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Knotty Kneat Stuff

Bookbinding (Part IV)

BINDING [This is It Folks!]

NOTE: ALL instructions here are for a full size (5½ x 8½) book with 8½ x 11 sheets, and using mounting film, not glue, to attach the skins and top & bottom sheets.

Items Needed for Binding:

  • Slightly heavier paper (preferably bond, colored or uncolored) for top & bottom sheets
  • Cover Boards (2)
  • Cover Skin (Colored Cover Stock or Heavy Bond Paper/Fabric/Leather)
  • Cloth Tape (Permanent)
  • Permanent adhesive Mounting Film (HIGHLY recommended over glue for applying Cover Skin to Cover Boards)
  • Steel Straight-Edge (Ruled)
  • Sharp X-ACTO Knife (& Sharp Scissors don’t hurt to have handy; paper cutters are nice too)
  • Cutting Mat (Not the Cutting Board from your Kitchen)
  • Plenty of Flat Surface Area (w/ room for a mess)

Cut the Cover Boards to size. 5⅜ x 8¾ works great. You may have to cut these from a large sheet of Book Board using an X-ACTO (or Utility Knife) and Steel Straight-Edge. It’s tough stuff, but it’s got to be done. The 2 boards must match in size as perfectly as possible. Smooth down any raised lips at the cut edges (press or sand them down).

Cut 2 sheets of mounting film in the exact size of the Cover Boards (5⅜ x 8¾). Peel 1 side only and affix 1 sheet to 1 side of each of the 2 Cover Boards. No blisters! And press them down firmly all over. The sides with the film on them will be the outsides of the top & bottom Cover Boards. Set them aside for bit.

Grab your Cover Skin, knife, edge and cutting board. Measure the width of the glued spine of the text block, and add ⅝” to that spine width. Lay the Cover Boards out, filmed side down in portrait orientation, on the underside of the skin with a space between them equal to the spine width + ⅝”. Align them nice and straight, and make sure the 2 edges closest to each other are the spaced apart as described and perfectly parallel.

Now mark/trace all edges (at least the corners). Use the knife & edge to cut the skin into 1 big rectangle, leaving a border of about ½” all around the 2-Board & Spine Gap arrangement.

Now, pick up 1 of the Cover Boards, peel the backing off the mounting film and affix in the exact place where it just was. Use your traced outlines. Repeat with the other Cover Board.

You may wish to fill the spine space, Board-to-Board, with cloth tape, or use some mounting film to affix some card stock. Fill the entire gap with a neat-fitting rectangle with no overlapping material in there.

Cut strips of mounting film about ½” wide. Cut the ears (corners) off the skin about ⅛” away from the outer corners of the Cover Boards. Affix the film strips, with no overlapping, all around the ½” border. Peel the backing off of the strips along 1 of the 4 borders. Fold the border up and affix to the Cover Board nice & tight. Repeat with all borders, 1 at a time, tucking the corners under as neatly as possible, but do not stick the skin down on the spine area yet. That’s next.

Cut a (another) strip of cloth tape about ½” wider than the spine gap and affix it over, but elevated above, the spine gap, with ¼” of tape affixed to the each Cover Board forming a canopy over the spine gap. The tape should run from the top & bottom edges of the skin where they are folded over the top & bottom portions of the spine gap. Now, peel the remaining backing off the skin border sections over the spine gap, flip the paneled assembly over and press the skin down onto the tape and skin border sections underneath. Try to get a good crease along the edges of the Cover Boards where they meet the spine gap. Press firmly and flip back over.

Take your 2 sheets of slightly heavier 8½ x 11 paper (preferably bond, colored or uncolored) to use as your top & bottom sheets. Fold them in half, separately, forming 5½ x 8½ folios. Cut 2 strips of mounting film 8½” long and ⅛” – ¼” wide. Peel the backing off 1 side of a strip of film and affix it along 1 edge of 1 of the folios, just under the fold. Repeat with the other.

Take 1 of these folios and, with your text block laid face-up before you, peel the remaining backing off the strip and affix to the top page, concentric with the folio stuck down by the strip along the inside of the page, tucked right up along the edge of glued spine. Repeat with the back.

Cut a piece of cloth tape about 7½” long, with a width equal to the spine plus 1”. Center the tape over the spine, drape down over the inner edges of the recently attached folios, and … no wrinkles, now … press firmly. Squeeze some glue into the tape where it covers the spine (not the folios).

