Introduction: Binding a Book With Common Materials
This Instructable will show you how to create your own hand-sewn, hard-back book without the need to buy expensive and specific book binding materials or tools. Filled with blank pages, they make great journals or notebooks, or you can find free books online (one source is Project Gutenberg at https://www.gutenberg.org/) to make personalized books for yourself or your friends!
There are so many instructions out there for binding a book, so why the need for another? I have found that many of them use materials that the average reader doesn’t have easily available, and they contain so many steps that they make the task a little daunting. On the other hand, there are some instructions that don’t teach the true way to bind a book and leave you with a mediocre finished product.
This Instructable achieves the middle ground. Like most people, I want the nice finished book with the least amount of work possible. That’s what this Instructable will teach you. Based on my experience, I have found what I feel to be the easiest way to bind a book while still maintaining a high-quality product. By the end, you will have something that feels, looks, and lasts like a nice hand-bound book.
Step 1: Obtain Required Tools, Materials, and Skills
Required Skill Set
Before attempting to bind a book, you should be able to hold a sewing needle, cut and glue paper, and have basic computer skills. It really is that easy!
1. Book pages. Normal printer paper works fine; I’m using graph paper in this example.
2. Ribbon. It should be 0.25 to 0.75 inches wide.
3. String. Normal crochet cotton string works, but I’ve found waxed nylon beading thread is stronger and works better.
4. Thin fabric. You will need a small rectangular piece (the book thickness + 2 inches by the height of your book).
5. Cover board material. Use dense cardboard, chipboard, or even thin plywood! Anything thin and stiff can form a good cover.
6. Cover material. Cloth or paper work great here. I like using a denim material (make use of those old jeans!), but be sure you have a single large piece that will cover both cover boards and the spine. It will make more sense when you get to step 9.
7. Elmer’s glue. Other instructions will have you use PVA glue, but Elmer’s works as well. This is supposed to be simple, remember?
3. Utility knife
4. (optional) Hack saw (scissors will do, but a hack saw makes part of the job easier)
5. Safety Pin
6. Vice or clamps
7. (optional) Computer and printer (for a blank notebook, this is not needed)
Step 2: Prepare the Signatures
Book block: all the pages that go inside your book.
Signature: a stack of pages, folded down the middle to form a little booklet. Multiple signatures are sewn together to form the book block.
For making a notebook (no printer required):
Cut your book page paper to the desired height of your book page, and twice the width of the desired book page. For example, an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper will form book pages that are 8.5 inches tall and 5.5 inches wide.
Stack between 5 and 8 pages together and fold the entire stack down the middle. This is a signature.
Note: Signatures should be made with fewer sheets when using thicker paper, and more sheets when using thinner paper. For my book, I’m using 7 sheets.
Make multiple signatures until the book gets to the desired thickness.
For printing a book:
I’m not going to go into the details of how to set up your printer and generate the pages here, but a great tutorial can be found here: http://www.csparks.com/Bookbinding/typesetting.xhtml
After printing your pages, the same above steps can be followed.
Step 3: Mark the Signatures
Make a mark 0.5 inches from the top and bottom of each signature.
Divide the space between these marks by the number of bindings, and mark each signature. These are the binding location marks.
Note: Most books will use 3 bindings. For a stronger book, you can use 4. Books shorter than 5 inches can use just 2. Larger or thicker books may use up to 5.
Draw a mark on either side of the binding location marks at half the width of your ribbon.
Example: My book pages are 9 inches tall. I mark 0.5 inches from the top and the bottom. This leaves 8 inches between the marks. Since I’m going to use 4 bindings, I place a mark every 1.375 inches between the first two marks. Finally, I mark half the width of my ribbon on either side of the middle marks.
Step 4: Cut the Signatures
Secure all the signatures together in a vise or clamps, making sure the spine edge of the signatures are all aligned.
Using the hacksaw, cut small slots in the signatures at the upper-most and lower-most marks to form grooves as shown in the picture. If you don’t have a hacksaw, use scissors to cut triangular grooves.
Use the safety pin to poke holes through each of the signatures as shown in the pictures.
Caution: Scissors, safety pins, and hacksaws are sharp, and care should always be taken to avoid cutting or puncturing yourself.
Step 5: Cut and Sew the Bindings
Cut ribbon for the bindings to about 3 inches longer than the thickness of the book block (see photo).
Thread about 4 feet of string onto your needle, and tie a stopper knot at the end.
Starting at the bottom of the last signature, thread the string through to the middle of the signature and back out the next hole. Continue weaving in and out of the signature, being sure to secure the bindings between the string and signature as you go (see photo).
Once at the end, put the string through the top hole of the next signature and thread the string in and out of this signature just as you did with the first (see photo).
At the end of the second signature, tie it to the knotted end of the string on the first signature with a kettle stitch, securing the two signatures together.
Note: In the pictures, I show how to tie a kettle stitch. More detailed diagrams can be found here, about halfway down the page: http://www.csparks.com/Bookbinding/sewing.xhtml.
Continue with each signature in the same way, being sure to tie a kettle stitch at the end of each signature.
At the end of the last signature (the front of your book), secure the end of the string by tying two kettle stitches.
Note: It is important to keep the stitches tight as you are going to make the binding tight and strong. If you ever run out of string, just tie some more on.
Step 6: Clamp the Signatures and Glue the Super and Liner
At this point, the signatures should be attached together with the bindings and string.
Super: a thin piece of fabric that is glued to and adds strength to the bound edge of the book block.
Liner: a piece of paper glued to the super that adds stiffness to the binding.
Cut the super out of your thin fabric and the liner out of a piece of plain printer paper. The dimensions should be:
Width = book block thickness + 2 inches
Height = book block height – 0.5 inches
Glue the liner and super together and let dry.
