How to repair a book's binding

How to Repair a Book's Binding

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Do you have a book that is losing signatures or has a cover that has separated from the pages? Here are a few tricks to get that book back into usable condition.

Steps

  1. Set up a well lit workspace with your supplies handy.
  2. Re-sew or re-glue any loose signatures or pages before attempting to reattach the cover.
    • Signatures are pages that are folded together; the folded ends of signatures are sewn together. Use double thickness of the waxed thread or quilting thread and tie off the knot firmly to avoid future re-loosening when re-sewing signatures.
    • If a signature has torn out of its threading, you can place a narrow strip of Tyvek tape along the crease of the center leaf of the signature to repair/strengthen it for your repair sewing.
  3. Apply a layer of plastic glue along the spine edge of your signatures once they are all re-sewn or reglued in place. This will dry to a flexible finish and will help prevent future loosening.
  4. Cut a length of your single stitched binder tape equal to the height of the book.
  5. Apply one side of your single stitched binder tape with the sewn center line aligned along the spine edge of your pages and firmly press onto both the back of spine and onto the front pages with your "bone".
  6. Attach the remaining "top" layer of single stitched binder tape to the inside of the back cover and to the inner side of the spine.
  7. Press single stitched binder tape firmly to eliminate bubbles and to ensure good adhesion.
  8. Repeat the process for the other spine edge, in this case, the front edge. (Illustrations show the author replacing TWO torn hinges for a book whose cover had completely separated from the contents.)
  9. Clear tape the spine, leaving a 1.5 inch overlap for the gutter and cover. Press tape firmly onto spine.
  10. Press the tape over the edge of the spine and firmly into the gutters for good adhesion and future mobility.
  11. Smooth any remaining width of clear tape out across the front cover, eliminating bubbles and pressing firmly for good adhesion.
  12. Apply your rubber bands or book press to hold everything in place while the glue is drying.
  13. Remove book from press or rubber bands and you now have a re-attached cover.
  14. Complete any additional mending, such as corner and spine reinforcement, gluing or taping in missing pages, etc.

Tips

  • When mending a book, start with the worst damaged areas to the least damaged areas. If your spine repair does not stick or "take", there is no sense in reinforcing any corners or gluing in loose pages.
  • Both Brodart and Demco have free book repair booklets available.
  • Clear book mending tape works best for the exterior portion of this application.
  • Double stitched binder tape is two layers of tape, placed back to back, and then sewn down the center. The sewn line then replaces the torn hinge of your book.

Warnings

  • Never use "packing" tape or "duct" tape on a book. The first will peel loose in about 3 years. The second will turn to goo in the same amount of time and will ruin your book. Do not use scotch tape either. The adhesive layer will fail after a few years.
  • Use the narrowest tape that will suffice for the job at hand. There's no purpose served in slapping a 6 inch wide swath of tape over a hinge that could be mended with 1.5 inch wide tape.
  • Don't attempt to repair a valuable or rare book, as attempts to repair might inadvertently damage or reduce the value of the book. There are many book restorers and hand bookbinders skilled in conservation, and for a valuable book, they are certainly worth it. If you have a valuable or rare book that needs to be mended, try and contact a university library. The Special Collections Librarian can help you find a reputable bookbinder.

Things You'll Need

  • Plastic glue (available from library supply companies such as Vernon Library Supplies, Demco and Brodart) Plastic glue is a white glue similar Elmer's, but it dries flexibly and permanently. An ideal glue is PVA (Polyvinyl Acetate) glue, sold commonly at art supply stores and book binders' supplies.
  • Single stitched binder tape - Use one length for each hinge you need to replace. (Single stitched tape was used in the examples, but you could also use double stitched binder tape in the width of your book.) Available in cloth or tyvek.
  • Sharp Scissors
  • Folding "bone" or similar hard, smooth object for smoothing creases and pressing tape to remove bubbles and for best adhesion. (A ruler with a smooth, rounded edge would work.) (Wooden ceramicists' tools also work well, but the bone folder is much smoother and far less likely to tear paper. Even better is a Teflon folder, which will not leave any marks on paper.)
  • Heavy waxed thread (Quilting thread or dental floss will do in a pinch) (Linen thread, waxed, is strong but flexible, whereas cotton thread-or dental floss-can snap when exposed to too much tensile pressure.)
  • Sharp needle
  • Carpenter's rubber bands or book press. (to hold book together while glue dries)

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Sources and Citations

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