attaching the boards

I scrape the frayed out tapes, lets call them ‘slips’, with a knife to remove any loose fibres and taper them so that they will be thinner at the ends.  The slips are then 101_4946         101_4960

impregnated with paste and I also rub a little into the notches.  Standing the board vertically against the joint I feed the ends of the pasted slips through the holes and pull tight.  The board is then closed carefully onto the textblock and those ‘spacers’ glued on the back edge of the boards will ensure the right tension.

101_4973         101_4966

Making sure the boards and slips remain attached at the same position , holding the book in the left hand, I open the board onto a knocking-down iron clamped in the end on a laying press.  With a backing hammer I hammer the holes closed.  More paste is rubbed onto the tapes on the inside of the board and the fibres of the slips are splayed out to reduce any bulk.

101_4971     101_4972

A little more paste is applied to the slips on the inside and outside of the boards and by opening out the boards, a little more can be rubbed into the notches or grooves. Closing the boards, making sure both are correctly positioned… and parallel…by checking with a set square, the book can be pressed overnight. The book must stand up straight when finished !  

Whilst in the press I have a melinex sheet inserted inside the boards to protect the textblock and a stainless steel pressing ‘tin’ up to the joint on the outside,  in this way I can achieve a very flat surface to the boards.    The Melinex I’ve had for years, its a thin, clear sheet about 0.6mm or 0.7mm thick and while fairly flexible, is rigid enough to protect the text.  and to a degree is non-stick…..I think Shepherds sell it.   Stainless steel pressing ‘tins’….? ? …not available commercially and I have to thank Noel Carruthers for those…she had a batch made up some years ago.  Any thin ‘tin’ slipped inside the board will do but you might want to also slip in some release paper.

Should you have made a slight miscalculation and there is still a bit of unevenness on the surface of the board where the slips are laced in, you may consider sticking on a sheet of good quality paper, say about 120gsm. This can then be sanded down to minimise the problem. I would stick it on oversize with one edge lined up with the spine edge of the board and sand off the overlapping edges to remove the excess.   No doubt though, you will have spotted the flaw in this plan….sticking on an extra layer of paper will ‘pull’ the boards outwards slightly.  So when sticking it on, try gluing the board…..not the paper…with PVA or EVA not paste….and rather than rubbing down in the natural way which actually stretches the paper outwards…rub down from the edges of the board towards the centre….it might help.  The boards will have become a little thicker with the addition of the paper  so if this is a problem, the sanding of the uneven part could be extended over the entire board.

101_4911By the way, this is a very useful aid to sanding….its a comfortable hand-sanding sanding block I bought from Louise Brockman at the Conference in Leeds last year.




Getting the boards ready

As I mentioned, Lester Capon describes the make up of boards in his earlier post Board Construction…its worth having another look. Anyway, very quickly, these have been made up by a lamination of 2 x 1mm millboard with a sheet of archival kraft sandwiched in the middle with a sheet on either side….pasted together in a sequence that encourages the boards to draw slightly inwards when dry.

Making sure I’ve got a right angled corner, I give the boards a final cut ensuring they are just high enough to clear the endbands…..and that they will have an equal ‘square’ on all three sides.

Having marked out an area round three sides of the boards I ‘cushioned’ them by 101_4905            101_4914

sanding off until the  kraft paper in the middle of the sandwich becomes visible round the three edges.  The idea is that you have the boards at full thickness to protect the textblock but the thin edges give a neat and elegant appearance to the bound book. Lester uses a spokeshave to start off the beveling process but I prefer to take the longer route, starting by sanding with a coarse grit before working down with finer grades to give a really smooth finish.  

Down the spine edge of the boards I draw a line parallel with the edge about 1/4″ or 7 101_4937or 8mm in.  Placing the boards in position on the book, I mark on that line  the point opposite where the tapes exit from the shoulder.  With the board resting on a spare piece of thick millboard, I punch a hole vertically through the board using a thick awl and a backing hammer. I then cut a notch from the spine edge of the board to the hole which will accommodate the thickness of the frayed tape.

Its Photo1030rather a critical judgement to make so initially the notch is quite shallow and I pull the frayed-out tape into the recess to assess if its the correct level, if necessary cutting a little deeper until I’m satisfied the tape will be flush with the boards when glued down.  I like a little  bump on the joint of a binding……but not on the surface of the leather-covered boards. 

I back corner the boards and in the next picture you will see that I’ve coloured them in black just so they can be seen. You may also notice that I’ve stuck ‘spacers’ on the back edge of the boards.  These I cut from thin calf and position them where they wont get in the way.  These are to ensure that when the covering leather dries and101_4950 - Copy shrinks the joints wont become too tight.  I should add that they are temporary and will be removed before the leather jointed endpapers are put down.

 click on image to enlarge

lacing on boards

I frayed out the Pliester tapes ready to be laced through the boards and sketched out on the boards the area that I’m going bevel to cushioned the boards.  For details of cushioning boards, have a look at Lester Capon’s post of the 15th October entitled Board Construction. 

101_4919             101_4906

Why Pliester tapes ?   I think it may possibly be argued that the strongest means of board attachment can be obtained with the use of the more traditional linen tapes that binders have been using for years.  I don’t think lacing the boards on with Pliester tapes is any easier or better than the more traditional linen tapes.  Traditional tapes are laced through chisel slots angled down away from the spine edge of the board and glued to the inside of the board whereas Pliester tapes are unravelled and fed through holes punched vertically through boards, spread out and pasted down on the inside of the board.

