bookbinding: the whats, hows, and huhs

there is a lot of great info on bookbinding online. one of the best resources is sea lemon's youtube channels. this video does a great job explaining the basic idea of stitching: link. check out lots of their videos. most of the bookbinding info online is aimed at producing high quality books, usually hardcover, etc. i'm more interested in producing books that are pretty good quality quickly and easily. below i wrote down a bunch of stuff about what i do, it's not well thought out and you'll need to supplement it with videos and stuff but maybe it will have some helpful info. there are other methods of binding than what i do. two that you might be interested in are:

coptic binding, which uses only sewing and no glue, and is especially good if you want the book to lay flat really well.

perfect binding, which uses only glue and no sewing. it also involves no folding, but possibly a lot of cutting to get your paper the right size. it can be much faster than threadsewn books, but it won't lay flat as well, and it won't usually be as sturdy. look up the "double fan" technique for this, it will make your pages less likely to fall out.

what i do

the basic technique i use for binding books right now is: print the pages, fold them, mark where to poke holes along the folded part, poke the holes, sew the book together, put it between boards with some clamps, apply glue to spine, then glue on a cover printed onto legal sized cardstock. this produces a pretty good and sturdy paperback book that does a pretty good job of laying flat.

preparing and printing

i prepare my books from pdfs using a piece of software called pdf-booklet: link. its available for windows and linux. i think adobe reader can also prepare things but i dont know anything about that. this software rearranges the pages in the pdf into "signatures" which can then be folded and put together to form the book. when you print, make sure to set it to "flip on the short edge" or whatever. it's the same as printing and folding zines, except you put all the zines together and it forms a book. what i like about this piece of software is that it has a lot of useful options, like deciding the output size, scaling and shifting things, etc. it's really useful when the pdf you're working from isn't exactly half the size of the paper you're going to be printing on. i also sometimes use random webpages online to crop pdfs etc. i use 5 leafs per signature (this means 5 pieces of paper get folded into each little section of the book. 5 pieces of paper will equal 20 pages of the book.) i print on a brother laser printer with the cheapest paper i can get. this isn't the best way to do things, laser printer toner isn't archival, i think pigment-based inkjet ink is better. the paper i use will probably last pretty well, but isn't aesthetically very nice. another issue with it is that it's "long grain", whereas "short grain" paper would be better. this terminology refers to the way the fibers in the paper are aligned. basically long grain paper folds better in vegan hotdog style and short grain paper folds better in veggie burger style. for the most part i don't think it's super important.

folding and making holes

i fold the entire signature at once if i'm using 5 leafs per signature. i don't use any kind of "bone folder", i usually just use a glass lid from a candle that i have laying around on my desk. i find it helpful to fold on something that has a bit of a lip so i can press the edge of the pages against it and align them more easily. also, after printing but before folding i sort the pages into signatures as a separate step. i find things go faster when i break down the steps more. after the folding i align the signatures and clamp them together with a clip style clamp or whatever. you know, one that's real quick to put on. then i kind of weigh the pages down and mark lines for where my holes are gonna go. you'll have to watch some sea lemon videos to understand what the hell i'm talking about. anyway i use a straightedge and draw lines for where i'm gonna put holes for sewing. i don't think it's that important where you put the holes. i do 1 inch from the top and bottom, and then 2 inches from those holes, for a total of 4 holes. i find that to be a pretty good compromise (more holes = more sewing). there are two ways to make holes for sewing. one is to just keep things clamped and carefully use a saw to make all the holes at once. im too scared to do this and i'm not sure how well it works on low quality paper anyway. some people swear by it. instead i make the holes in each signature one by one. you can get an awl and use it for this but i just use a needle. i set the signature between two boards, with a gap between the boards below where the holes go, and it's pretty easy to get through. it goes quickly so i don't mind.


ok for this just follow the sea lemon video. only things i really have to add is about curved needles. they help a lot for bookbinding. they're kind of overpriced, so if you have regular needles you can bend your own. to do this heat the needle over a candle and use 2 pairs of pliers to bend the needle into something like a semi-circular. sometimes the needles break when i do this. i'm still not totally sure the candle is necessary. the end result doesn't have to look perfect to work perfectly. i often like to thread several needles at the beginning of my sewing. it's nice to not have to thread a new needle when i'm in the groove of sewing. it's very easy sewing.


once sewn, the textblock thankfully has a bit of structure to it. i align the pages as best i can and then clamp it between two boards. you can probably avoid clamps and just stack a bunch of heavy shit on top of the text block but then maybe glue will run down, i don't know, i've never done it. once clamped, apply the glue with a brush. i use a glue specifically for bookbinding. it's pretty cheap online. regular elmers glue works ok, and elmers craftbond glue works a little better. stick to PVA glues, don't use random weird shit and expect it to work good. i think wheatpaste also works and was historically used in bookbinding though. if you really get into it, i think it's worthwhile to get the bookbinding glue. it's just a little better in terms of the amount of flexibility and stuff. also i forget if regular elmers glue is acid free. if it's not then it'll eventually degrade the book. anyway i apply a lot of glue to the spine. i used to use less but i looked at some books i have laying around and they all have more glue on the spine so i started doing that and i like it. it also helps the bumps from the thread on the textblock not show up on the spine of the finished book. i keep the thing clamped and apply a few layers throughout the day or night or whatever. when it's done i've usually glued the damn book to the boards of wood and i have to cut it off with an exacto type of blade, the kind they have for crafts.

the cover

like i said, i print the cover on legal sized cardstock. card stock is a pretty decent thickness for a cover for a paperback book. if you don't want to do it with legal sized paper, i think one option is to take 2 pieces of letter sized cardstock and glue each one to half the spine, you know, so they meet right in the middle there, and then glue like a cardstock strip to cover that up. i dont know, i think it might look ok if you do it carefully but i've nevr done it. what i do is simpler, i print the cover, use the textblock to figure out where to fold it, fold it, apply glue to the cover and the spine of the textblock, put it all together. for drying i put the book in between 2 stacks of books that are about the same height as it and then i put more books and paper on top of that to weigh it down. i let that dry for some hours and then i apply a thin strip of glue where the cover and the first page meet, and where the cover and the last page meet. after i put the glue on and press things down i stack some more shit on the book and let it dry like that. then it's done.