Monday, 28 March 2011

Family & Friends Specialty Bindings

The last little while I've been getting ready to go away for a few days, and making a present for the friend who is going to put me up. I don't know what books she likes, and what she has and what she lacks, or even what would be a good idea to give her. So I made her a box.

and I started to think that this is going a little far. And I started to wonder whether there have ever been professional boxmakers, or whether it's always been left up to the bookbinders to make fiddly little boxes that don't even have a textblock in them.

Bookbinders have always made slipcases and boxes - for most books. Heavy books need wooden boxes - bookboard just isn't strong enough - and I suppose those would be made by a finishing carpenter. But for normal books up to about 10-15 pounds, or 4.5 - 7 kg, the bookbinder is usually the lucky devil who gets the job.

Thomas Harrison, author of "Fragments of Bookbinding Technique" said there is no such thing as a cheap box. Hundreds of boxes the same can come cheap, but on individual one is always expensive. Customers always want a special box, and they can't believe that sometimes the box can cost more than the binding job. I used to explain it this way: when I make a slipcase I need 5 boards cut in 3 different sizes, while a drop-back box uses 13 boards cut in 9 different sizes. The 3-tiered staggered box above took 26 boards cut in 12 sizes. Which, as I said, is maybe going a little far - too far away, perhaps, from the bookbinder's purview, and you won't see me making these commercially. But for family and friends I'll go the extra mile.

Another family and friends specialty of mine is when I rebind a book that was not printed on folded sections, and turn it into a sewn book with folded sections. There are a couple of ways of doing this - the ugliest, in my opinion, being the most common method where you gather up enough single sheets to make a section, lock-stitch through them (like, with a sewing machine) and then sew them together through the lock stitches. It's been done for ages (the first one I saw was an "art book" published in San Francisco in 1906) but it's so ugly it makes me shudder. You can see the lockstitching and the sewing in the gutter; it's a rat's-nest of thread. Still, it is a useful technique to know and I have used it when making a Very Big Thick Book (22" x 28") where the paper couldn't be made into folded sections because you would have needed pages 44" x 28" and the paper didn't come that big.

But let's say your friend bought a little perfect-bound book that she uses all the time and it's falling apart. So you disbind it, and then you use hinging tissue to put the pages into sections which you then can fold and sew in the normal way. Sounds easy, but needs a steady hand and a lot of patience because it's really time-consuming. Like, days and days and thank heavens it's only 60 pages. And of course swell becomes a problem, because each page is now 1 piece of tissue's-worth wider at the spine. But the resulting book is so nice that I'll sometimes go for it.

Oh, and that box I made - if you've never seen one before, it closes up:

and then when it's closed it looks like this:
The little studs that you can see are optional - I put them in this one to make sure the trays didn't come away from the case. I've also made it without the studs and that works for me, but then I just keep my endbanding silks in the box, so it doesn't weigh much.

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