Repair an Old Classic Book (rebinding).





Introduction: Repair an Old Classic Book (rebinding).

About: I like building things. I like to experiment with alternative methods of heating and cooling houses.

I became interested in reading the old book "Moby Dick" because of a radio program where they discussed the qualities of the story.  But when I went to all the bookstores, they only had drab dreary NEW copies of the book.  They had NO pictures... and NO "character."   When I held the new book in my hand, I didn't even WANT to read it.  So I searched EBAY for an old copy and it is a WONDERFULL book!  It has PICTURES... it is almost 100 years old!... and it has lots of character! but it needed repair.  So I bought it for $12.00 and set about the job of re-binding and restoring it.

I have only restored 2 small paperbacks previously... so this was a bit of a challenge for me.  I don't claim to be a professional book-binder.  That was not my goal.  I wanted to accomplish 2 things:  1...  get this book back into usable condition.. and 2... Improve my bookbinding skills.   If you have never done this before, i suggest you start with a paperback book that is not an expensive  treasure.  So lets get started with the items you will need....

Step 1: Items You Will Need:

You will need a few common items to fix your book.  I used some GIANT "C" clamps.  They worked ok but I believe a smaller set of clamps would work better.  Next time I do this, I will try some "squeeze" clamps that look like large clips.  As long as they are big enough to hold the book, they should work.   I used some heavy duty thread and large needle.  Anything that is strong would work ok Kite string or upholstery thread would work ok. But dont use regular THREAD. It is too thin for this purpose.   I purchased PVA glue. PVA is Poly-Vinyl-Acetate.  It is a glue SIMILAR to white "Elmers" glue. It is a higher quality glue though that has more FLEXIBILITY and more TACKYNESS and is ACID FREE to protect the books paper.  Do not substitute other glues because you must use a glue that is FLEXIBLE and very tacky.  You will need a couple THIN wood slats like the one laying on the top of the book.  This will be used as a DRILLING helper.  Scissors and an electric drill motor with small drill bit (1/8th inch) are also needed.  ALSO needed but not pictured is some vinyl upholstery cloth.  I bought the CHEAPEST kind because it was thinner and more flexible.  You could also use any old heavy duty cloth material that you think would look good on the book.  Also, i used a small piece of BURLAP material because of its loose weave would help hold the glue. 

Step 2: Line Up the Edges for Clamping

It is very important to get the pages "squared-up" before clamping.  My book had a curved shape to the spine... which made this difficult.  Professional bookbinders use a special "JIG" to line up all the book edges.  We are not so lucky.  I had good success just using a piece of wood and being carefull to clamp the book with all edges lined up pretty close. 

Step 3: Clamping the Book Before Drilling:

You MUST clamp the book using a couple scrap wood slats as pictured here.  If you try to drill the pages WITHOUT doing this you will make a big MESS of the book.  The reason is because the drill bit will gouge into the paper and the paper shavings will NOT come out of the hole very will. Instead, the shavings will "expand" inside the books pages and make the pages "puff'-out"  So place your clamps on the wood-slats carefully while KEEPING the page edges evenly lined up. 

Also, you want the edge of the wood-slat lined up with the edge of the book spine as shown in the picture.  You will be drilling close to the edge of the wood so line it up carefully.

Step 4: Clamping Done... Ready to Start Drilling.

My clamp is positioned and the binding is ready to drill.  You can see the LARGE clamps i used are too big and kind of "in the way."  But they worked and now I can start drilling the spine.

Step 5: Drilling the Books Spine. SAFETY ISSUE !!

I set my drill bit into the "drill-chuck" so that the drill bit DOES NOT exit out the other side of the board.  This is somewhat important for SAFETY.  If you allow your drill bit to exit the other side, you must be VERY CAREFULL not to drill into your fingers!!!  I do not like to drill into my fingers, so i made SURE this would not happen by using this simple tip.  Please study this picture carefully.  I am NOT SHOWING where to drill in this picture.  I am showing the DRILL BITS LENGTH is not going to PENETRATE the wood!! When we start drilling, we will drill near the spines EDGE,  Not way up here where the bit is in this picture.

Step 6: Drilling the Books Spine :

I drilled using a hand held drill motor.  A drill-press would work better and would insure drilling straight to the other side and not at an ANGLE.   I trusted my drilling ability to go STRAIGHT enough ... but a few times my drilling was "OFF" a little.  But it didn't make much difference in the final book project.  I suggest if you use this method to drill a hole then SKIP a spot. Drill a hole... then skip a spot... all the way along the spine.  Then drill the "skipped" areas from the OTHER side of the book.   The clamps will be in your way for some of the holes.  You will need to move one clamp at a time to drill those holes.  Do not let the pages move... or none of your drilled holes will line-up for the SEWING step!!!  Work slowly and carefully.. 

