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Learn from the Experience
Get Rid of the Evidence

These steps were performed on all three books.

the finished books

After a month and more of effort, I was done. I had three bound books - one control and two experimental volumes. Among them, they comprised three experiments.

Experiment One: Wheat Paste on the Spine

This was a complete failure. Not that wheat paste spines can't work, but they are not compatible with the binding style I was using. A flexible glue like hide glue might be a good alternative to PVA, but for the moment, I will continue as I have been going.

Experiment Two: Sewing on Buried Cords

This experiment was to compare the ease of opening between sewing on tapes and sewing on buried cords. Testing this was easy - I simply opened the green book, which had been sewn on buried cords. Then I opened the red one, the control, which had been sewn on tapes.

There was no functional difference between the two. They both opened relatively easily considering the their small size and the weight of their paper. However, there was a visual difference. Opening the green book far enough to write in it allowed the cords to show. Although the effect was not unsightly, I preferred the book sewn on tapes.

The experiment was not a failure, but I suspect I will do little sewing on buried cords in the future.

Experiment Three: Casing In

At the start of the experiment, I had my doubts about casing in. Like most beginners in binding (and, I understand, woodworking), I tended to underestimate the strength of my adhesives. It was hard to believe that pasting the book block onto the boards would really work. I only decided to try it at all after abandoning the experiment with the wheat paste.

As I went through the bind, I noticed how casing in avoided a number of places where I used to spoil books. I could construct the cover without risking getting the spine squint from the boards. Pasting the leather onto the spine and folding it over to the inside of the hollow back was no longer a nightmarish struggle. Even trimming the leather turn-ins was easier. It almost seemed too good to be true.

hollow back glued onto split boardsAn important issue was flexibility (again). My books bound on split boards seemed to be hollow backs in name rather than in fact. There was very little flex of the spine of the book away from the spine of the cover even when the book was fully open.

cased in hollow back The blue book, however, showed a much better degree of spine travel. This made it open wider and more easily.

And, to my surprise, pasting the tab and endpapers to the outside of the boards made a strong, secure bond. There was no trace of peeling at the joint, which is what I dreaded. I suspect that for a wide, heavy book, where the book block has enough weight to really pull against the boards, the paste might fail. (Indeed, I have a volume of Tolkein where this is happening). However, for smaller binds, the improvement in spine flexibility and ease of covering comes with no real downside.

The experiment was a complete success, and I have begun casing in more of my books.

July 2003: Although casing in is strong enough for small, light books, the real solution to my struggles with binding on split boards has been to acquire more binding skill. I've stopped casing in as I have become more dextrous. On reflection, for most serious binding, casing in is a halfway house between having terrible bindings and the finer methods of attaching the boards to your book.

Once I had drawn my conclusions, it was time to dispose of the evidence. If I kept all of my binds, I would be drowning in blank books. But my work is not yet good enough to sell, so I give it away. I gave two of the three volumes to friends, as I have most of my early work. (To tell the truth, giving the books away has become another part of the pleasure of bookbinding.)

red book 1 red book 2

The red book went to my colleague Caroline Evans, to hold her notes and scraps of paper.

blue book 1 blue book 2 - knotting the tie blue book 3

The blue one went to friend and former colleague Lesley Trembath, and was last seen acting as a wine book, recording the details of vintages she has enjoyed with her partner Dougie.

Both books were well received, and go with my best wishes for their new owners.

green book 1 green book cover

And the green book? I kept it. It's sitting at my elbow now, open at my rough notes for this site. I originally started binding because I use blank books from time to time, after all, and I was ready for a new one just then. The yellow leather has grown slightly grubby from being carried in my backpack, but it is still soft and pleasant to handle. I've even signed the cover as part of an experiment in tooling leather.

I wonder what I'll bind next...

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