Next, cut two (2) 5½ x 8½ sheets of mounting film. Peel 1 side of 1 sheet and affix over the top folio, covering the ½” of tape now affixed along the inner edge and connecting it to the spine and back sheet/folio. Repeat with back side.

NOW, it’s ALL YOU. Do some dry runs to nail down the exact placement of the text block between the Cover Boards. And get the Cover assembly nice and creased and flexible at the joints/seams.

Peel the backing off the bottom folio and affix to the underside (no kidding) of the back Board. Press firmly.

Peel backing off top folio. Pull the top Cover Board over and lay that baby down as perfectly concentric with the bottom Board as possible. You Only Get 1 Shot! And …

PRESTO !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Make a Cover Label on Opaque paper, shellac the Hell out of it, back it with mounting film, cent and slap it down.


Congratulations! It Looks Fantastic!

Best of Luck! And remember … the final stages require steady hands.


 P.S. I WILL try to create some illustrations to insert.


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.

Knotty Kneat Stuff

Bookbinding (Part III)

BINDING PREP: Building the Text Block (Punching, Folding & Stitching … and Gluing)

Items Needed for Text Block Construction:

  • Plenty of Flat Surface Area (w/ room for a mess)
  • Steel Straight-Edge (Ruled)
  • Awl/Leather Punch/Steel Pin (Strong & Sharp)
  • Backing for Pin-Punching (Thick Rubber Mouse Pads work well; Best: Wood Strip w/ pre-drilled narrow holes to receive awl point under paper being punched, see below for hole spacing)
  • Sheet of Paper, same size as text sheets (i.e., 8½ x 11) with punching guide holes, see below for hole spacing)
  • Sewing Needle (fairly heavy duty and more than 1” long)
  • Light-Colored Thread (Recommend Dental Floss (Basic UNWAXED Light-Gauge String-Type (NOT Ribbon)
  • PVA Glue
  • Glue Spreader (small strip of thin wood w/ squared end (i.e., popsicle stick w/ round end snipped off)
  • Thick Hardwood Boards (2) (at least ¾” and NOT Warped; Recommend Oak, Mahogany)
  • Strong Clamps/Vises (at least 2)


Punching & Folding:

Presuming we’re making a full size (5½ x 8½) book, our sheets are your standard 8½ x 11 (11 x 8½?).

Grab a blank 8½ x 11 sheet; preferably cardstock, but that’s not critical. Fold it in half widthwise so that the crease divides two (2) 5½ x 8½ halves of the sheet. Make sure the crease is as perfectly centered as possible (and that is important). Now, open back up and work the crease so that the open sheet lies nice and flat.

Make sure you’ve got a nice wide space (both inside margins, side-by-side) running down the middle. Grab your Ruler (Ruled Straight-Edge), draw the center line down the crease. Then mark an EVEN number of points on the centerline. Six (6) or eight (8) points work fine. They can be equidistant, or else alternating longer and shorter distances. The first and last points should be 1/4” or so in from the edge; then, start measuring in from there. If you use alternating distances, don’t vary them too much, and make sure the wider spaces are on the ends, between the last 2 points at each end. If you use 8 points and vary, you have a third wide space in the middle as well. I use 8 points, equidistant, 1⅛” apart. It works just fine (I keep it simple).

Making sure the points are aligned perfectly right along the center line, lay the sheet on your mouse pad or other backing material. Take your awl/leather punch and pierce those points nice and straight.

Now, take Signature 1 (book pages 1-12) and lay it out in Landscape Orientation (sideways) so you can read the text.

Again, you should have a stack of 3 sheets (1st Signature):

  • Top sheet: 12 & 1 (front), 2 & 11 (back);
  • Second sheet: 10 & 3 (front), 4 & 9 (back);
  • Bottom Sheet: 8 & 5 (front), 6 & 7 (back).