Step 7: Move the Clamps Away for the SEWING Step :

All of my holes are drilled, and now i want to stitch the spine together.. So the clamps and boards must me moved away to allow the stitching.  Move ONE clamp at a time and carefully slide the board away from the book edge.   If the pages move then your holes will not line up for sewing so work carefully and slowly when moving your clamps and boards. When done, i took this opportunity to clean up the loose crud on the book spine.  Old dry glue and paper frazzles i scratched off of the spine.

Step 8: Sewing the Spine :

I used my large sewing needle and extra thick upholstery string to sew up the binding.  I pulled the thread SNUG but not too tight because the paper is easily damaged. Don't pull strings TOO tight because the paper might tear.  I then smeared the PVA glue all over the glued edge  being carefull so the glue doesn't drip where it ISNT needed.

Step 9: Restoring the Books Cover :

I decided to RE-USe the old book cover because it is the RIGHT size and it worked out great.  I just glued the cover FACE DOWN onto the new fabric. I cut out the corners of the fabric and folded/glued it as shown in the pictures here.  I added the burlap INNER lining to give the pages spine something to ADHERE to. 

Step 10: Finishing Up the Book:

I used a simple GOLD SPRAY to "fix" the gold-leaf that was worn off on the page edges.. I probably should have used some SPECIAL gold paint that was acid free... but i got carried away during the project and started SPRAYING before I started THINKING.  Oh well, it LOOKS good. I dont know how this will affect the paper over the years.  So it worked for me. You may want to skip this step or purchase something more suitable for old books. I then scanned the picture of the original cover. Lucky me, there was another copy of that picture INSIDE the book that had no fade in the colors... so i used a picture editing program and typed the BOOK TITLE.  I went down to Walgreens for them to print the picture so it would be better INK and PAPER that my inkjet printer cant compete with.  I wrapped the picture with protective plastic and used LIQUID NAILS glue to attach this picture to the FRONT of the book.  I finished off the book by placing some METAL CORNERs on the book cover.  If you do this, be carefull to not let anything METAL touch the books pages... because the metal will rip a hole in the pages QUICK.   I put little screws into the metal corners... but later removed them because they were damaging the papers inside the book.  That about finishes the book.  It is very impressive and everyone who sees it is somewhat surprised that the book is almost 100 years old and so nice to hold.  This book has CHARACTER. 



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    23 Discussions

    Very nice! Repairs always *seem* sraightforward, but it's nice to know some of the stumbling blocks others have encountered before performing the same operation myself. Thank you for a very detailed and well-documented Instructable!

    Will this method work for a book such as "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban"? It isn't a "classic" or antique book in the slightest, but it is a few years old and a bit worn out. The spine is coming off and after some research I have discovered that packing tape was not the right way to go about fixing my book.

    Thank you very much, any advice and help is highly appreciated!

    1 reply

    It will work. For my sister's graduation, I rebound a falling apart version of the Lord of the Rings trilogy for her as a gift. Just be careful with the pages, as newer books aren't bound as well.

    How well does the book lie flat? I have a music book I use a lot that needs to be repaired, before I lose some of its pages, but it needs to lie flat to be used.

    1 reply

    I would say it lies flat LESS as good as it originally did. So, I would not recommend my method for your book, if flexibility is important to you. If the book does not have TOO many pages, maybe you could purchase a photo book with the plastic pages. Then just remove the paper inserts at each page. Then place one page of your music book into each plastic page. That would lay very flat, and the pages will be individually preserved in the plastic. Some photo books can accommodate quite a few pages. My method described here is not a professional bookbinding method, but it does work for some applications.

    I leather-bound a very old book several decades ago. It was published in 1857 and although the text was good, the covers were quite bad. I was able to buy marbleized end paper to use on covers. I was able to use the original pressed paper (forerunner to cardboard) covers, but had to soak off the old end papers. I used deerskin over the covers and finished up with gold letters that I embossed into the leather. All in all, it looks quite good. I did not have to do much to the signatures, as I remember. Now, I am going to restore another one in much the same way, but now I can use the Internet -- your site in particular -- to help me do an even better job. I expect to sew signatures and plan on using very thin, top-grain cowhide to cover the book. I'll use marbleized papers as before on the inside of the front and back covers. Although this book, if original in good condition, would sell for about $7,000, I want it as a gift. The original cover looks pretty bad, or I would try to reuse it. As for gold leaf, I'm thinking of the leaf suspended in wax to rub across the edges. Far from being mere decoration, the gold was intended to protect the pages from oxidation. I also want to mention how useful was the 2010 comment from framistan. I hope she still stops by your site from time to time.

