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 How a Book is Bound at Signature Bindings

This is an example of how a 'new book' might be prepared and bound. It is one approach of many that are used at Signature Bindings,
depending on which is most suitable for the particular book or binding style required.

Quarter leather, round backed with false bands.
Whether the book to be bound is a printed-out novel or blank folded paper, the process is much the same. There are probably hundreds of different ways to bind a book, but this method shows a pretty traditional quarter leather binding (ie: where the spine is leather and the boards are covered with cloth).
The first step is to collate the pages. For this type of binding, where the pages are to be sewn together, the sheets of paper must be folded together in 'sections' of four sheets, forming eight leaves (pages 1 to 16). Having four sheets together means that the fold is strong enough to be sewn without ripping the paper.
Consequently, the printed pages do not run numerically on the sheets. For example, if you consider the outer sheet, this consists of pages 1, 2, 15 and 16. This makes it quite awkward when collating a book, though certain pieces of software now make this a little easier.
Once all the sheets are folded, the spine edge has to be hammered down to reduce the swelling caused by the folds.
The sections can now be sewn together. Sometimes the endpapers are also sewn on to the sections, or they may be 'tipped in' (glued on) later in the process, as in this example. This will depend on the structure of the endpaper being used, of which there are many.
The sewing occurs on a sewing frame (illustrated), which holds the tapes in place to which the sections are sewn. These have the effect of holding the sections together as well as contributing to eventually holding the book block to the boards.
The sections are sewn by hand using a special waxed thread, sewing in and out of each section to hold the pages together and secure the sections in place.
Traditionally books are sewn onto cords rather than tapes and this is often what forms the raised bands on the spines of antiquarian books. This can still be done in a similar way to using tapes, but tapes are now generally considered to be stronger, and the raised bands can still be produced for decoration, as shown below. The number of tapes and the exact sewing method used depends primarily on the size of the book.
Here you can see the finished book block, with the tapes sewn on in position and the spine edge once again hammered down to reduce excessive swelling. The backbone has been glued lightly to help keep the sections in position and then the block has been guillotined or 'ploughed' by hand to produce flat, square edges. This illustrates why it is important when printing pages to ensure there is sufficient margin to enable the block to be trimmed.
You can see that the backbone of the book is now flat, so the next step is the 'round and back' the book. This involves initially pulling the book block into shape using gentle hammer strokes to create a curved backbone. Then the book is placed between boards and the shoulders created. These are the little folds down each edge of the book near the spine which accomodate the boards and help hold the book tight. The process also ensures that the correct degree of curve is on the spine and that it is symmetrical. There is quite an art to getting this part of the process right, but it is essential for a strong binding.
The book is shown held in its 'laying press' (a bookbinder's wooden vice) and has been rounded and backed.
In this example the headbands are pre-made and have been glued to each end of the backbone. The headbands are not just decorative - they also have the traditional function of strengthening the top and bottom of the spine so when the book is pulled from the shelf by the spine, the spine material is not damaged.
Traditionally, headbands are hand sewn directly into the sections of the book, perhaps using a cord or a thin piece of leather as their core. This is still practiced widely today, especially when restoring older books, but is can be a time consuming process, and is not necessarily suitable for 'routine' new books.
Over the top of the backbone in now glued some 'mull', a coarse open weave material which is also very strong. Along with the tapes, this will ultimately secure the book block to the boards.
On top of the mull is then attached the hollow. For this type of binding, the hollow is effectively a tube of strong paper glued on to the backbone. This forms an important function in the finished book.
Imagine opening a hardbacked book in the middle. When you do so, the backbone folds into a 'v' shape. If the spine of the book where directly glued to the backbone, it too would have to fold in this way. With a hollow in place, the spine actually moves away from the backbone when the book is opened and is therefore not required to bend as much. In this way the strength of the spine is preserved. There are many books where the spine is indeed glued to the backbone - many 18th century leather bindings show this. However, the spine is frequently broken or damaged on such books, so the hollow spine was developed to overcome this.
Books which use cords instead of tapes and have 'genuine' raised bands cannot usually have a hollow spine, since the leather is moulded around the cords and glued to the backbone.

The next step is to attach the boards. There are several different styles of doing this, but for this example binding, the boards are attached to the book before the covering is applied. In this case a split board is being used which means the tapes and the mull are laminated in between two pieces of card. This gives the binding considerable strength.
The illustration shows an 'american joint' which is the gap between the backbone and the front board. This forms the groove in the finished binding which assists the smooth opening of the book. The rear part of the cover board extends right to the shoulder of the backbone and help supports the shape and strength of the book.
When the boards are covered first and the whole cover then attached to the book block, this is known as a case binding and can be used for round-backed, flat-backed or adhesive bound books, the latter also being known as a 'perfect bound' book. However, whilst fine for general use, this type of binding is generally not as strong as a split board binding.
Back in the laying press again, the false bands are added to create the attractive effect on the spine of the book. We tend to use strips of thick leather for this purpose which are glued to the hollow as shown.
The spacing between bands should be even, but the space at the bottom of the spine should be longer than the space at the top. This is purely aesthetic, but if the bottom space were to be the same as the others, the book just wouldn't look right somehow!
Of course, there are many occasions where a book doesn't require raised bands, and many modern books wouldn't seem right with this traditional feature. This is where personal preference and aesthetics comes into binding, along with the covering materials used. There really is no right or wrong. There may be a traditional way of doing things, but that shouldn't restrict us in how we want to bind our own books!

The spine is then covered with a strip of leather in the chosen colour. The leather must first be 'pared' or thinned to help mould it to the shape of the spine and to avoid unsightly bumps and lumps at the edges and at the head and tail.
The leather used could be from a number of sources, but for new books of this type, nigerian goatskin is often used. This material is very strong even when pared thinly, so it becomes very versatile. Traditional books and repairs would often use calf skin, which is much smoother than the often attractively grained goatskin.
The bands on the spine are worked repeatedly to ensure they are sharp and tight. The joint (groove) is also worked to ensure the book will open easily when finished. The end caps at the head and tail are formed by drawing out the leather slightly and forming over the headbands to protect them from shelf wear.
Once in place, the spine leather is left to dry and then the edges trimmed with a scalpel to ensure a straight edge.
The final stage is then to cover the remainder of the boards with an appropriate book cloth, and then to glue down the endpapers to the inside of the covers, once the cloth has been trimmed. This then hides the edges of the covering material. The endpapers can be plain or coloured paper, or have a suitable design. Traditional books often have hand marbled endpapers which can look fantastic, though are not cheap to buy since they are literally unique pieces of art in themselves!
Hopefully this has given you a feel of what is involved in this particular type of binding. Please contact us if you have any questions or would like more information.
If you are interested in trying bookbinding yourself, click here to find out about our one-day workshops.