I have in my collection of books/art knick knacks three little art sample books by a man named Ben Sears. Because they’re small little things, 5.5” by 4.25”, and covered only by a flimsy bit of card stock, they’ve just been sitting flat on a shelf, collecting dust and running the risk of being damaged just by merely existing. Passing by them the other day, I’d figure I’d bind these up in a proper hard cover case. After all, that’s why proper books were invented, to protect pages and the contents on them.
In all honesty, I was originally gonna go through the whole process of how I bind these, from start to finish, but after I had everything put together and ready to be written up, I quickly realized why all of those YouTube Tutorial Videos are in multiple segments and why all of the books I have for binding breaks things down into so many chapters. For a seemingly simple process, there’s a lot involved. Not only that, but anything I have to share on the matter has been said before, probably better, and by definitely much more authoritative figures on binding. So instead, this’ll be a little highlight reel of what I did, why I did it, and what made this bind unique for me.
So starting out, we have three mini books, each of various page counts, bound by staples. Half the work here is done for me, because the books are already cut, collated, and folded. It looks like these were printed on standard printing paper, which ends up being a benefit to me, because that means the books are folded with the paper grain instead of against the paper grain. With a few exceptions, you always want paper grain to be in the same direction as the spine of your book. This not only keeps the pages better intact, because you’re not breaking fibers by having them folded against the grain, but it also gives the book room to flex when the book “breathes,” which is when all of the elements of the book from the pages to the boards to the spine materials expand and contract with changing temperatures and moisture levels.
Random aside here, I can’t tell if these books are printed with ink or laser toner. The only reason I bring this up was because I was fortunate enough to listen into a conversation one time when it comes to choosing a printer. From what I understand, for the purpose of making books to last, it’s always best to go with ink whenever possible. Ink actually gets soaked into and absorbed by the fibers of the pages, where toner, being a plastic powder that gets melted onto the paper, sits on top of the fibers of the pages. That means, under certain conditions, it’s possible for the toner to be lifted off, rubbed away, etc. I don’t know to what degree how true that is, but on the surface level, it sounds pretty reasonable.
Anyhow, back to my project. If you look at the last picture, you can see the swell of the spine on all three books are different sizes. That’s because the page count for each book is different. So to try to get things a bit more uniform, I put the books in order as to how I want to bind them, with the two thicker books on the outside and the thinner book in the middle, and put them between two chip boards and clamped the spine up to get them all under a uniform pressure.
I was originally thinking about taking the books apart completely and reorganizing the individual sheets to make signatures of uniform page count but ended up deciding against that for three reasons. Firstly, due to the number of pages, there wasn’t any way to divide them up to have any number of signatures of equal number. Secondly, the first and last page of each book are blank, so if I reorganized the signatures, there’d be six blank pages randomly scattered in the book. Lastly, I wanted the covers and the whole books in order, to preserve what Ben had originally intended for his books. The end result is not gonna be ideal for a “proper” book, as there will be unequal amounts of pressure on each signature and swell and blah blah blah other technicalities that I’m probably not thinking about. But, as a counter to that, I’m putting presentation as a priority, I’m not the best binder there is and every book I make is gonna have flaws in one way or another no matter how much I do my best, there are books out there with a few signatures at the beginning or end that have fewer pages than the rest of the signatures in the book, and lastly, a half perfect book in a hard cover is better than three vulnerable little books. Basically, it's probably not that big of a deal and I'm over thinking things.
So we’ll fast forward a bit, where I took the books out of the binder clamps (it helped, slightly), and sewn them up, and here we see a bit of a minor snag. As you can clearly see, two of the books have been squared off by the people who have printed these books, while the third one hasn’t. Personally, I never trim my pages after I make my text blocks. Partially because I do not have the space or money to own a guillotine or a plough, but also because it’s been pointed out to me by quite a few people that they like that my books have “teeth.” It adds character, accentuates the home madeness of the books, and honestly, they look kind of cool.
But we can’t have inconsistency, so I took to trimming the odd book out using my metal rule as a straight edge and my exacto knife, because I’m sophisticated and fancy like that.
Here’s the end result. Much better.
Funny aside, down the road I completely forgot that these pages are slightly smaller than 4.25” because they’re trimmed, so when I put on my end sheets, they were slightly too long. Once again, I had to trim those too so everything would be more or less uniform on the final product.
So we’re gonna fast forward quite a bit. There was gluing of the spine, lining of the spine, measuring and cutting out the boards for the cover, assembly of the cover, tons of glue, some waiting, a little groan of frustration here or there, and we get to the image you see above. One nice cover and two end sheets. I chose the grey blue on the cover to match the jeans and the blue racing stripe on the scooter rider’s helmet and I chose the ivory end sheets to more or less compliment the ivory covers of the books on the inside.
A little more gluing, going under weights, and then a lot of waiting and hoping things turn out right and a day later, we get this guy. A hard cover book, something nice and sturdy to protect that contents inside. I might decorate the cover, I might not. In the end, I’m happy with the final result. It’s not perfect, but it’s still beautiful and it’ll do its job just fine.
It even opens up nice and flat, as sure sign that I didn’t mess anything up.
Have a beautiful week, guys.