Making sure the signatures are aligned, clamp the left edge of the book block together.
Spread a liberal amount of glue over the left, clamped edge of the book block and rub it into the space between the signatures with your finger.
While the glue is still wet, center the combined super and liner on the book block bound edge, and rub it into the binding.
Let dry completely.
Step 7: Trim the Pages (if Desired)
To get a professional clean look, you can trim the edges of your book block with a razor blade or utility knife, using a block of wood as a guide, all held together in a vice or with clamps.
You can also just skip this step to keep that hand-made look. I usually just trim the right edge of the book and leave the top and bottom rough. That way, the book is easy to flip through, but I still keep some of that rough look.
Step 8: Prepare the Covers
Cut front and back cover board material to the following dimensions:
Cover height = height of your page plus 0.25 inches
Cover width = width of your pages.
Example: Covers should be 8.75 x 5.5 inches for a book with pages that are 8.5 inches tall and 5.5 inches wide.
Step 9: Prepare the Spine
Cut the spine of the book out of cover board material to the following dimensions:
Spine height = cover height
Spine width = book block thickness + front cover block thickness + back cover block thickness
Note: The spine may be made of different materials from the cover. In this example, I made the covers out of 3/16 plywood and the spine out of 4 sheets of thin cardboard glued together.
Step 10: Attach Spine and Cover Boards to Cover Material
Arrange your spine and cover boards on the table with spacing:
Spacing = 2 x thickness of your cover board material
Note: This is the spacing needed to form the hinge of your book covers. If you didn’t leave this space, you wouldn’t be able to close the book!
Cut the cover material about 2 inches wider and taller than the covers and spine as they are laid out on your table.
Glue the cover boards to the cover material, maintaining the spacing, and let dry.
Fold over the edges of your cover material and glue to your cover block and spine.
Note: If you don’t want to cover your cover blocks (as in this example where I laser engraved the plywood and wanted that visible), you can cut your cover material so it only extends onto the front and back cover by 1 to 2 inches.
Step 11: Glue Covers to Book Block
Put wax paper between the bindings and the super. Put glue on the liner and super where it will attach to the front and back covers.
Note: Make sure there is no glue between the binding of the book block and the spine of your cover or the book will not open correctly!
Work the book block into the cover and press the book closed under a stack of large books or clamp until dry.
Move the wax paper between the bindings and the book block and cover the bindings in glue. Press the book closed under a stack of large books or clamp until dry. This attaches the bindings to the covers.
Step 12: Cut and Attach Endpaper
Create the end papers by taking 2 sheets of paper twice the width of your page (two extra pages from when you made the signatures will work perfectly) and fold it in half just like you did for the signatures. Cover on each page with glue and secure them to the inside of the front and back covers.
Next, place a thin bead of glue on the inside edge of each end paper and press the book closed. This will attach the end paper to your book block. Press the book under a stack of large books or clamp until dry.
Step 13: Enjoy Your Finished Book!
It might be a little rough the first time, but at this point you should have a finished book! Enjoy your craftsmanship. You made a book! Take some time to sit down and read your new book, write in your custom journal, or go make someone’s day with this great gift!
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4 years ago
This tutorial seems to be exactly what I've been looking for (so thank you for posting). I had a couple of questions about this binding. I am going to be using this to bind a 5x7 sketchbook that will be handled constantly.
- My hope was to use heavier watercolor paper for some signatures and thinner paper for the others...would this work?
- Also, in a previous comment, you mentioned that having too few pages/signature wasn't a good idea. If I'm using thicker paper, how few sheets do you think I can get away with?
- Finally, with this binding do the pages lie flat?
Sorry for all the questions + thank you again for the tutorial!
Reply 4 years ago
Glad I could be of help! I'll try to answer your questions the best I can -- I definitely don't claim to be an expert at this.
- You could definitely use different types of paper for the signatures. I would even say that it's just fine to even mix different types of paper within the same signature. Just remember the general rule of thumb that the thinner the paper, the more sheets per signature.
- For thicker watercolor paper, I would say no fewer than 4, maybe down to 3 sheets per signature. I don't think I would go down to 2 sheets... Using my example, I had 7 sheets using paper that was about the same weight as standard printer paper, maybe slightly heavier, and that seemed to make signatures that were just about the right thickness. That could be something you could use to gauge off and get a general idea of how many sheets you might need for your paper.
- With the example I presented here, my pages don't lie flat. However, I think with some minor adjustments you could make that happen. You'll notice after attaching all the signatures together (end of step 5) that it opens up nice and flat. To keep it this way through the end, I would do 2 things differently (I've never tried though, so this is just my best guess). 1) In step 6, forget about the liner and just glue the super directly to the binding. The liner is just there to add stiffness. 2) use a flexible spine material or potentially eliminate it entirely. The stiffness of the spine is what really seems to keep the pages in my book from lying flat.
If you give it a try, I'd love to see an update on how it went for you! Good luck with your book binding project!
Question 4 years ago
Do all signatures have to have the same amount of pages? I have a specific quantity of pages that I want to make but with the calculations above, I can't get to the correct number.
Answer 4 years ago
Good question. There's no reason you need the same number of pages in each signature. The only thing I would say is to just make sure you don't have a signature with too few pages. A signature with only a couple or few pages can tear out of the binding more easily.
6 years ago
It's been a while since I checked, but I believe that Elmer's glue is PVA glue, just branded for sale to consumers.
Reply 6 years ago
Thanks for bringing that up! After reading your comment, I did a little digging myself and found this nice little explanation: https://www.instructables.com/answers/What-is-the-d...
Turns out that they are basically the same. Thanks for the comment!
6 years ago
Binding your own books is a great way to make personalized gifts. I did it for my wife for Christmas and she loved it.