Friday, March 5, 2010

Extream Book Makeover

I love books. I treat them with great care and reverence. I have a library at home, and most of the books in it you can barely tell they have ever been opened. In contrast, my sales clerk, Toni, is rough on books. She writes in the margins, dog-ears pages, underlines with pen and marks up the text with highlighters. Every time I see her bend back a cover, something inside me screams. She'll deny it, and say that she is good to her books, but I've seen it. I know that she loves books, and she has a very impressive collection, but some of them get a lot of use, and abuse.

Recently I posted about her copy of "Masterpieces of Terror and the Supernatural", that was broken into three pieces and had the cover almost completely off. Like most people get when they see an injured bird, or a starving puppy, just seeing it like that made me well up with pity and want to fix it. I did, and recovered it with a nice bomber-jacket brown leather. Unfortunately I didn't think to take any pictures of the process at the time.

Well, it has happened again. Another of her poor pitiful abused books has tugged at my heart strings and moved me to give it some TLC and a new leather cover. This one was her working copy of "Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magickal Herbs". She keeps it behind the counter at the shop and uses it as a reference book for customers who want advice on herbs. It gets a lot of use. Like the other one I had already fixed, this book had a broken spine and was in two pieces. The paperback covers were about 20% missing and the remainder was so warn and tattered you could hardly say it had any covers at all. Again, I didn't think to take a "before" picture, but I did think to grab the camera fairly early on in the makeover process. The process was basically the same as the other project, but in case you like that sort of thing, here's the play by play.

The first step was to tear off the rotting paper covers, and clean up the spine down to the glue. Then I re-married the two pieces of the text block by running a thin strip of dry roll-on adhesive along the spine edge of the page at the break, lining them up and and sticking them back together. I could have left it at that and the repair probably would have lasted for the rest of the book's expected life, but it doesn't take much effort to make the spine super strong, so I went the extra few steps.

I put the text block into a makeshift press to keep the spine tight. Using a min-hacksaw from the craft store, I cut four shallow grooves across the spine on a slight diagonal. Two slanting one way, and two slanting the other way. I cut all the way through the glue and slightly into the back of the pages. Then I filled the grooves with PVA (Aleene's Tacky Glue). I took thin hemp cord (the kind hippies use for macrame bracelets) and worked it down into the grooves. Then I worked the glue into the groove with my finger to make sure the cord was well saturated with it. After the glue was dry, I used nail clippers to trim the ends of the cord off flush with the edge of the spine.

Since this was a paperback book to begin with, I had to create book boards from scratch. I'm too cheap to buy the proper materials (known as Bookbinder's Board or Davey Board), plus there's no local supplier for binder's board in Canton, so I used chip board. I measured the original book, and added 5mm to the top, bottom and fore edge. I also added 4 mm to the width of the spine to compensate for the thickness of the new boards. I glued these three pieces to a strip of card stock, leaving a 1cm gap for the French groove (the hinge). I used to glue these all on the same side of the card stock, and I had problems with my hinge. A few months ago I watched some videos on YouTube to brush up on my technique and found out to glue the spine on the opposite side of the card than the covers and crease around the edge of the spine with a bone folder. I'm still not sure why this works better, but I have tried it and my problem with the hinge seemed to go away. I glued the spine down first, and then after flipping it over and creasing around the spine with the bone folder, I used scrap 1cm strips of chip board as spacers (another tip I picked up from YouTube) and glued down the front and back covers.

Next I got out the leather. I used a nice buttery soft chrome tanned 2oz. garment leather in a dark mottled green. I cut the leather to size, leaving 2in. on each side to turn over. I probably don't need this much of a margin, but I prefer to have too much than not enough. I glued the boards down to the leather with a watered down pva. You're supposed to use wheat paste for this, but I've never liked it as well. It dries slow and is too wet. It tends to warp my boards. Plus, I'd have to mix the wheat paste, and I'm very lazy. Once the glue was down and the boards in place, I put it under weight to dry. I also stuck the spacer strips back into the French groove to shape the leather while it dried.

While the cover was drying, I trimmed off the ends of the cords near the spine and added new end papers. I used a heavier weight gray paper that I got in reams of 11x17 for cheap at a discount store. I love discount stores :) I folded it in half and lined up the crease along the spine. I glued it in place along the crease with more of that dry roll-on permanent adhesive. Then I trimmed the edges to match the edges of the text block. I used a snap-off razor blade, the kind with the long blade that clicks as it extends. I extended it out a good ways and used the side of the blade as a guide. The flat of the blade rides along the edge of the text block as I cut, ensuring that the cut is straight and that I don't gouge into the text block.

After the glue on the leather was dry, I trimmed the corners in preparation for "turning in". I cut them off at a 45 degree angle to the corners of the boards, leaving a gap between the corner and the cut that is twice the thickness of the board. I'm not sure where I read that measurement, but it seems to work well. Then I turned in the top and bottom edges and glued them with more watered down pva. I put this under more weight to dry.

