Monday, January 21, 2013

Bookbinding 101: Adhesives

For most of our bookmaking involving glue [edit: to be clear, not all our books are made with glue], we use Jade 403 PVA (poly-vinyl acetate).

Jade 403 PVA
  • Thick and can be thinned to desired consistency
  • Dries Fast, but . . .
  • . . . Can be mixed with wheat paste or methyl cellulose to create a slower drying time
  • Does not yellow over time
  • Strong
  • pH neutral, acid free
  • Can be heat activated, so it can be heated after it dries to make it tacky again
  • Water soluble when wet, permanent when dry
  • Transparent
  • Flexible

This can't be shipped during cold weather because it's ruined if it freezes. So stock up in the late summer or early autumn. We usually get ours from Hollander's.

You can also use standard bookbinding PVA sold through many different brands and stores. However, the high archival characteristics of Jade 403 have been well tested for and that's why it's highly used. I've found that standard PVA glues are thinner than Jade 403. Not that the standard PVA's are bad, and I certainly am not recommending against using them, but I like the more sure longevity Jade 403 has due to the testing it has received, and I also like the thickness of it. Hollander's also has a thicker version of the standard PVA.

Wheat Starch Paste: Great for backing cloth with paper, gluing material to book board covers (paper, book cloth or leather), and for gluing thin papers together. If I were gluing two pieces of tissue paper together, I'd use wheat paste instead of PVA, being both thinner and more gel-like rather than watery, and watery is what thinned/watered down PVA would be like.  Also available at Hollander's.
  • Very thin
  • Dries slowly allowing for repositioning or longer working time
  • Strong bond 
  • Acidic, not pH neutral but sodium carbonate can be added for buffering
  • comes in powder form that you add distilled water to and cook, there's also a non-cooking kind
  • Can be stored for many years in it's dry powder form. Make enough to use for the project on hand. 
  • Once mixed, it can be stored in refrigerator for a few days. Although, best to use when freshly mixed.
Rice Starch Paste is great too. I haven't really used this but other binder's seem to like it just as much as wheat paste.

Methyl Cellulose

Often used by book conservationists, sometimes to fix a break in a book. Being somewhat weak, it is preferred that the book would break in the same place rather than another place, which would be more likely if using a stronger adhesive.
  • Can also be used to clean off old glue from books. I don't know how, but have read it can be.
  • Not very strong on it's own so it's helpful in book repair or for gluing things that you don't want to have a strong bond.
  • Not best to use on its own if you want a strong bond
  • Dries Clear
  • Reversible in cold water
  • Acid Free and pH neutral

EVA Emulsion 
(not hot glue sticks but emulsion which is used sort of like PVA)

We have not tried EVA emulsion but there is an article on the Book Arts List Serv written by David Amstell on this type of glue and it seems to work quite well for many bookbinders.

You can read more about EVA here.

The Do-Nots:   Elmer's glue, glue sticks, spray adhesive
Why not? Even though Elmer's glue is a form of PVA (there are different kinds of PVA), it takes forever to dry, yellows when it ages, and can sometimes be brittle when dry. Same with glue sticks. Spray adhesive is often not pH neutral, it's brittle when dry and can create air bubbles in paper, and sometimes does not stick nicely with book board.


Eleuterio Ignacio said...

Stapling is used quite frequently especially with magazines, comic books, and so on. The type of stapling most frequently used is saddle-stitching which entails stapling the document in the middle of the fold. It's not the most durable type of binding but it's inexpensive and easy.

Book Binding Boston

Unknown said...

Oh, absolutely. There are definitely non-adhesive bindings which we will be discussing in future posts. Thanks Eleuterio!

Anonymous said...

PVA is great, but I gave up using it in my bindery some time ago. PVA is an old technology glue. EVA (Ethylene vinyl acetate) is the next generation adhesive. It is stronger and more stable in every way. But there is a lot of expensive infrastructure keeping PVA out there in the US. In Europe, it's mostly EVA being used, with far better results in the mid- to long-term. Financial interests are very high in the PVA industry. In their hearts, though, the PVA companies know they are dealing with an old technology. For instance, EVA is a naturally flexible molecule, and doesn't need added plasticizers. Whereas PVA, in order for it to work, requires plasticizers to be added to the formula to give it flexibility. Plasticisers migrate to the surface long after the glue has dried and slowly break down with acidic residues.

This isn't of great concern, though. For some reason outside of conservation work, the general public seems to have the idea that if any minute part of the materials used in a book is even slightly below pH neutral that it will disintegrate within months or a few years. This is simply false.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your comment on EVA. This comment was actually copied from David Amstell's post in the Book Arts List Serv. I wanted to understand further so, I contacted David Amstell to enlighten me on EVA's and this is what he had to say:
Dear Karleigh,

The EVA molecule is the general term for a particular molecule resulting from the integration of the polymers: ethylene and vinyl acetate. In industrial applications, the EVA molecule is used in many forms, such as foam derivatives, paints, and so on.

In relation to adhesives, EVA is integrated with waxes and plastics to form thermoplastic adhesives, which are more commonly known as hot-melt glue sticks. The household EVA hot- melt sticks generally have an inferior bond strength. The industrial hot-melt sticks are more particularly formulated for specific needs.

Another form of EVA is the liquid emulsion, generically known as EVA adhesive. It is this latter form of EVA that is referred to in my comments on the Book_Arts-L List.

Bookbinders and conservators use only the EVA emulsion form of the adhesive in their work with paper, bookcloth, leather, and so on. The brush or roller is usually the medium of application. This EVA adhesive as a liquid emulsion is able to form a stronger bond than the thermoplastic or hot-melt glue stick form of EVA. The brittle properties you mention of the sticks is due to ageing factors of the ingredients. The plastic or hard wax components of the formula lose their flexibility, with the resultant adhesive bond becoming unreliable, or failing entirely, over time. Therefore, as you correctly state, hot-melt glue sticks in any form should not be used in bookbinding.

In the USA, the emulsion form of EVA may be available from bookbinding suppliers, perhaps under proprietary names. Talas has been promoting PVA for many years. Even though the chemistry of PVA has been tweaked and modified over time in an effort to perfect it for conservators and professional bookbinders, nonetheless, the PVA formula is inferior in every way, when compared to EVA adhesives in the emulsion form.

The comment you provided from your blog (the first paragraph) was taken directly from our initial short post on the Book_Arts-L List on August 18th 2012. It seems that someone liked what was written, and decided to call it their own!

We expanded this aforementioned short post into a longer and more thorough article three days later. You will find it in the Book_Arts-L List Archives on August 21st 2012, under the subject: “Question about adhesives”.

Here is a link to that post:


Here are a couple of good Wikis on associated subjects:

We trust that this has been helpful to you. We are happy to answer further questions if so required.


David Amstell

Anonymous said...

I'm curious about tacky glue... it's now supposed to be acid free and archival and is much cheaper, what's your opinion on that?

Jebi said...

Dear Badger and Chirp,
Where can I buy EVA? I've searched all over the internet and cannot find it for sale.
I looked on all the bookbinding supply companies that I know and cannot find it. What other names do people call it and where can I buy it?

Unknown said...

It's possible to use it in this form as talas sells it:

We have yet to try it but the artists in our local area use it.

James Abram said...

I hope I could use some adhesives from PAPTI.

LSG Industrial & Office Products, Inc. said...

There are different types of adhesives that suits every application. However if you are in need of industrial adhesives make sure it is Tesa Adhessive Tapes

Anonymous said...

Do you have an updated link to the articles on EVA? I would especially like to read what David Amstell has written. thank you!