    1 reply

    Sounds like a wonderful book... But... My instructable was ... how do I put this... NOT PROFESSIONAL. I simply had the goal to take an old book and make it usable again. I used a method of sewing the pages together that WORKS... but is not a good method for any book worth money. There were several people who commented on my instructable to fix the book... and they were library workers who do professional bookbinding. You might want to read the comments they wrote, which were very informative. I think it is OK to use my instructable for a cheapy book but not for something rare or expensive.

    I love your step by step presentation! I am so enthralled at the thoughts of rebinding cast offs so they are readable again. I tell you, even if I never tried to rebind a book, I would enjoy your step by step how to!!!! THANK YOU!!!!!

    I didn't see the rest of those comments until after I posted mine. I would, of course, use acid free paint. I have found ways to gild a book with gold or silver leaf, but it's expensive and time consuming. These are just cheap Barnes and Noble classics that came in a box set. Definitely not expensive or rare.

    Thank you for your input. I'll continue to research and weigh my options.

    When I used the gold spray paint, It looks good, but i think it was a mistake. One person commented to me that it will likely shorten the lifespan of the book because of acidity. I believe you can figure out how to put the gold on there some other way by researching it a little.... then try it on some JUNK book like an old phonebook, or maybe a book about Barak Obama. If it works on that worthless book, then try your skill on the nice book. I don't know the proper method, or i would write it here for you. Keep in mind to not put anything acidic on the pages, or they will deteriorate over the years.

    Out of curiosity, how did the gold paint work out for you? I received a gorgeous classic book collection for Christmas. The only downside is they aren't gilded, which is really odd. (I suspect cheap tactics by the producers of said classic book collection.) I've looked up traditional methods of gilding and its going to require time, patience, and money, all of which I have in short supply. So I was wondering if gold (or silver) paint is a cheaper more effective way of getting the same (or very similar) results.

    Appreciate your feedback on this matter.

    Framistan -

    As a book conservation professional (I work in a library conservation dept.), I admire your desire to repair books in order to make them readable again. That said, I'm very disturbed by your instructable because your method will not improve the longevity of your book which could have been salvaged with some basic understanding of book anatomy and some familiarity with basic book binding techniques. Let me walk you through this.

    1) I can see from you photos that this book was signature sewn. The technique that you employed is called "stab-sewing." This method, while employed for many years by libraries has fallen out of favor because a weak spot develops in the gutter where the page folds back and forth. When this happens, the page has the potential to crack at the joint and fall out, leaving you with no margin to repair it in the future (not to mention the giant holes you have drilled through the paper for the stitching).

    2) You also mention that your book had a round spine and not a square. Books are designed to have this structure. The round reduces the effect of swelling caused by the thickness of the sewing threads. If it were flat, it would make a wedge shape.

    3) The loose crud on the spine is the old animal hide glue and a fabric called mull or super. This can be easily cleaned off with a substance called methyl cellulose in order to prep the book for new reversible paste (not PVA), liner paper and mull.

    4) By adding PVA glue to the spine, you have permanently modified this item. PVA is irreversible, and you will never be able to remove it without destroying the spine of the book. One of the principles of book conservation is reversibility - we don't do anything to a book that can't be undone. Wheat or rice paste would have been a reversible option.

    5) It looks like you had a nice old cover with decorative endsheets that could have been reused with some minor repair to the spine. Instead, you permanently covered it with the blue material, never to be seen again. Also, endsheet paper will adhere just fine to book board - there is no need to line the inside with burlap. If you look at the structure of signature sewn books, you will see that the book block spine is not glued to anything - the mull and endsheets are what connect the book block to the cover.

    6) Your thoughts about the gold spray paint are correct - I'm sure the paint will discolor the pages over time (maybe not even that much time). Same goes for the liquid nails - your picture will start to acquire a sickly yellow hue over the years.

    I realize that while this book was old, it was not particularly valuable. I'm not one of those folks who thinks that every book is sacred. However, I see a lot of books at my place of work that someone tried to repair 10-20 years ago that instead they ruined permanently. Let me point you to some resources that will help you learn about book repair.

    Dartmouth has a great Simple Book Repair Manual. It details some simple procedures you can do on your own.

    AIC, the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, has a nice leaflet on how to care for your books. More about storage than repair, this website also has links to resources to help you find a professional conservator when you need work done to an especially valuable item.