Again after the glue was dry, I turned in the two remaining edges. Before turning these in, you have to pinch the corners in a little. It's hard to explain with out a picture of someone doing it. After applying your glue to the flap to be turned in, just hold the board vertically, facing you. With your index fingers, pinch down that little doubled over flap at the corners (where the cut meets the corner) towards the edge of the board. this wraps the leather around the corner of the board so you have a nice clean corner. The glue should hold it down for a second or two. While it is down, fold over the main flap of leather and glue it down. If the glue doesn't grab well, sometimes I will use some strips of masking tape to hold down the flaps and keep them tight while the glue is drying, and of course, put it under weight while it dries.

Once the edges are all turned in, you are ready to "case in" (put the text block into the new cover). The first step is to attach a "mull" to the spine of the text block. I use a combination of cheesecloth and kraft paper. Cut your brown paper and cheesecloth a little shorter than the length of the spine, and wide enough to cover the spine and extend an inch or two farther on either side. Then apply a think coat of glue to one side of the kraft paper.

Another couple of tricks I picked up from watching YouTube videos, is to use a small foam roller to apply your glue. It makes for a nice thin even coat. Also, I now use a "gluing block" this is just a stack of scrap paper that you lay your work piece on while you apply glue, allowing you to glue right off the edges without worry. Then you discard the top sheet so that you have a clean surface for the next time you glue. This helps prevent getting glue in the wrong places on your work due to having glue on your table. I'm too cheap to use a ream of new 11x17 paper as my glue block (as was suggested in the video) so instead I use an old phone book. Glue away, then turn the page and glue some more. When you're done, tear the used pages off. Just make sure that when you turn the page, it hangs off the edge of the table, and doesn't glue itself to the table top!

Once you have a think coat of glue on the kraft paper, lay down your cheese cloth right on top of it, and glue it down some more. While it is still wet, you're going to apply it to the spine of your text block. But first, prop up your text block so that the spine is facing up. I wedge it between some books. Then apply some glue to the spine and work it in with your finger. The working it in part is more important when you are dealing with dry (previously unglued) signatures, but since this was a paperback that doesn't even have signatures, there's isn't a lot of working to be done. Just make sure it's evenly coated. Lay the mull, cheese cloth and glue side down, on the spine. You should have a small gap at the top and bottom, and the sides should extend past the edges of the spine. If you were applying a headband (which I didn't) it would be glued on to the spine at the top and bottom before applying the mull (though I usually apply it after, since it is just decorative anyway). With clean hands or your bone folder, work the mull onto the spine. Rub along the spine to make sure it gets good contact. Then, smooth out the overhang down along the sides. This will glue the overhanging mull to the outside of the folded end paper. This part will end up glued to the boards soon. At this point, I like to put a few pieces of scrap paper inside the fold of the end paper, and on the outside where we just glued the mull down, to absorb any excess moisture and let it dry under weight.

When using thick covering material, like leather, the edge can bee seen pretty clearly under the end paper when it is glued down. I like to soften this transition, by first gluing down a piece of card stock that overlaps the edge of the leather, but is smaller than the end paper, so that it will be completely covered by it. Again, let it dry under weight. At this same time I glued in silk ribbon bookmark to the inside of the spine. That piece of masking tape is just there to hold it in place while the glue dries. but hey, it will be hidden, so I'll just leave it on there.

Finally, we're on the last step. Joining the text block to the case. Test fit the text block in the case. Get your spacing right along each edge. Then, lay the book down flat on the table. Make sure the text block is snugged up against the back of the case spine as tight as it will go. Open the front cover, without disturbing the rest of the book. Tuck two sheets of scrap paper under the top leaf of the end paper (in the fold). Roller a thin layer of glue onto the outer leaf of the end paper (the part where you can see the mull attached). Slide out the top layer of scrap paper, the one that now probably has a little glue on it. Leave the sheet under it to protect the rest of the text block. Close the front cover, again making sure that the spine is snugged up. Press down the cover to get good contact. After a few seconds, carefully lift the cover and smooth the end paper with your clean hand, especially around the edges to make sure you get good contact. Close it again. Flip the book over and repeat for the other side.

Once the end papers are glued down, stick a few more sheets of scrap paper under the covers to absorb any excess moisture. this will help prevent warping of the boards, and wrinkling of the end papers (which I still have problems with). Pu the closed book under weight and allow to dry. At this point, I also use some masking tape to attach bamboo skewers along the French groove on either side. The extra pressure helps to define the groove while it is under weight.

That's it. Once it's dry, you're done. Unless you want to do some fancy lettering or otherwise decorate the cover (which in this case, I didn't). I'm sure Toni will enjoy her newly re-covered book. I know it will get plenty of use, and it will be a good way for customers to see my work, and possibly earn me some commissions :)


  1. Very clear and helpful! thank you very much for sharing your methods, it shall surely come in useful.

    By the way, the idea of using bomber jacket leather is great, and the result looks amazing!

  2. WOW!! Marx I love this! we need to talk! I may be interested in commissioning you to fix a ew of my books...I very much like your work!!