My preference for the use of Pliester tapes is more about appearance  as I really quite like to see those little tell-tale bumps down the shoulders of the book. Although, hopefully, barely perceptible they are a sign that the boards are properly laced on….and are certainly more aesthetically pleasing than if there is any visible evidence of ordinary tapes under the leather on the joints of a binding.  

I can’t think there’s any other reason…..both old style tapes and Pliester tapes/cords remain glued to the inside of the boards with a card filler pasted over the top, trapping the ends inside.  In the past when books were sewn on cords there was always a return hole for the cord to pass back though to the top surface of the board.  However, I think its now widely agreed that adequate attachment is provided with the spread out ends of the Pliester tapes being trapped between the inside of the board board and a card in-filler 

The late Ivor Robinson was insistant that those little bumps down the shoulder denoted a well bound book and he was happy to see evidence of board attachment. Pliester tapes weren’t available when he was binding and I believe his preference was to sew on cords that had been unravelled flat across the spine…in effect,  just like tapes…and then laced into the boards.

I next spent some time preparing the boards progressing as far as I could before lacing them on. This includes cushioning, punching the holes with an awl and back cornering.  


The point of this laminating process which Lester has described is to be able to produce a really strong, stable and rigid board. I’ve made my boards almost exactly as Lester describes except that I’ve used 2 x 1mm Gemini millboard which I think will be suitable for this size of book.2 x 1mm millboard and grey archival kraft

I want my boards as thin as possible without losing the strength. Part of the reason for this is aesthetics….but also function. 

The backing operation does fulfils a useful function allowing the boards to sit against the joint but bending over the folds of the sections does hinder the opening of the textblock to some degree. So by keeping the boards as thin as practicable and therefore the joint as small as possible it minimises this problem.   

                                                              Jen Lindsay in her splendid book Fine Bookbinding  puts forward the case for ’rounded only’ books and whilst I understand the reasoning I want my book to have the boards propped up against the joints.

Just out of interest, whilst writing this I checked the thickness of the boards….2 x 1mm millboard plus 3 thicknesses of archival kraft …. which have been made for about a week and was surprised to find that the micrometer records a measurement of no less that 2.68mm. I am now considering the option of lightly sanding the spine edge of the boards inside and out.

Board Construction

The following is the method I use for a design binding. I make boards from acid free millboard and acid free kraft paper. At present I am buying my board from Purcell Papers. It’s called Gemini Olympic.
The thickness of the board used will depend on the size and thickness of the book. Bear in mind that the thickness of the boards will determine the depth of joint, so the amount of swell needs to be considered.
Generally I prefer boards to look delicate, but still be substantial. To meet these requirements the boards are laminated and cushioned. For an ‘average’ board I laminate the following –

Kraft paper                                                                                                                1.5mm board
Kraft paper                                                                                                                   1mm board
Kraft paper

I paste the first kraft to the 1.5 board. Then the second kraft to the other side of the 1.5 board.  Next I paste the 1 mm board to the previous piece, and then the last kraft to its other side.
With this method I am always pasting the thinner of the t001wo items I am sticking together which helps slightly with the ultimate ‘pull’ of the whole board. I want the board to pull slightly towards the 1mm which will be the inside of the book board.
I leave this between pressing boards for 10 minutes and then press hard between boards and silicone paper for a minimum of an hour (overnight is fine). Pressing immediately may cause the laminations to slide on the wet paste.
When they come out of the press they should be stood upright to allow the air to circulate around them. Hopefully at this stage they will pull in the required way.
Ideally boards should be made 6 months before use, to give them time to season – I have never done this!

At this stage the boards are still oversize. When dry they can be trimmed to the correct size.
To cushion the boards I draw a pencil line about 40mm in from the top, tail and foredge onto the outside of the board.
This is a rough guide from where to start cushioning. I clamp the board onto a paring stone with the edge I am working on lined up with the edge of the stone.001
(A pressing board can be used instead of a stone as long as the whole thing is firmly clamped to the bench, and don’t forget to put a piece of board between the book board and the clamp so that no dent is made).
I use a spokeshave with firm movements to create a slightly rounded shape from the pencil line to the edge of the board. When a thin strip of kraft (the middle piece) appears along the extreme edge of the board I stop. This ensures that the thickness of the board is even all the way along. I finish the process with a medium, then fine sandpaper, always sanding in one direction – towards the outer edge. The thicker of the board laminations has been brought down to the 1mm board.  If I want a thicker board I will generally only increase the thickness of the outer board.  At the lacing on stage the board will ideally be either flat or slightly pulling in. If it is pulling out the covering process is more awkward.
For more simple bindings in leather I usually paste one kraft to one side of a board, and two pieces to the other side. This again gives a slight pull Paste is better than pva as it dries harder and is easier to sand.


One thing I really want to do whilst I’m thinking about design is make up my boards.  They are going to be laminated and I want them to have as long as possible to dry and become stable. 

So while I’m ‘stressing out’ on design….. I’ll ask Lester Capon if he’ll describe his method of making up boards the make-up of his boards and the thinking behind the process…..LESTER…..