    There are also some good books out there that I can recommend to learn more about book-binding.

    Hand Bookbinding
    by Aldren Watson
    In-House Binding & Repair by Sharon McQueen

    The two of these together will get you started on the concepts of bookbinding and book repair.

    It is clear to me that you really love books and were trying to do your best to put your book back into usable condition. I hope you take some time to educate yourself on the proper ways to go about this. Good luck!

    1 reply

    I appreciate your comments and will learn a lot from them.  My true area of expertise is electronics... not book-binding.  Although I did work 6 years at a library right out of highschool, they had no book binding or repair department, so I never learned or witnessed the proper methods.  I also searched youtube and instructables for tips and instructions...  but found very little.  So I did the best I could with what knowledge I had.  Your knowledge is very extensive.... I wish i had seen an instructable made by you to assist me before I started.  Maybe you would make an instructable showing the proper methods... you can feel free to use my pictures as examples of improper methods if you care to.  If you would make an instructable showing the proper methods... I would gladly add a LINK from mine to yours and suggest to the reader to go to YOUR instructable for more professional instruction on how to re-bind and repair their book.  I especially  appreciate your suggestions on WHICH books you have seen that show how to do the book repairs.  I will certainly order one of them.   I don't think I will do this to very many books in my lifetime... and each time I do... i will improve my methods.  Like everything in life, we learn by doing...and improve with trial and error.  I will not fool with anything RARE  or expensive unless my skills match the books value. 


    2 replies

    Also, I wonder if it would be better to use a small ribbon to bind the binding, being flat it might tear the pages less.

    it would need to be a STRONG ribbon, and relatively narrow, but yes.
    Binding with ribbon works.  In fact, I often use 1/8" synthetic ribbon, when binding sketchbooks with leather covers. The fact that the ribbon can roll into a thread shape, for threading the pages, but still lay flat, when wrapping around the edge, makes for a smoother outer cover(sometimes thick cording, and thin covers leave visible ridges).

    Careful construction negates the need for it, but if you are working quickly, it may be worth trying.

    Another EXCELLENT use for Ribbon binding is for collimating loose-leaf pages. I haven't done much of that lately, but back before computers and printers were so common, People used to type on typewriters. Back then, I had many occasions to bind small manuscripts or D&D modules together for friends. Ribbon worked better than thread, since it distributed the force over more of the page edge. You could bind the pages without as much worry of the bound edge fraying.

    Very nice work.  Your finished product looks great!

    I always wonder about restoring old things.  The recurring question for me is, does restoration improve or diminish the value of the object in question?  Obviously, the restored book is much more usable and pleasant to look at, so it's value to you is greatly improved.  (Plus you get the satisfaction of having created a good Instructable.  :)

    I wonder if there are any bibliophiles out there who could comment on how to tell which books are okay to restore, and which are better left untouched?

    3 replies

    "does restoration improve or diminish the value of the object in question?"

    That depends entirely on the book.
    If it's a book just for reading, then, as you said, the value goes way up when restored.

    Original ancient manuscripts, signed first editions, etc... Somewhat diminished to completely de-valued.

    Personal Books(sketch books, diaries, etc)... devalue/upvalue depends on personal preference. Personally, I like my sketch books(bought at the store for $3-5 a piece) much better after I re-cover them with either carved panels, or cloth(plain or painted).

    Any book that you even think should be appraised... leave it as is. Or, if something must be done, act to PRESERVE, not 'restore'.
    If the book is easily replaced... fix away.
    If it's over 100 years old, see "appraised books".
    If the appraiser says "it's worth naught" then feel free to re-skin :-)
    If it happens to be one of those technical books that seem to breed on my book shelf, then I restore or preserve based on if I have a 'work copy' or not. Such as my
    1920's Machinery's Handbook which get's 'preserved' status, since I also have a 27th edition copy of recent vintage(and a 8th, and a 16th, and a 23rd. every single one a hand-me-down from some machinist or engineer or family member). All other copies of said book get "restored status". My 27th edition even got a sheet brass cover, due to all the abuse it normally sustains.

    My copy of "Swiss Family Robinson" that I was given as a child... it's on it's third cover. Signed first edition of "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" will never even leave it's plastic sleeve.

    I know, it's a long explination for the simple question of "how to tell which books are okay to restore?". but that can't be helped.

    I love it when comments add value to and Instructable.  Thanks, Ironsmiter, for two great responses!

    Great reply! Is there a resource anywhere that one can go to check the value of books (like baseball cards)?  I have a number of books, some over 100 years old, that I keep in storage.  I've often consdered restoring them but keep putting it off until I get a library that would make it worth the restoration.