Introduction: Three Quarter Bound Leather Bookbinding

About: Conservator and Restorator of Graphic Document 📚💛

Hello everyone!

This is an instructable to learn how to sew a bookblock and how to bind it with leather. It takes time, so breathe and be patient.

In this web you can check all the parts of a book, so if at any point you don't know what I am talking about, here you can start:

I have divided the tutorial in three parts named as A, B and C, each one has it's own steps. This way you can use the waiting time to prepare other parts.

  • Part A: bookblock (paper, sewing, headbands and reinforcements)
  • Part B: binding (cardboard, leather, paper, endpapers, paste)
  • Part C: putting together A+B

I have tried my best to write this instructable in English as my mother language is Spanish and it is hard to translate somethings. If you find any incorrect word/term/whatever, please let me know.

Also, if you don't have leather, or just don't want to use it, you can make this book with cloth.


For the bookblock:

  • Paper: I used 50 paper sheets DIN-A4 (210x297mm)
  • Thread, preferably the same color of the paper. It must be thin but strong. Linen is fine, but also cotton....
  • Thin rope (A). Again, linen, hemp... are fine.
  • Some craft paper.
  • White glue.
  • Optional: color ink for the edges.

For the binding:

  • Leather. Faux leather doesn't work very well here as it is more difficult to work with. Best leather comes from goats. It should be very resistant, strong, thin and not flexible. If you don't have tools to prepare the leather, try to use a leather as thin as possible.
  • Cardboard (I used 2mm thick). The thickness depends on your bookblock; find the balance. I'll explain it more.
  • Decorative paper. We will use it in two different places, so they can be different or the same. For the cover/outside, try to choose a thick, resistant paper.
  • Paste (I will show you how to make it with cornflour and water on step B4).
  • For the headband: colored threads, needles, a thin rope, some glue and a piece of cloth.

Tools and equipment:

  • Folder (B).
  • Needle (C). Curved needles make it easier.
  • Razor saw (D)
  • Awl for hole punching.
  • Hammer (E).
  • Optional (difficult to find or have):
    • Round skiver/leather knive (F) (not very necessary if the leather is very thin).
    • Band nipper (G); you can replace it with pliers or just two chopsticks.
    • Sewing frame (H): it makes sewing part more easy and comfortable, but you can actually sew the book without it.

Step 1: A1: Make the Bookblock

First of all, you have to prepare the paper. I used A4 sized paper and make it in quarto: fold the paper and cut* it in half, then fold again in half.

*you can cut it now or later.

Press all the papers together on a flat surface. Use books, dumbbells or whatever that weights; just make sure you distribute the weight homogeneously.

Put the block on a press (as on the photo) and cut little incisions on the spine (where the fold is) following the measures sketch with the razor saw or a knive, less than 1mm deep. Yes, very very little. If you don't have these tools, you can make the incisions with the puncher. See it on the photo (from left to right):

  1. First hole is 1cm away from top. Yes, this side is the top of the book.
  2. Fourth hole is 1,5cm away from bottom.
  3. The space between 1st and 4th holes must be divided into 4 equal spaces. This way you will get the location of the 2nd and 3rd holes.

You will have four incisions on each signature*.

*Signature: stack of two or more pieces of paper which are folded and grouped together ready for sewing.

Step 2: A2: Sewing Your Book

If you have a sewing frame, this is your moment. If not, you can check this video on YouTube where you can see how simple this tool can be!

Remember, you have four incisions on each signature (see photo on previous step); combine that photo with the sewing sketch to understand it.

In the sketch you can see how to sew your book following the french sewing technique:

  • Each horizontal line is a signature, formed with two papers (= 4 leaves = 8 pages).
  • The grey vertical lines are the thin rope, the real raised bands*; these make the book more resistant. Don't cut this rope or thread; we will need it later.
  • The arrows indicate the direction of sewing.
  • The dashed lines indicate where the thread goes inside the signatures.

Repeat it until all the signatures are sewed together. At the end, simply make a knot with the thread.

The more you adjust the thread, the thinner your book will be.

