (for a side by side comparison, see YouTuber Sea Lemon's tutorial). Then a paper cover is affixed to the resulting text block by gluing it along the spine and along just a slim margin on the front and back pages of the text block. The structure allowed for more words to fit on a page since—with a flexible, unrestricted spine—the gutter didn't need to be as deep, and the paper used could be of lower quality since it didn't need to stand up to being sewn together to create a text block. This revolutionised the publishing industry and allowed for the first truly mass produced book. If you want to know more, check out When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning.

The Advantages:

  • One of the easiest binding styles to learn;
  • Mostly uses household materials
  • It isn't precious, so no need to feel nervous about writing in it or messing it up;
  • The text block is a solid chunk of paper, making it easier and faster to attach it to the spine of reloadable hardcovers if you want to hybridise the binding style with the appearance of a longstitch binding (see the tutorial Echo Bravo and I put together for his Cryptex lock notebook for an epic example);

The Disadvantages:

  • The pages lie mostly flat closer to the middle, but at either end, they don't lie entirely flat;
  • If you're particularly tough on the spine, then eventually some pages may fall out (think about that super well loved paperback you've got sitting on the shelf that's literally falling apart)


  • 32-36 sheets of printer paper (this results in 128-144 pages)
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Paper cutter (or a metal ruler, cutting mat, and straight edge)
  • Bone folder (or butter knife)
  • Book press (or two clips/clamps and scrap paper)
  • PVA or similar glue
  • Glue brush
  • Wax paper
  • 1 sheet of heavier duty fancy and/or funky paper for cover
  • Optional: 1 sheet of fancy and/or funky paper for endsheets

Step 1: Terminology

Throughout the tutorial, I'll be using some bookbinding terminology. To make things clearer, this section provides definitions. I've drawn the quoted definitions from the Glossary of Binding Terms from the Preservation Department of the University of Florida, Gainesville. You may note that bookbinders have a charmingly unique (or perhaps just German) way of mashing words together to create a single term—some binders don't do this, but it's pretty standard practice and the way I was taught, so that's what you get!

Adhesive or perfect binding: "type of binding in which single leaves are secured together solely with an adhesive applied to the textblock spine...This type is sometimes called a perfect binding."

Blank book: "While the printed book is bound after the text is imparted to the page, the blank book is meant to be filled with text after it is bound. This key distinction between a book meant to be read as opposed to a book meant to be written in has led to the development of unique features including ruled pages and dedicated structural elements." [Mary of Crowing Hens bindery provided this definition, which I drew from pg 6 of her MFA thesis. This is a beautifully written investigation into the production of blank books, so if you're interested in the history and process of making these, check it out! Also, take a look at her website to snag one of her stunningly made blank books! She takes commissions, too, so hit her up for all of your wedding and baby book needs.]

Cover spine: "the space between the boards of a case to accommodate the thickness of the textblock...A hinge area left on either side of the spine strip allows for the movement of the cover boards on the shoulders of the textblock as the book is opened and used.The outside part of the cover spine usually receives stamping for author, title, and publisher. Also called spine, backbone, back backstrip, and shelfback." Because we're making a perfect binding for this tutorial, this definitions becomes: the space between the front and back covers to accommodate the thickness of the textblock. The spine is created by folding hinges to create a spine in a single sheet of paper that will constitute both covers and spine.

Endsheet: "A piece of stiff paper folded once in half and attached to the inside of the covers and to the spine of the book block...Their purpose is mainly for appearance, to conceal the edges of buckram or leather attached to the cover core, and conceal the thread and glue on the spine edge of the book block. Heavier weight end sheets also contribute to the strength of the binding and extend the life of the book." [Former bookbinder Cranky provided this definition]

Flyleaf: "the leaf (or leaves) forming that part of the folded endsheet not pasted down to the inside of the cover board. Its function is to protect the first or last leaves of the textblock."

Head: "the top edge of a leaf, board, or bound volume, opposite from the surface on which the volume rests when it is shelved upright."

Knock up: "To tap the sections or sheets at the spine and head so that they lie
evenly and squarely." [Red Eye provided this definition]. This is also known as 'jogging' or jogging up' (possibly created to avoid the pregnancy association according to my former bookbinding professor Katherine Ruffin).

Pastedown: "happens when half of an endsheet which is pasted to the inside of the cover board. Also called board paper, end lining, and lining paper."

Tail: "the bottom portion of the cover spine. Also called the foot."

Textblock: "the main block of sections or leaves, including endsheets and spine linings, which is bound together and then attached to the case (cover). Also called book clock and body of the book." In clearer language, this is all of the sheets of paper that you're going to trim, fold, stack, glue together, and then insert as a single unit into the cover sheets you've chosen.

Textblock spine: "the back or folded edges of a group of sewn sections or the glued back edge of a block of leaves of an adhesvie binding...Also called, spine, back, and backbone."

Step 2: Preparing the Textblock

The first and most important step is preparing your textblock. The numbers that I provide are just my preference for size and thickness of the textblock, but feel free to enlarge or shrink the numbers to suit your purposes. The textblock numbers I've provided make for a notebook that fits comfortably in a car's console, the back pocket of men's jeans, or a purse larger than a clutch.

Selecting number of sheets of paper

How many sheet of paper you select for your textblock will dictate how thick your textblock spine (and as a result, your cover spine) becomes. For my purposes, I selected a spine thickness of .95cm. You can make your spine as thick or thin as you wish—the process of trimming, folding and gluing the textblock together remains the same.

