Bookbinder’s press and tub

The press and tub is now complete, again following the plans from the Aldren Watson book. i used pine for the tub and some hardwood off-cuts from the local DIY shop for the press. I had some trouble finding the bolts, or rather finding bolts that were threaded full or nearly full length. In the end they came from a local timber merchant where I went to look for hardwoods and spotted them unexpectedly lying on the counter.

It was challenging for somebody of my fairly modest woodworking skills to get the tub exactly square. In fact it isn’t critically square but seems to work well enough. The hole for bolt to pass through in the jaws needs to be a lot larger than expected (my bolts are 10mm and the holes are 12mm/13mm in diameter) otherwise the bolt action is so stiff that the jaws cannot be moved. I was concerned that they would be wobbly but once in place with one side fixed to the tub the action is smooth and perfectly solid.

The jaws using 200mm bolts with the fixed jaw 50mm and the moving jaw 35mm thick give a maximum opening of 100mm which is larger enough for my purposes and should allow for a book of 50mm thickness with room for backing boards.

Tub, press and piercing board
Tub and press with piercing board.

Tub and press side view
Tub and press side view.

Press threaded bolt
Close up of threaded bolt. I cut a groove in the head of the coach bolt with an angle grinder to allow a screwdriver or coin to fully tighten the jaws.

Close up of threaded bolt
Close up of threaded bolt from the back show the inlaid nut held in place with epoxy glue.

Bookbinder’s sewing frame

I’ve just finished the first of my larger bookbinding tools, the sewing frame. It is made of 4 parts.

Sewing frame

First,the cross bar, jigsawed, carved and sanded from a pine offcut.

Second, the uprights comprising two 12″ pieces of 18mm pine dowel drilled eight times each ½” apart to hold two small pieces of whittled dowel which prevent the crossbar from falling when under tension from the tapes.

Sewing frame detail showing pegs which hold up the crossbar

Third, the base which I originally intended to be a nice solid piece of hardwood but as I found this hard to get I used a 10″ x 18″ x ¾” plywood offcut which cost me 30p from a local DIY store. I used a router to cut the channel where the tapes will pass but this could be done – though less cleanly – with a drill and coping saw or the 2-piece method described in the Watson book.

Sewing frame base detail showing routered slot and upright

Finally, we have the wooden dowel mentioned above to hold the crossbar at the correct height and some flat pieces of plywood to act as anchors for the tapes under the base board slot.

The whole assembly will allow the binding of books with a spine of up to 11½” in length and as thick as I can ever imagine a book being!

Bookbinding tools take shape

The first of my tools are slowly being finished. The small ones to start, beginning with a bookbinder’s awl made from a small offcut of pine, shaped and sanded with a size 18 bookbinder’s needle inserted into a small pre-made hole. The eye was snapped off using pliers and the needle held in place using epoxy adhesive. This should give a nice tight sewing hole matching exactly the guage of needle and thread to be used for sewing the signatures.

Bookbinder's awl
Bookbinder’s awl

Next a folding stick, again made from a pine remnant, shaped and sanded. I am not entirely sure how well this will stand up to being used as the wood seems very soft. I may well end up making another from a hardwood if it proves not to be usable.

Folding stick
Folding stick

And finally for today, a flat folder, again made from an offcut but this time from a hardwood which I thought was mahogany but having worked it, I am now not sure. Nevertheless, it is hard and smooth and will do a great job.

Bookbinder's flat folder
Bookbinder’s flat folder

All of these were made to the precise specifications given in Aldren Watson’s book quoted below.

In the next few days the heavy tools should be ready – that is, the press and tub and the sewing frame plus various boards.

Bookbinding paper for photos

At long last I have found a paper suitable for inkjet printing both text and photos which is light enough to bind using traditional sewing techniques. The paper is Tetenal Duo Print Paper 130gsm. It has a matt finish, can print double-sided and is available in sizes A4, A3 and A3+.

Unfortunately, it does not appear to be cross grained which limits a little the size of the pages one can output. Nevertheless, I have tested its folding properties and the texture of the paper is such that even folding across the grain does not result in too much springiness so I will have to experiment with this.

One great bonus is that the manufacturer provides ICC profiles freely downloadable from their website . I have tried the profile for the Epson 2100 which does a pretty good job, printing with good tonal range without puddling or blooming. The colour balance is slightly too magenta on my setup but is close enough to neutral for this to be rectified with some minor tweaks.

Bookbinding tools

I’ve come up with a bookbinding tool list, all of which I should be able to make myself. These are:

an awl,
a folder (traditionally made from bone but wood is OK too),
a sewing frame,
a press and tub,
various boards to allow the piercing of the sewing holes and the support of the book at various stages of construction.

My list has been complied from a marvelous, comprehensive and succinct book by Aldren A.Watson “Hand Bookbinding: A Manual of Instruction”.

It seems appropriate to the spirit of the craft not to buy the tools. It is also right to my mind to use recycled wood as far as possible. The more I consider the whole notion of artistic creation, the more important the consistency of the whole approach seems to be. To make hand-crafted books with mass-produced tools seems to me to dilute the vitality of the enterprise. The same applies, I now realise to photography – the self-made camera seems to carry at least some of the love and passion,which the making of the instrument demands, into the final work.

What’s the best way to show your work?

Exhibitions are expensive to mount and only really reach a relatively small number of viewers (although they are good for the CV and the ego!) so I’ve come to the conclusion that books are the way to go. Having started with looking at Lulu I have finally decided that short run, self-bound books are really the best option. I was not completely impressed with the reproduction or the paper quality with Lulu although it is hard to knock their offering with the cheap prices and simplicity.

So here is the plan: learn to hand bind hardback books for the ultimate print and picture quality and have preview or mass-market (Oh to have a mass market!) editions made using Lulu.