*This book has real raised bands and faux raised bands. I will always indicate which one are we talking about. The real ones are from the sewing; in old books, they can be noted on the spine as they are thick, but sometimes they are thin and are kept inside the bookblock so the spine keeps flat; they are used to make the sewing stronger and more resistant. The faux ones are made to imitate the old ones (we are going to use them too).

Step 3: A3: Glue the Textblock Spine

Put the block in a press as shown and apply some white glue on the spine. Let it dry.

Step 4: A4: Backing the Spine and Making the Joint

The photo belongs to other book but I use it because you can see:

  • real raised bands on the spine that lengthen on both sides.
  • the press: it has metallic edges on which the spine is folded with a rounded head hammer. The edges are not squared but triangular.

So you place the spine of the book there standing out 3mm and make the curved form with a hammer.

You can clearly see it on this video.

The folded area will allow you to make the joint.

Step 5: A5: Colour the Edges (optional)

If you want to colour the edges of your book, this is the perfect moment.

Put the book in a press, as tight as possible, keeping one side in sight (as on the photo). Apply the ink with a brush little by little. Be careful because the paper will absorb the ink quikly.

Once it is dry, polish it up with a piece of cotton rubbing the surface. It will get a little shine.

Repeat with the other two edges of the book (top and bottom).

Step 6: A6: Headbands (optional)

Stick the headbands on top and bottom of the spine as shown with white glue.

You can buy industrial headbands on bookbinding shops or internet, but you can also make your own headbands. It is just for decoration, but it looks really great.

On this video you can see how to make it. In this case, the author sews the headbands to the book at the same time she makes the headband. It is not necessary (as I said, it's just for decoration). You can sew with colour threads before glueing the headband to the book.

Step 7: A7: Reinforcements

    We are going to make two reinforcements for the book spine.

    The first one is triple:

    • Height: from 1st sewing line to 4th, covering both.
    • Width: three times the spine width.
    • Fold it like a Z.
    • Glue it to the spine part by part with white glue following the Z form. Let it dry.

    The second one is for the headbands:

    • Height: longer than the first one; it must cover part of both headbands (as shown).
    • Width: the spine width.
    • Stick it with white glue and let it dry.

    NOTE: 2nd photo doesn't belong to this book. There you can see real raised bands going through the reinforcements. But in our book (first photo) they remain hidden.

    Step 8: B1: Prepare the Covers

    For the covers we will use a hard cardboard, thickness of 2mm is fine for a A6 paper.

    • Height: same of bookblock + 2xcardboard thickness
    • Width: same of bookblock + cardboard thickness

    In my case bookblock is A6=148x105mm, so the cardboard is 148+2x2 and 105+2; 152x107mm.

    For the spine piece we will use a thiner cardboard (like a postcard or the cereals box cardboard). It will have the same size of the bookblock spine.

    On this thin cardboard we are going to place the faux raised bands. I put only three, but you can choose how many you want for your book. These raised bands are made with the thick cardboard we used for the covers. The width must be the same of the spine, and for the height, 3mm is fine.

    Stick the bands on the spine with white glue and let it dry.

    Step 9: B2: Prepare the Leather and the Cover Paper

    If your leather is too thick, it is better to lower it by the flesh side on the edges.

    Okay. So we will need 5 parts of leather:

    • 1 piece for the spine; this one will have the height of the book + 4cm (two on the top and two on the bottom) and the width will be the spine width + 2x 1/3 of the cover width (see the photo above).
    • 4 pieces for the corners; see the sketch. I added 1cm of margin but better make it as the spine piece with 2cm.

    About the paper: on the second photo you can see the red paper plan. It must cover all the cardboard that is not covered by leather, and it also must have the 2cm of margin. It will also cover 2mm of the leather when they are adjacent.

    Step 10: B3: Prepare the Endpapers

    Remember the joint we made on the bookblock? Well, joint = hinge.

    As you can see on the sketch, it is only necessary to cut the the cover side (pastedown), as the block side (free endpaper) will be cut once the book is assembled.

    Make two endpapers: one for the front and one for the back.

    If your paper has drawings, letters... be careful and think before cutting!