If you want a book the same size as mine, count out 36 sheets of 20 pound paper (ie the medium quality Office Max paper in my printer tray). The pound measurement tells you the 'weight' or thickness of the paper and can be pretty useless as far as measurements go. To satisfy any lingering curiosity about this highly misleading measurement, check this link out. If your paper is thinner, you'll need more than 36 sheets to achieve a spine thickness of .95cm. If it's thicker, you'll need fewer.

If you're concerned about the archival quality of this paper for long term storage, pick an acid free linen paper or a high quality printer paper (as in printmaking or fine press, not computer printer paper)—most computer printer paper is acid free and should serve most people's purposes, but fancier is always an option. If you want to make a high quality blank book, I recommend Mohawk Superfine.

Customization option: This tutorial instructs you how to create a textblock out of folded sheets of paper. Perfect bindings also allow you to create a text block out of single sheets of paper (again, see Sea Lemon's YouTube or activists' Instructables tutorials linked previously). If you choose to go the no-fold route, just double the number sheets you count out to get the same spine thickness (ie my textblock would require 72 single sheets to maintain the spine thickness achieved by 36 folded sheets. Don't freak out at the high number, though—you can get two single sheets of my suggested measurements (see below) out of a sheet of printer paper. It will just take more trimming than the folded option).

Selecting size of textblock

Once you've selected the appropriate number of pages for your needs, trim them to 17.7cm (just under 7") x 15.7cm (6.2"). Also select two sheets of decorative endpapers and treat them in the same way as the rest of your textblock. Fold the trimmed pages in half along the longer edge. To create sharp, flat folds, swipe a bone folder (or the back of a butter knife) along the folds. Stack the folded sheets so that all of the folded edges are on the same side. Stack the folded endpapers on either side of the rest of the text block. I just used plain yellow printer paper for my endpapers.

Final prep

The final prep you need to complete before gluing up the spine is to neaten up the textblock. Do this by knocking up the textblock, paying particular attention to the spine. All of the folds must be aligned in order to ensure that the glue hits all of them in the next step and the dry together as a solid unit.

Step 3: Gluing Up the Spine

Now that you have folded and stacked all of your paper, lightly tap the edges of the stack against a flat work surface to align all of the pages as even and as flat as you can make them. Make any required adjustments to ensure that all of the folded edges really are aligned. This is essential as all of the folded edges need to make even contact with the glue that you're about to brush across them.

You have two options for the next step. You can either use clamps of some sort to secure the text block in its freshly aligned state or you can use a book press. I've provided instructions for both options:

SEE IMG 1: Clamps: Secure the sides of the text block with clamps. A giant clip was all I had available in terms of clamps, but it's better to use two clamps, one each on the head and tail of the text block and placed just inside of the spine. This will ensure that the spine twists and shifts as little as possible out of its aligned position. Sometimes this method can prove a little challenging with just one set of hands, so phone a friend if you need a little extra help in making sure nothing shifts as you clamp the stack securely.

If your clamps are aggressive and will leave a divot in the paper, just stick a little stack of the bits of paper you trimmed off of the text block sheets in the earlier trimming step between the text block and the parts of the clamp that would otherwise touch it. This adds a little extra cushion to keep the text block paper looking fresh while the scrap paper takes the brunt of the damage.

Also, check out Sea Lemon's video on various types of clamps for more ideas of how to use household or workshop materials to get the job done.

SEE IMG 2: Press: A book press is the other option for securing the text block in its aligned state. It's my preference since it allows for greater control and movability, but the clamp option will also serve if you don't happen to have a press on hand or aren't interested in starting a new project just to finish this one. If you are interested in making your press, firstly, don't do what I did and use cutting boards with a handle cutout. Secondly, take a look at this Instructables tutorial or Sea Lemon's YouTube video for various levels of how-tos.

SEE IMG 3: Once your text block is secured in the clamps or in the press, the next step is to glue the folded edges together. Apply a layer of glue to the folded edges. I use PVA glue (the perfect balance of security and flexibility, and it won't shrink as it dries), but a generic Elmer's glue will serve if that's what you have to hand (warning: tends to be more flexible and less secure). Ensure that the glue connects each edge, but don't layer on too much glue so that the pages become overly wet. Wipe any excess off of the front and back of the stack and of the edges to either side of the folded edges (if those become glued, some of your pages won't open fully). Allow the glue to fully dry and repeat this step twice more.

Step 4: Preparing the Covers

For the cover, place the spine of the fully glued textblock (this includes the endsheets if you added those to your textblock) on the cover paper you've selected. I captured these photos and annotated them for a separate project, so the img says 'inner cover'; for the purposes of this tutorial, the 'inner cover' is our cover.

Mark the width and height of the spine on the cover paper with the head of the textblock on the centre of the long side of your cover paper. Remove the textblock and measure 8.85 cm (just under 3.5") out from either side of the spine's width marking. The resulting rectangle should measure: 15.7 cm (or 6.2") x (spine width + (8.85 x2)) cm. Cut that rectangle out. Fold along the marks where you noted the width of the spine, creating a little channel into which the spine of the text block will fit like a glove. Place a line of glue on the inside of the spine section on your cover paper (see img). Press the spine of your textblock into the glue. Smooth out any air bubbles with your bone folder. Wipe any excess from between the flyleaf and the front and page pages of the text block. Insert wax paper between the text block and the inner covers to make sure no glue seeps and the cover gets stuck to the textblock in the drying process. Let the book dry closed. Once dry, remove the wax paper and open the newly glued cover and pastedowns to create a crease that will allow them to open comfortably in the future.

You now have a completed blank book with a perfect binding!

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    Reply 2 years ago

    Many thanks!