Saturday, April 10, 2010

Essential Bookbinding Tools

Essential Bookbinding Tools

Bonefolder- This is used for creating sharp creases when folding pages. It also has many other uses when bookbinding. Bonefolders are most often made from the leg bone of a cow or deer. Randy J. Arnold has even made some from Gabon Ebony. Someday I'd like to own one of his beautiful bone folders.

Most bone folders cost somewhere between $4.50 and $9 USD. If you want a special one, you'll have to pay more. There are also teflon folders which won't leave any marks on your paper as bone sometimes will. I can't fork out $30 for a teflon folder though and I really like the feel of the bone. So for now, I'll stick with the traditional ones.

There are also plastic bonefolders (not teflon) and you can buy them for fairly cheap but if you're really going to venture into the world of books, I suggest buying a real bone.

Rulers- All I'm going to say about this, is that you need a metal edge ruler. If you try to make straight cuts with your exacto knife against a plastic ruler, you will take slices or chunks out of your ruler. It's also important to have a ruler with small markings that show at least 16th of an inch.

Bookbinding Awl- This awl is not the one you find in your typical toolbox. The bookbinding awl is thinner. It's the same diameter as a sewing needle which allows the holes you punch to be sewn through without a lot of movement of the pages, or large holes in your pages. I just broke my first bookbinding awl. It wasn't a great awl and it was really inexpensive but I was sad. Mostly for sentimental reasons. I plan on doing a video demonstration on how to make your own bookbinding awl. It's fairly simple, and then maybe you won't feel so bad if you break one in the future. For now, I use a sharp metal stylus which is fairly close to the same size as my needle. It was in my ceramics kit from a college class and it's been very useful, especially when it comes to putting holes through bookboard or leather. Just a note, if you ever think you'd like to save money by buying a student awl (the ones with the blue plastic handles) Don't! They're awful and they might not even make it through one punched hole. I think we went through 20 in my last bookbinding class before I decided just to make everyone an awl. Daniel made all the students awls and they worked wonderfully.

Needles - I use a size 1 darning needle which works great for my 3 ply and 4 ply linen thread. There are blunt needles as well but I like to use the sharp ones. I don't know why. I also use curved 1.5" upholstery needles for use on coptic stitch and occasionally when sewing cord bound books.

Xacto type knife - I use two different blades right now. One is an xacto knife and the other is a utility snap off blade. The utility blade is great for cutting bookboard by hand but if I'm carving into the bookboard for insets or carving designs for raised leather then I prefer to use an xacto knife because it has more flex to the blade then the utility knife and allows for easier cutting when creating curves. The xacto blades cost more than the cheap snapoff blade. For the last few years, I've been stealing my xacto blades from my dad's "lifetime supply" and I don't think he realizes he now no longer has a "life time supply". Sorry dad, I'll replace them!

Pencil and archival pen - I use pencils to help mark my bookboard or holes on my punching template and I use a pen when creating shapes on the cover for embossed hinges or raised designs. If you are concerned about something being archival, make sure that your pen is archival. I use Micron brand pens, simply because I happen to have a bunch in my drawing supplies.

Balloons - Yes, I do think of it as an essential bookbinding tool. Sometimes, you may have a difficult time grasping the needle and the balloon helps me to grip the needle tightly. I learned this from some awesome quilters at a Church activity (a Rexburg 4th Ward Relief Society "Super Saturday"). Balloons were instantly in my toolbox after that.

Non-Serrated Butter Knife - Carla Jimison taught me this trick. You can buy a non-serrated butter knife from the thrift store for 25 cents and they work just as well as the fancy paper knives that cost $16. Whenever I'm at Deseret Industries, I check for these and buy as many as I can so we can use them in my classes. You might even have one in your kitchen drawer. I had a man borrow one from his wife's china cabinet during a class I did. I hope she's ok with that. This type of knife gives the paper softer edges than if I were to use an Xacto blade on it. You can use whatever you'd like to cut your paper but I prefer to use this or a tearing bar. My tearing bar isn't photographed but you can view it online on Amazon. We use both sides for cutting paper and I love the length of it as I usually end up tearing down large sheets for my text paper. While a tear bar isn't essential, once you use one, you'll find that it is!

Hole Punch - I use a hole punch for a few different styles of books. In the photograph you can see my old metal tool punch that I would use with a hammer. The tips would wear down very quickly and it was really a pain (and very noisy!) so I purchased a tool called the Crop-A-Dile. It cuts through bookboard nicely and has two different sizes of hole punches. It also does other things like set eyelets and snaps. I really want the Crop-A-Dile II which is called the "Big Bite" as it will allow you to place a hole more than 1" from an edge. This is the only complaint I have about the first crop-a-dile, as it is limited punching a hole within one inch from the edge. You can also get a Japanese Screw Punch and this link takes you to one on Amazon. It's the most inexpensive one I've come across as they usually average $60. They're handy, especially for traveling.

The other essential tools:

Wax paper for placing between pages and cover when gluing so that the pages don't get all gunked up.

Sand paper for smoothing down rough edges on bookboard.

Brushes for gluing. I have several different sizes and I use them all. I also have not purchased a nice bookbinders glue brush as I tend to forget to wash them out and ruin them. So cheap brushes work great for me. 

Clamps- I use clamps when I'm gluing covers or trying to position a book or rounding a spine. I have a variety of sizes that are all used for different books.

Cutting Mat- You can buy a nice cutting mat that's 24" x 36" like mine is (thank you mom for the 50% off coupon to Robert's) or you can just use a piece of cardboard or extra bookboard as a cutting surface. 

And the last thing on my essentials list is a flea comb. Yes. I'm serious. We picked up a couple of these from our local Walmart. They happened to be in the clearance section for 50 cents (hooray!) so we picked up two of them. They are marvelous for thinning out the cords and fraying them to glue down. Before, I was using my needle and fingernails to separate and fray the cords. We moved from that to forks and we were using that until we came across the flea combs. I didn't want to spend a bundle on a metal brush for this so I'm so glad we found a very cheap alternative. I have no complaints yet about this awesome tool and ever since I have been using the comb, it's become essential. 

When I do classes, I provide a kit which includes a balloon, needle, awl, bonefolder, glue brush and sandpaper. I also bring my stash of nonserrated butter knives. 

To all the bookbinders, is there a tool that I did not mention that you find an essential part of your bookbinding toolbox?


Esther said...

What a great overview. I like the tip on the butter knife. I was just at DI and wish I had known earlier. The tearing blade is now on my wish list!

Lizzie said...

This is a great post and a very comprehensive list of tools! I love to hear of the cheaper alternatives that people find, to replace some of the very expensive tools - like many folks, I don't have the money for the "real" tools just now. The butter knife, flea comb and balloon will be on my list of kit now.
One other thing that I do find useful is offcuts of book board, to use as glue spreaders. Sometimes a brush doesn't work so well - for instance, if I just want a very thin line of glue. A piece of stiff card or bookboard can be really useful (and costs nothing - yay!).

Stephen Lott said...

Karleigh, I use a metal triangle quite a bit. It helps to ensure that I am squaring things up. It is especially handy when I am working with decorative elements on the covers of my handmade books. I also use a stabbing cradle made of book-board. This helps me punch nice even holes relatively easy (when using a paper template).

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