Making sure that the stack is arranged precisely as described immediately above, flip the stack over (all 3 sheets together) so that you are now looking at book pages 6 (left side) and 7 (right side). Place the punched guide sheet over the stack and line up all the edges nice and neat. Now lay the stack, with guide sheet on top, on the mouse pad/backing surface. Use whatever you may to ensure that the sheets do not shift around, and punch the Signature clean through so that it looks like the guide sheet, but with text. Drive the point through and then some. Y’wanna open the holes up and kinda make the paper that’s left as the rims(?) of the holes blossom out the back. Now, without letting the sheets shift at all, remove the guide sheet, and fold the Signature crisply down the middle. Book pages 6 & 7 should now be kissing each other, and there should be 8 (or 6) little burs (where the holes are) dotting the outside of the fold. Take your wood boards and sandwich the fold. Press it hard for a nice tight fold. You can run a dull, solid instrument along the fold to tighten even further. A rolling pin works great, but always work from the middle of the fold out to the ends. Do not run or roll from the end inward, as that will contort your Folio, which is what you now have: a Folio Signature … first of three.

Grab Signature 2, and repeat … and Signature 3, and repeat.

[We’ll save the Stitching for tomorrow (next Post). You’re just gonna LOVE this part.]

Knotty Kneat Stuff

Bookbinding (Part II)


Because the sheets are going to be:

  1. stacked in groups of, say, 4, 5 or 6 sheets,
  2. folded in half (1 group at a time, creating several small leaflets),
  3. then stacked in order for binding (1 leaflet atop another, atop another, atop another, &c…)

 … you can NOT just hit PRINT.

You need to command the Printing sequence specific to the sheets you are including in each Signature (leaflet). You do this by typing the order in the PRINTER Dialogue Box where you see “PAGES.” You will typically see this below the “ALL” and “CURRENT PAGE” options. Figuring this out and loading the sequence(s) into the PRINTER Dialogue Box is quite possibly the single most difficult part of the whole process; but it MUST be done perfectly.

Fortunately, I’ve already done this part for you. Below, you will see the printing sequences for 3, 4, 5 and 6-sheet Signatures. They are displayed broken into a total of 8 Signatures, backsides first, then fronts. Remember, each sheet = 4 book pages. Thus, six (6) 4-sheet Signatures makes a 96-page book [4 sheets x 4 book pages = 16 book pages; 16 x 6 Signatures = 96 total book pages]. So, you can use a little math to determine the optimal Signature size and number. I’ve put a table below for quick reference. Total Page Counts are in the body of the Matrix. You want to use a Signature Size and Number that creates a Total Page Count that is equal to, or preferably a few pages higher (but not a single page lower) than, the total page count of your document. You may have to make layout & formatting adjustments to create a snug fit; and a snug fit looks best.

Now, here’s how you do it. I’ll use an easy example: I’ve formatted a book to a total of 46 pages. I can either use four (4) 3-sheet Signatures, or (3) 4-sheet Signatures. Pretty small book; but it is poetry, so I want full size (5½ x 8½) book with large fonts and a paper that’s a bit toward the heavy side (24lb+?). So, I’ll go with 3-sheet Signatures, 4 Signatures total. 12 sheets of 8½ x 11 paper altogether.

3-Sheet Signatures (4 Signatures):

    1. Back: 2,11,4,9,6,7,                 Front: 12,1,10,3,8,5,
    2. Back: 14,23,16,21,18,19,       Front: 24,13,22,15,20,17,
    3. Back: 26,35,28,33,30,31,     Front: 36,25,34,27,32,29,
    4. Back: 38,47,40,45,42,43,    Front: 48,37,46,39,44,41,

Open your document, and open the printer window. Find the “PAGES” option. Copy the first (“Back”) string of page numbers in Line 1 of the appropriate table below (I pasted in the 3-sheet table above). Paste it into the window next to the word “PAGES” in the Printer dialogue Box. Now hit print. Your Printer will spit out three (3) printed sheets. The top will be your book pages 2 and 11. Take these printed pages and load them back into your printer. Copy the second (“Front”) number string from Line 1 and paste it into the Printer’s “PAGES” window, replacing the first string that you just printed. Hit Print. Those same three (3) sheets will come out printed on both sides. The top page should have Book Pages 12 and 1 on the front, and 2 and 11 on the back. If the sheet with 12 and 1 has numbers 6 and 7 on the back, then you will need to reprint. Print the backs as before. But, reverse the order of the sheets before feeding back into the printer for the Front side printing.

In the end, you should have a stack of 3 sheets (1st Signature):

  • Top sheet: 12 & 1 (front), 2 & 11 (back);
  • Second sheet: 10 & 3 (front), 4 & 9 (back);
  • Bottom Sheet: 8 & 5 (front), 6 & 7 (back).

Repeat, using Line 2 of the Table to create the 2nd Signature … then the 3rd … then the 4th.

