Bookbinding, Projects

By Its Cover

It’s time to make a start on re-covering this old science book. I was setting this image up and the texture of the spine reminded me of the bark of London Plane trees. Unfortunately, as good as this texture is, all this loose material needs to come off so that I can attach new stuff.

For the most part, I used the back of a scalpel, and a clean wooden modelling tool to gently prise off the (fake) headbands and peel off the outer surfaces of the previous cover material. I soon ended up with a lot of flakey old paper and a slightly furry spine:

This was lightly rubbed with white spirit to soften the adhesive so further layers could be rubbed off. This left a very thin coating of paper covering the bound edges of the signatures. Further spirit and rubbing would have taken this off, but I had begun to feel the spine loosening a little and decided to seek some advice on the internet. I was trawling through many entries on a bookbinding forum (which will remain anonymous for now until I check out a few more things, as I did read some fairly odd stuff there – not all of it on bookbinding either!) and came across someone who had got as far as I had and then left this remainder on. A few others confirmed that they had too, and it seemed to be a reasonably common ‘amateur’ fix. One that would probably make the professionals cringe and throw up their arms in horror. Sorry.

Following the advice on the web, I burnished the remaining layer with a bonefolder to achieve a smooth finish, and gave this a light coat of diluted pva (70:30 pva to water) and put this aside to dry.

The next stage was to cut the cover boards from 3mm greyboard. There was a lot of careful measuring and a bit of ‘guestimation’ here, as the book was old, dog-eared and a bit out of square. I expect that this cover will not be perfect and will be used as a practice to get all the measurements and the production techniques right.

I allowed for 6-8 mm in from the rounded edge of the spine for the Canadian fold, and aimed for a 3mm square (the extended part of the book cover that protects the edge of the book) on three sides. It was a little vague on  the foredge.

I attached a spare bit of buckram to one of the boards with masking tape and positioned the book in place, with the other board positioned on top.

The buckram was then lifted and gently curled around the spine until it was snug, but not tight. More masking tape to secure it in place.

A check now: I tightly gripped the book and covers to make sure they didn’t move (they are not attached to each other yet) and turned it around to make a visual check that everything was aligned.

Laying it back down, I opened it out and put the book to one side. Please note the bottle of Fentimans Curiosity Cola. I think I am becoming addicted to this. It is expensive but, oh boy, does it taste good – just the thing for a Decembers’ evening! (Please note, that this is not an advertisement, but I am open to sponsorship deals!)

It’s measuring time. To any of my students who have ever asked me “what are the measurements?” for anything, please note that measuring is the best way of obtaining this information, rather than relying on someone else, or hoping that the information on a website is correct! After all, where do you think I get my measurements from?

I have a number of rulers, all for different purposes; metal ones for cutting, long ones, short ones, and this handy little clear one from MUJI (again, open to sponsorship!) which is ideal for booky type measuring, as the increments begin from the edge, and are minimally marked with millimetre dashes and perpendicular 1cm spaced fine lines. This image shows the measure of the distance between the two coverboards.

From the sublime to the ridiculous. In order to measure the width of the rounded spine, I laid a strip of buckram over and marked off the width. The measurement was then taken from the strip when laid flat.

Whenever a student asks me whether they need to know any maths to be a graphic designer, the answer will always be yes, but get yourself a good calculator! I’m sure many of my previous students over the last nineteen years will back me up on this, particularly those who ignored my advice and made some spectacular (and expensive) errors!

Once the dimensions of the cover paper have been established, all must be ruled out lightly in pencil. I am using some dark blue buckram for this cover, as it is durable enough for this type of use. Remember, although this is a cherished book from a private collection, it will not need to withstand excessive handling, but because of its size and weight, it will definitely be handled firmly. Why do you think the original covers came off?

A visual check with the cover boards laid out, and the spine measured and cut from a stiff but flexible card. I have decided to add a little detail to the spine by adding some additional strips of card to imitate earlier bindings which was common at the time that this book was published. Fake raised bands can be found on many books dating from the 1800’s to the present day.

Here is a close up showing the thickness of the spine card and an additional raised band. It is worth noting here that I am also teaching myself how to cover books that are properly bound over cords (not faked like this), which this technique imitates. I have made many mistakes. Many.

All the measurements check out so it’s time to assemble everything. First, to apply the glue to the cover paper, thinly but evenly, taking care not to splash too much around and avoid transferring it to the other side.

The edges are turned in and pulled hard, and smoothed out with a cloth. Top and bottom first, and then nipping down the corners before folding over the two sides.

A poor quality image after it had been rubbed and smoothed. What was I thinking? I took at least 4 of each stage! The real cover was much more focussed and better lit than this!

And the inevitable close-up showing the effect of the raised bands.

This book cover is too big to lay flat in my press, so it’s back to the methods that stood me in good stead for at least a year. Two big books, with a good stack of National Geographic magazines on top. Off to bed.

I’ll come back to this in a few days. I am yearning to print and have some linocuts to complete…

Mrs. Lestaret will not let me leave this on the dining room table for a few days. It will be cleared up in the morning!


3 thoughts on “By Its Cover

    1. Thanks. I like the immediacy of your imagery. My printmaking is very much a technical exercise at the moment as I get used to my press and the fact actually have one! I should be much more exploratory in my content before too long.

      I am really interested in your use of recycled pop bottles – ever thought of showing your process as well as the finished result? I would also like to see some good close up images too – one of the great things about printmaking is the surface texture of the ink on the substrate.

      I like your epithet “ioQio: Not a printmaking purist.” – the reason I love printmaking is that you get as many ‘odd’ prints as you do ‘good’ ones. It’s important to know the difference of course, but knowing the different between a ‘bad’ print and a ‘different’ print is something else entirely.

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