Introduction: How to Bind a Book

About: I'm a dual International Studies/Japanese student at the University of Iowa, and I am a bit of a neo-victorian.

Ever wanted to make a journal that was exactly the way you wanted it? Or maybe you have access to a print center at work when no one's around and you enjoy printing off novels (of *course* I wouldn't do that...).

But how do you make that magical step between loose pages and a beautiful, fully bound volume?
Read on, fellow bibliophiles, read on.

(Other uses that have just occured to me-- your own calendar, a hollow book, archiving magazines/comics, etc)

**UPDATE: All of the photos are up, and should help to clarify the process. Yay!

Step 1: Prepare Your Materials

This is, unfortunately, going to require some materials that you won't be able to find around your house. I have included suggestions for scrounge materials you could possibly switch in, but no guarantees as to durability or looks. I would also highly recommend printing out the entire instructable so that you have it handy-- your hands will be full (and sticky!) enought to make going to the computer difficult. Coloured paper is good (so you don't get it mixed in with the other papers), but white will suffice.

You'll need: (an overview of what you can buy online at

*A papercutter (useful, but not always required)
*Straightedge Ruler (you'll need to measure and crease)
*PVA (Polyvinyl Acetate-- find bookbinding glue in your local art store (or
*Paintbrush for spreading PVA
PVA is very durable and flexible-- you can make do with Elmer's Glue, but it's not as good)
*Cover board (I use chipboard because it's cheaper but other people swear by binder's board, make do with non-corrugated cardboard)
*Bookbinding cloth (this is almost completely necessary; if you *have* to make do, glue some cloth onto paper.)
*Bookbinding needles (sewing needles aren't strong enough-- embroidery might work)
*Waxed thread ( or wax some emboidery thread with beeswax Dental floss might work, but I haven't tried it.
*Head Material (also really hard to scrounge; any ideas for in a pinch?)
*Cloth for adhering signatures (preferable a loose weave cotton, but I've had success with thickish clothing cloth)
*Awl (this is also almost essential; try and make do with a pointed compass, but it won't be pleasant)
*Pretty paper for the cover
*Pretty (thicker) paper for the endpages
**Optional bone folder for nicer (flatter) creases

Step 2: Cut and Fold the Pages

Cut the pages to the proper size, which is the height you want them to be and twice the width

So, if I want 8.5 x 5.5 pages, I would use 8.5 x 11 paper (landscape style)

Or if I want a 9 x 5 it would be 9 x 10 paper.

Then fold them in half "hamburger" style (fold the long edge in half) and collate them into signatures.

A "signature" is a small packet of pages nesting inside of each other. I personally use 7 sheet (that's big pieces of paper, not book pages) signatures-- anything above 9 or 10 is too thick (if there are multiple signatures**), and anything below 3 is too thin and will rip.

**If your book is, say, 12 pages only, it's okay. But you can't really do more than two or so "thick" signatures)

Step 3: Mark the Signatures for Binding

Mark 1/2" in from the top edge and 3/4" in from the bottom edge.

Then measure the space in between and divide by the number of binding strips you'll use.
In general, three suffices. If the book will be thick, use four, or five if you're really worried.
Mark them across the spine. (ie, for the number five, at 5, 10, 15 and 20).
Then measure the width of your head material; divide it in half and mark that number to each side of the marking (framing it in, as it were).
(Of course, this doesn't have to be exact; I do mine by eye.)

So, in this example, the purple markings are the head markings and pink markings are the calculated marks, then orange markes are where the edges of the head material will be.

Step 4: Cut the Cerf and Punch the Holes

Now, using scissors, snip out little triangles at the head and foot marks. (You're really supposed to saw it with a little hacksaw, but I doubt many people have a handheld hacksaw lying around).

Then punch the awl through the edge marks, careful to punch them directly out of the spine and not the page.

Thread the needle with waxed thread. (you'll need a lot, but don't get carried away; you can always add more)

Step 5: Cut and Sew the Bindings

The bindings need to be cut to the thickness of the book (when all signatures are together) plus an inch or so.

The first signature you should sew are the first endpages, followed by signature 1 of the book, then the rest.

Insert the needle *into* the head and draw all but about 2 inches through. Then go *out* at the first punch you come to and pull it tight. Go *in* to the next hole-- but make sure that the binding is between the thread and the spine (as in the image). Repeat for as many bindings as there are, then come out through the foot notch. Prepare the next signature.