Keep the Signatures separate and in order. Do NOT fold them yet. They need to be punched first (Now it gets REAL fun). Punching, Folding & Stitching (Binding Prep) will be in the next post. Have fun, and if you wish me dead … I’ll understand.


Signature Guide

Number of Signatures


4 5 6 7


Signature Size

3 sheets

36 48 60 72 84 96

4 sheets

48 64 80 96 112 128

5 sheets

60 80 100 120 140 160

6 sheets

72 96 120 144 168 192

Printing Sequences:

3-Sheet Signatures (8 Signatures):

  1. Back: 2,11,4,9,6,7,                       Front: 12,1,10,3,8,5,
  2. Back: 14,23,16,21,18,19,             Front: 24,13,22,15,20,17,
  3. Back: 26,35,28,33,30,31,           Front: 36,25,34,27,32,29,
  4. Back: 38,47,40,45,42,43,           Front: 48,37,46,39,44,41,
  5. Back: 50,59,52,57,54,55,            Front: 60,49,58,51,56,53,
  6. Back: 62,71,64,69,66,67,            Front: 72,61,70,63,68,65,
  7. Back: 74,83,76,81,78,79,            Front: 84,73,82,75,80,77,
  8. Back: 86,95,88,93,90,91,           Front: 96,85,94,87,92,89,

4-Sheet Signatures (8 Signatures):

  1. 2,15,4,13,6,11,8,9,                               16,1,14,3,12,5,10,7,
  2. 18,31,20,29,22,27,24,25,                   32,17,30,19,28,21,26,23,
  3. 34,47,36,45,38,43,40,41,                  48,33,46,35,44,37,42,39,
  4. 50,63,52,61,54,59,56,57,                   64,49,62,51,60,53,58,55,
  5.  66,79,68,77,70,75,72,73,                  80,65,78,67,76,69,74,71,
  6. 82,95,84,93,86,91,88,89,                 96,81,94,83,92,85,90,87,
  7. 98,111,100,109,102,107,104,105,    112,97,110,99,108,101,106,103,
  8. 114,127,116,125,118,123,120,121,     128,113,126,115,124,117,122,119,

5-Sheet Signatures (8 Signatures):

  1. 2,19,4,17,6,15,8,13,10,11,                                                20,1,18,3,16,5,14,7,12,9,
  2. 22,39,24,37,26,35,28,33,30,31,                            40,21,38,23,36,25,34,27,32,29,
  3. 42,59,44,57,46,55,48,53,50,51,                            60,41,58,43,56,45,54,47,52,49,
  4. 62,79,64,77,66,75,68,73,70,71,                            80,61,78,63,76,65,74,67,72,69,
  5. 82,99,84,97,86,95,88,93,90,91,                            100,81,98,83,96,85,94,87,92,89,
  6. 102,119,104,117,106,115,108,113,110,111,                    120,101,118,103,116,105,114,107,112,109,
  7. 122,139,124,137,126,135,128,133,130,131,                    140,121,138,123,136,125,134,127,132,129,
  8. 142,159,144,157,146,155,148,153,150,151,                    160,141,158,143,156,145,154,147,152,149,

6-Sheet Signatures (8 Signatures):

  1. 2,23,4,21,6,19,8,17,10,15,12,13,                                      24,1,22,320,5,18,7,16,9,14,11,
  2. 26,47,28,45,30,43,32,41,34,39,36,37,                              48,25,46,2744,29,42,31,40,33,38,35,
  3. 50,71,52,69,54,67,56,65,58,63,60,61,                              72,49,70,5168,53,66,55,64,57,62,59,
  4. 74,95,76,93,78,91,80,89,82,87,84,85,                              96,73,94,7592,77,90,79,88,81,86,83,
  5. 98,119,100,117,102,115,104,113,106,111,108,109,                    120,97,118,99116,101,114,103,112,105,110,107,
  6. 122,143,124,141,126,139,128,137,130,135,132,133,            144,121,142,123140,125,138,127,136,129,134,131,
  7. 146,167,148,165,150,163,152,161,154,159,156,157,            168,145,166,147164,149,162,151,160,153,158,155,
  8. 170,191,172,189,174,187,176,185,178,183,180,181,            192,169,190,171188,173,186,175,184,177,182,179,

[Stay tuned for Binding Prep instructions, next Post]

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