    Step 11: B4: Making the Paste for the Leather

    Well, before starting, let's prepare some paste. I don't know if there is a name for this, in Spanish is engrudo. If you know it, please, write it on comments! <3

    You will need:

    • 1/2 cup of cornflour/cornstarch
    • 3 cups of water

    And to make it:

    1. Dissolve half a cup of flour in just over half a cup of cold water. Check that there are no clumps.
    2. Heat the rest of the water over low heat.
    3. Slowly add the cornstarch mixture. Stir slowly.
    4. As the temperature increases, you will see that the mixture will become thick. Move the mixture with a wooden spoon so that there are no lumps.
    5. When it boils, turn off the heat and let cool. The paste is ready!

    You can keep this paste in the fridge up to one week.

    Step 12: C1: the Spine

    Take the cardboard spine piece you have already made (with the bands) and stick it to the bookblock with just two lines of white glue. Make sure that the top and bottom sides do not have glue.

    You will probably need to curve the cardboard just a little bit before placing it.

    Step 13: C2: Adding the Covers to the Bookblock

    In Spanish there is a word for this, encartonar, but I have no idea if this exists in English (???). It means introducing the real raised bands (remember from sewing?) into the cover cardboard.

    For this, you have to make holes on the covers as shown on the sketch. The closest ones are 1cm away from the edge. The holes must be big enough to let the real raised bands go through them.

    This is just to guide you; you can make it with different measurements.

    When the holes are ready, pass the raised bands through the closest holes, and then pass them again through the second holes. The rope must end on the outside of the cover. If the holes are well made, the covers should stay there. To make it more resistant, put a bit of white glue in the holes to keep the rope there. Once it has dried, you can cut the excess of rope. You can also use some splinters if the holes are too big.

    The two photos are from another book made with wood, but you can see the result.

    Yaaaay! Now you officially have a hard cover book! Let's see how to add the beautiful cover!

    Step 14: C3: Placing the Leather

    NOTE: once again, the photo is from another book.

    To stick correctly the leather, we are going to aply the paste we made on the flesh side. For this, use a hard brush and stamp it on the leather, to make sure the paste penetrates on the leather. Do it once and let it dry a bit. Then, do it again and let it dry. And do it all for a third time. Now the leather is ready.

    Place the leather on the right position. For example, if it is the spine piece, make sure it is centered. You can make marks on the cardboard to make it easier.

    To completely adapt the leather to the faux raised bands of the spine, use band nippers, pliers, chopsticks or whatever you have.

    The edges of the leather will be folded over the cardboard. The top and bottom of the leather spine will be introduced between the bookblock and the thin cardboard (remember, the cardboard doesn't have to be completly stuck to the block as I told you).

    For the inner side of the corners, you can cut some leather if it is too thick. Leather must be folded/wrinkled, trying to keep it as flat as possible.

    Let it rest until dry; the leather could move if you touch it. To avoid this, use bandage until completely dry. Put in between some paper to avoid marks on the leather.

    Be very careful with the paste! If it touches the leather, it will get stained!

    Step 15: C4: Paper Cover

    Once the leather has dried, place the paper to cover the rest of the cardboard. Use white glue. It also has to be folded over the cardboard. Let it dry.

    You have almost finished! Wohoo!

    Step 16: C5: Endpapers

    Before placing the endpapers, we are going to prepare a compensation paper.

    Look at the inner face of the covers. There probably is a step between the cardboard surface and the paper/leather. With a transparent paper o plastic, draw the outline of this "step" and cut a paper with this form. Place it on the cardboard with some white glue.

    This compensation paper, as the name says, is used to compensate. Compensate what? The strenght caused by the glue, the leather and the cover paper. This compensation paper will redistribute that strenght through the full cardboard, avoiding it from getting curved.

    When it is dried, it's time for the ENDpapers.

    First, stick the pastedown part to the cover. It must coincide with the bookblock when it is closed, so place the pastedown carefully.

    The hinge part will be placed on the inner joint of the binding when the book is almost completely closed.

    Finally, the free endpaper: it can be completely adhered to the first leaf of the bookblock, or just a little. In this case, apply some white glue on a vertical line (like 0,5cm width) next to the spine and stick the endpaper.

    Let it dry.

    At last, cut the excess of the edges of the free endpaper.

    Step 17: Enjoy Your Book!

    Yes! That's all! Now you have a lovely and unique handmade book.

    Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed it!

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