How Can You Learn to Bind Books?

Book binding is an ancient trade with roots in India hundreds of years before the common era. Book binding got its start in religious texts, and has since spread to cover every topic imaginable, from soft cover vanity press titles to hardcover literary classics. Whether you want to bind books in leather or learn contemporary techniques like perfect binding, there is a specific path to learning how to bind a book.

Book binding isn’t just a hobby for the book-obsessed — there’s a real market for people who can repair or restore books. Learning how to bind books by hand makes you an expert not just in the physical act of binding a book, but in the restoration of works of literary art as well. On the other side of the spectrum are commercial book binding operations — people who print and organize large lots of brochures or other paper goods using machinery instead of hand tools. Regardless which side of the business you want to be in, you need to learn to bind books.

College or Apprenticeship

You can learn to bind books one of two ways — by working as an apprentice to someone who has been binding books professionally for a number of years or by taking courses at the university level. There are pros and cons to both methods.

While working as an apprentice is the traditional way to go into the bookbinding field, learning to bind books at the university level could get you a better list of potential jobs. After all, a degree from a University is a lot easier to “prove” than a few years working under the watchful eye of a bookbinder. Also, as binding by hand is going the way of the Dodo, universities that offer courses in book binding are constantly adapting to new technology, exposing students to modern techniques and materials, and offering plenty of job-hunting and financial support along the way.

Having said that, learning bookbinding out of a book is more than a little ironic. If you want to be a hand bookbinder or learn how to restore classic books, sitting in a classroom is not going to give you the hands on experience you’re sure to need. What better way is there to learn a skill than by rolling up your sleeves and jumping in head first? Another downside to the university approach here in America — there are a small number of programs for you to choose from, so your chance at getting accepted into a good “book arts” program (or even the program of your choice) is pretty slim.

Hand vs Machine Binding

how-learn-bind-booksWhile binding books by hand is not at all common these days, there’s something special about holding and reading a book you know was stitched together by a living person rather than a machine. At the same time, machine binding is efficient, cost effective, and consistent. Look at a few hand-bound books and you’ll notice irregular patterns, mistakes in stitching and titles, and other little things that just won’t do in certain applications, like business materials or textbooks.

The question of hand binding versus machine binding is really a debate about what place “the old ways” have in our society. In the not so distant past, everything was made by hand, from the cup to the coffee that is poured into it to the newspaper you read while sipping. Every field, from mathematics to computing, has its segment of supporters who do not equate “modern” with “good”.

Deciding to learn hand binding doesn’t keep you from working in machine binding operations, while learning only machine binding techniques does keep you out of the loop in terms of bookbinding techniques.

Easy Book Binding Steps – Supplies and Machines

Before you decide to learn to bind books, you should understand the steps it takes to bind a book by hand. This difficult trade takes an entire career to perfect, but an amateur can pull off the basic steps with little difficulty. Though the printing press and modern machines have made bookbinding a boutique art rather than a necessary craft, learning about the complex art of binding a book is good for students of art and literature alike.

Here are some easy book binding steps.

  1. Gather your equipment and supplies. Some book binding necessities are awls, different sizes of needles, different strengths of thread, plenty of glue, cardboard for the cover, and tons of paper.
  2. Make four holes on the book’s spine at equal distances.
  3. Now it is time to sew — run a needle into your first hole, out through the second hole, into the third and out through the fourth.
  4. Sew your stacks of paper into the book one at a time using the above method. Once all your stacks are sewn to the spine, you’re about halfway done.
  5. Using a paper clamp, tightly attach the spine to the sides of the pages with glue. Allow to dry.
  6. Now you need to build a cover for the book — cut three pieces of heavy cardboard. You’ll use two of them for the book’s top and bottom cover and one for the book’s spine.
  7. Book’s covers are just paper attached to cardboard with glue. Attach your cover to the outer paper. Remember to paper the front, back, and spine.
  8. Clamp your book together tightly after gluing on the cover and spine, and place the book under something heavy for a couple days.

Hand bound books are a rare treat these days. Very few people are skilled at the craft of book binding, and less and less people learn to bind books every decade. Though it is a dying art, there is something to be said for the alternative — machine binding and the technology of printing. For certain applications, machines are superior to human hands.

Just like the segment of the population that prefers to tie their fishing flies themselves or make their own wine, there will always be a group of people who prefer handmade books to machine printed. Luckily for them, if you want to learn to bind books, there are still opportunities to do so.

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