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Knotty Kneat Stuff

Bookbinding (Part III, cont.)


Arrange your punched & folded Signatures in order as they will appear in the bound book. Ensure that all pages are in order, being careful not to allow the pages shift within its Signature. You need to keep the holes in line. They’ll stay put by themselves as long as you don’t knock ’em around carelessly.

Flip the stack over, pull Signature 3 off the top, flip it back over and lay it face-up (lowest page number on top) with the punched fold facing you.

Thread your needle (single strand with the tightest, tiniest knot you can make) with the dental floss or other strong, thin ligature. Jewelers nylon works, but has drawbacks (curls up & tangles, and it has low glue adhesion, to name a few). Regular cotton thread wears and breaks, and just doesn’t hold up too well under stress; but, if that’s all you have, I’d double it. Real Linen is great, but I’m sworn to my unwaxed Dental Floss (pretty tough stuff).

Whatever you use, your ligature will need to be at least as long as the book page height times the number of Signatures, plus about 6” for slack. You can knot the end of the thread to ensure that tail does not pull through, but better to leave a long tail.

Reach around and pull the Signature open with the back half lying flat and the top half held almost vertical. Push the needle through the far right hole (the one closest to the bottom of the soon-to-be book) from the outside all the way through to the inside of the Signature, and then back out toward your body through the next hole in line. Pull the whole length of thread/floss through until only a 3” or 4” tail remains hanging out of the first hole. Continue up the line until you’ve poked out of the last hole (top of book). Tighten the line by pulling the thread from both the lead and the tail. If you’ve gone through the last hole in the line, and the needle is on the inside of the Signature, then you’ve missed a hole and you need to backtrack or redo. If this happened, but you did not miss a hole (and you did begin from the outside), then you’ve punched an odd number of holes. Skip one, or poke another. Your choice.

Now, take the next Signature and lay it atop the one you’ve just stitched, in order. Make sure the bottom page number of the new Signature is the one that comes right before the top page number of the Signature you just stitched. Now, run the needle through the far left hole (top of book) of the new Signature, from outside in, and back out the hole. Work your way down toward the bottom of the Signature until you poke out the last hole.

Tighten, and repeat with the next Signature up. Continue zigzagging your way up, building the text block one Signature at a time until book page 1 is on top and stitched in place. Tighten everything up, but don’t choke it.


Here’s where I have to leave you on your on a bit. If you have a book binder’s press, then you wouldn’t be reading this. So, you probably have to find a few nice solid, flat, strong boards and make text block sandwich with the help of a few strong, heavy-duty clamps or vises. I recommend either putting sheets of wax paper between the wood and the text block (both top and bottom), with some excess wax paper extending out from the spine side of the sandwich. This is to prevent gluing the text block to the wood.

Whether you allow the spine (folds) to blossom slightly (⅛” max) out from between the boards, or keep them tucked in for a neat squared spine is up to you. The blossomed spine is not practical for smaller books. I typically tuck the book between the wood.

Do whatever you can to keep the text block nice and straight and square while clamping the sandwich. I keep the spine/folds right between the edges of the two wood blocks, as if the wood blocks were the front and back covers of the book itself. Clamp it good & tight!

Orient the sandwich with the spine facing up toward your ceiling. Make sure the wax paper is in place. Fold it back away from the spine, taping to the wood if necessary to keep it out of the way … and lay on your first coat of glue. Not too, too much, but a good layer. Use a firm spreader and really press it in to the spine. And do NOT let the glue run down the sides. Glue over the exposed stitching, and glue the thread tails into/onto the spine as well. You may also glue some strips of thin cloth or bond paper onto the spine. It’s not necessary at this point, especially for a smaller book. If you do, apply just one layer where the stitching is not, and make sure the material is pressed flat and thoroughly saturated with glue.

Let it dry completely, and repeat. Two good coats should fine for an average sized book, but one more before hittin’ the sack won’t hurt. It’ll be ready for binding next morning [Next Post].


Sweet Dreams!


 P.S. I’ll try to create some visuals. I know they help. Thanks for bearing with me.

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