After working in professional binderies, I love to think about how we did things at the binderies compared to what I do at home with my hands and a few small tools. Even though they are two different worlds, I incorporated many tricks that I learned while working in binderies, and I like to think this adds a professional flare to my books. At the very least, it is an interesting comparison of two very different styles!
When I first started bookbinding, I did a lot of guessing. Since I had no formal training or real understanding of how a book came together, I made a lot of things up as I went. I had grown to believe all bookbinding was a methodical art form, carefully planned over a long period of time. Continuing in my self-defined craft for quite some time, after graduating college I started working at an small, old bindery, and I was caught completely off guard.
The first surprise? Cover making. In particular, corners. I remember Johnny, my short army veteran buddy and cover making aficionado, threw cloth, boards, and glue around like he was spinning pizza dough.
Cutting corners was no longer a precise art. Whatever cut or angle happened, you worked with it and tried again on the next cover. On my first day Johnny gleefully told me the terrifying turning-in machine was named “Thumper,” presumably after the huge thump the machine made while clamping down on board and cloth with serious force. To this day I don’t know what the machine’s proper name is, otherwise I could have found a picture to illustrate Thumper!
There are so many different machines, tools, and methods for corners and turning an edge. High-production binderies have machines that make the entire cover, while other binderies, like my first one, might use several machines, each with a specific purpose. In my small bindery, we sometimes used these curved metal hand turners (at left), which I still love. They are almost like wide bone folders that help you wrangle and press cloth or paper of any thickness.
Always turn opposite edges in pairs. Why? As the glue dries, it will warp the board. With opposite sides drying at the same rate, it will pull/warp evenly.
Lastly, practice folding in your corners a lot. Do not worry if they don’t look perfect. Practice folding in corners so that when you are making your real work of art, you worry less about messing up the corner fold and more about other important things, like the cover. For the sake of speed and dexterity, I learned to press both corners at the same time using my thumbs (at right). I have found this has made corner folding second nature with both hands!
- Less is more when cutting corners on your covers. It is easier to tuck in extra cloth or paper than it is to hide a close cut.
- Don’t fear wonky corners, just look at it as practice.
- Always turn opposite edges in pairs. To combat board warping from the glue drying.
- Press the edges and the book. In binderies, they use high pressure turners, put the cover through high-pressure rollers, and then press, but that is only for the cover! Tip: If your corners are a bit bulky on the inside, lay your bone folder over the area, and press/rock the bone folder with both hands on either end.
Everyone has their own style of bookbinding, what are your tricks for perfect corners?