Step 6: Sew Easy! (says the Black Kettle)

Sew up the next signature in the same way (except you'll be entering at the foot stitch), and then the third. When you're at the bottom of the third (notice the zigzagging back and forth), kettle stitch it to the second.

This means to take the needle, put it *under* the thread running between signatures 1 and 2, then put it through the loop that's formed.

From now on, you'll kettle stitch the whenever you reach a head or foot.

NOTE: It is very important to continually pull the slack out of the thread--the tighter the binding is, the stronger the book!

Continue to sew all the rest of the signature in this way, remembering the kettle stitch.

If you run out of thread, simply knot a new piece onto in inside the book (tightly) and clip off the "tails".

When you're done sewing up the pages, add the final endpages, and double kettle-stitch.

(Sorry for the lack of pictures-- my camera ran out of juice and I've just moved to a dormitory, leaving behind the charger. Hope to have them up by next week.)

Step 7: Finishing the Signatures

When you've sewn all the signatures together, double kettle stitch the final head or foot. Then take the PVA and squirt some onto your finger (or a paintbrush, but you finger works better and it's fun to peel off the glue) then rub it *into* the spine. It is important that some (albeit just a bit of) glue gets in between the signatures and fills in the spine. When this is done, cut a piece of cloth (not bookcloth) to a little bigger than the dimensions of the spine. Stick this onto the wet glue and smooth it out. Then cut a piece of heavy cardstock to the exact dimensions of the spine and glue it onto the cloth. Rub it smooth.

NOTE: During all this, make sure the bindings are centered and sticking out! I once clipped one off while trimming the card, so be careful.

Step 8: Preparing the Covers

While the spine glue is drying, pull out your cover material and measure it.

You want:
The width of the pages plus 1/4"
The height of the pages plus 1/2"
(Make these as square* as possible)
Make two of these, obviously-- the front cover and back cover.
It is important to add the extra space so there's overhang and the cover completely protects the pages.

Cut the paper you are going to cover the cover with to:
The cover width plus 1/2" or 1"
The cover height plus 1/2" or 1"
This allows it to wrap over the edges and inside enough. If you look at a bound book, there is about 1/4" of the cover paper on the edges of the inside before it gets covered by endpaper.

Then prepare the spine piece-- a piece of coverstock the exact dimensions of the spine. It doesn't need to be papered (it'll be covered up by the bookcloth).

Glue the coverpaper onto the cover, making sure that it is centered (I like to apply glue to the board, then lower it onto the paper.)
Flatten it and work out all of the air bubbles with something round (I'm using a tin whistle in the picture), then apply glue to the edges of the paper, folding it over onto itself. You can either have square folds, or cut them with a knife/scissors into lovely 45 degree dovetails.

*Square means having all 90 degree angles. Or pi/2 radians, if you're into that sort of thing.

Step 9: Cut 'n' Paste (well, Glue Anyway)

Cut the bookbinding cloth.
it needs to be:
height of the covers plus 3/4" or so
amount of cloth you want on the cover (I like 1.5 to 2") times two plus half an inch
(so, for example, (1.5 x 2) = 3 + 1/2 = 3 1/2 inches wide)

center the cloth on the covers and spine piece, leaving a gap between them (to measure the gap, it's helpful to close the covers then hold them still while opening them).

There should be excess cloth on the top and bottom.
Mark the position of the covers and spine piece, then glue them down. Fold the excess cloth in, then glue it down.

Take the prepared signatures and glue the binding strips (and, if there's enough, the cloth) to the inside of the covers, centering it on the spine piece.

Almost done!
Cut the endpapers to the proper size (I like mine set in about 1/4" on all sides except the binding side), then glue them on. This hides the actual binding ("head") strips as well as the gap in the bookcloth. Plus, it's a great way to use papers that are a little too busy for the cover but you still love. (Traditionally, marbled papers were used for the endpapers, but I like a sort of "natural" coloured cardstock with specks of colour).

Let it dry for a while-- 24 hours is best. To set the glues, I like to clip the pages together with a giant binder clip and then leave the cover to dry flat.

Step 10: Admire!

Ta-da! You've created a marvelous thing-- a nicely hand bound book. And you did it all by yourself (with a little help!)

You're amazing!

Please comment with any questions, or clarifications. I hope that with all the pictures up, it will make the process a lot clearer, and inspire more people to join the ranks of hobby binders.

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